You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How ‘Rent’ Inspired a Multi-Platinum Songwriting Career (Guest Column)

I’ll never forget seeing “Rent” for the first time. My mom used to bring me to shows in New York, so I was used to “Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats,” which are great, but hadn’t really hit home as an artist. “Rent” was the most inspiring musical I had ever seen.

When I was 16 or 17 I was on a trip to New York with my girlfriend at the time and her mother, who was a really devout, reads the bible every day Christian woman. I knew nothing about “Rent” and I was in charge of picking the play. It is obviously a show about AIDS and a gay relationship, and especially at that time, it was a barrier — something that people didn’t really talk about. I brought this woman, and she was terrified, and I was like, “Oh no, what have I done!?” But for me, it was an eye-opener. I was immediately drawn to the storytelling and the music and the songwriting, and I wanted to know the story behind it.

I didn’t even really know I wanted to play music at that time, but something about the songwriting struck a chord in me. I remember crying when Collins was singing “I’ll Cover You.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get out of Texas. I need to go to New York or LA and experience life.” I hadn’t traveled much, and that was when I knew I needed to explore that part of my life.

I realized, “This is what music can do. Holy s—, I want to do that for somebody else.” I had never felt that before; I had listened to punk rock and rap and metal, and eventually I started getting into Dave Matthews right around that time period, and after seeing “Rent,” the variety of the music of what I was listening to completely changed. And I got into songwriting right after because I was obsessed with what a song can do.

Before I even knew I was going to be a singer, I started pretending I was Roger in my house. I used to play “One Song Glory” on repeat on the guitar. Later, I went back to New York to open up for an artist named Howie Day and it was my first real out of town show, and I was like, “I’ve got to go see ‘Rent’ again!” I went to see it by myself to experience it without somebody who was judging the whole time. I looked up Jonathan Larson and I read his story, and that was super inspiring to me, too. Jonathan Larson was so ahead of his time.

Every time I was in New York after, I went to see “Rent.” I ended up seeing it 56 times. Eventually they asked me to do a six-month stint on Broadway, and I was on tour at the time, but also I was so in love with it that I didn’t want to mess it up. I didn’t do it, and I don’t dwell, but it would have been fun and different. If I could tell my younger self anything it’s to try and be willing to fail — because if not, then you never know.

As you get older you start to realize how precious the time is that we have. A song like “Seasons of Love,” the whole message is love, and I think that will always be relevant, and people are growing and realizing, “Why are you wasting time on worrying about what other people are doing instead of focusing on yourself?” That’s the message of the entire play and should strike a chord with people as it did with me.

“Rent” is as relevant today if not more than it was in 1994. Everybody’s a lot more open now to being themselves and being accepted, but there’s still a lot of work for the world to do — there’s still a lot of stuff going on in schools that’s not OK. So I think stories like this can hopefully do what it did for me for more people now.

Fox is airing a live televised version of “Rent” on Jan. 27 at 8 p.m.

Ryan Cabrera recently co-wrote “Tell Me It’s Over” with Avril Lavigne, which was the second single on her “Head Above Water” album. Hitting the 15th anniversary of his first album, “Take It All Away,” he is also touring with O-Town and working on a new “Ryan Cabrera & Friends” style album for the end of 2019.

More TV

  • Prince Albert II of Monaco (C),

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union's 'L.A.’s Finest' Opens Monte Carlo TV Festival

    Prince Albert II of Monaco opened the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival on Friday at a glittering ceremony at the principality’s Grimaldi Forum attended by Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. The Hollywood actresses presented the French premiere of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest,” which has just been renewed for a second season. “You typically [...]

  • Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba'L.A.'s Finest'

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union Speak About Horrific 'L.A.’s Finest' On-Set Accident

    Actresses Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba spoke about how the horrific accident on the set of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest” affected them and the crew at the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival Saturday. They also paid tribute to the main victim of the incident, executive producer/co-showrunner Brandon Sonnier, whose leg was amputated below [...]

  • Emmys: How a Social Media Campaign

    How a Social Media Campaign to Game the Emmys Led to This Week's 'Block Voting' Scandal

    The Television Academy’s “block voting” controversy has quickly become the talk of Emmy season — and that appears to have been the org’s point. According to multiple insiders, the number of people disqualified from voting in this year’s competition is believed to be small, only around three members (out of nearly 25,000 members overall). But [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Drops Trailer for 'Veronica Mars' Revival (Watch)

    In today’s roundup, Hulu dropped the official trailer for the “Veronica Mars” revival and HBO revealed more cast members for “Lovecraft Country.” FIRST LOOKS Hulu has dropped the official trailer for its revival of “Veronica Mars,” set to premiere on July 26. The series will bring back most of the original cast, including Kristen Bell, Jason [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Viacom CEO Bob Bakish

    Bob Bakish Talks Pluto TV, Netflix and CBS-Viacom Merger Rumors

    Viacom CEO Bob Bakish knows that a lot of his peers are in the original content space in streaming, but he believes the company’s ad-supported free service Pluto TV is better off relying on Viacom’s library of content. “We can debate a lot of things about the future, but in the near term, the opportunity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content