Keia Johnson
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Keia Johnson

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | MAJOR

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | MAJOR
Band R&B Soul


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Former Miss America Miss Congeniality Keia Johnson enchanted the judges with her own rendition of Celine Dion’s classic “My Heart Will Go On” at the American Idol auditions in Atlanta -

she didn't learn a lot about singing or how to be an artist.
"I could literally write a book on life after 'Idol'," she says. "It's a catch 22. Yeah, you get a lot of recognition, but what do you do with that recognition? What do you do with your talent? What do you do?"

Johnson hopes to answer that question Sunday when she debuts her first EP, T.I.M.E.: This Is Me Exclusively, at a show at the Rumba Room. The record, a showcase of different styles and moods, is Johnson's attempt to establish herself as more than just the "girl from 'American Idol,' " a tag that has been both a blessing and a curse.

"I have such mixed emotions (about 'Idol') because you never feel like you got a chance to really show who you were," says Johnson, calling her new disc a "tester." "I want to come out letting people know that I'm not just one genre, and I'm curious to see what people will end up liking."

To some who have already heard the record, the answer to that is not as significant as the great strides Johnson has made in building on her TV fame.

"Keia Johnson's talent is a given," says Catrina Guttery, an artist relations manager at the Memphis Music Foundation who has been working with her. "However, what makes her unique is that she has a natural music business sense. She's taken her 'American Idol' experiences and used them to organize the right band and create relationships with music industry contacts that will help elevate her career to the next level."

Johnson was born in San Antonio, Texas, but grew up all around the world as the family followed her career military father through various postings. According to Johnson's mother, a vocalist herself who once backed up George Michael on a Japan date, young Keia was singing as soon as she could talk. (Johnson beams when she says that both her mom and dad, who retired from the military and teaches ROTC at Overton High School, will be in the attendance at the Father's Day concert.)

But music remained just one of Johnson's interests, which included beauty pageants. In 2004, the year her family moved to the Mid-South, Johnson competed in the Miss Arkansas pageant, a preliminary to Miss America, where her vivacious personality earned her the Miss Congeniality Award.

Johnson continued her competitive streak by entering events like the Orpheum theater's Star Search in 2006. (She recently returned to that stage to host the same event.) But largely she resigned music to a hobby, singing in cover bands on the side for fun and money but not really considering it a part of her future.

Then in 2009, Johnson traveled to Atlanta to audition for "Idol." She made it through to Hollywood, going as far as the top 60 before getting cut. She returned again the next year, again making it to Hollywood before ultimately leaving on group night. Though she may not have gotten far in the competition, the 'Idol' experience fixed in her mind that music was what she wanted to do.

"It was so amazing to be able to sing in the Kodak Theater, to walk on Sunset Boulevard, to be critiqued by Mary J. Blige who was my absolute idol," she says. "After I did 'Idol' the first time, it awakened this sense that maybe its not over for me, awakened this passion to be my own artist and not just do other people's music."

Johnson wrote or co-wrote three of the five tracks on T.I.M.E., which was cut at Ardent Studios with an ace band of young players including Claude Hines, David Parks, Ramon Sampson and Noah Hernandez. Johnson and her players have developed a close working relationship over the past few years, a fact that makes one track on the disc stand out for her.

"It's called 'Moving On,' and that's the one I cut completely live with the band," she says. "It's the a-ha moment. That song is near and dear to me, and I'm secretly hoping that it's going to be a big hit."


Over two seasons competing on the television music competition “American Idol,” Memphis’ Keia Johnson says she didn’t learn a lot about singing or how to be an artist. “I could literally write a book on life after ‘Idol’,” she says. “It’s a catch 22. Yeah, you get a lot of recognition, but what do you do with that recognition? What do you do with your talent? What do you do?”
- The Commerical Appeal

BMI supported a recent industry mixer during the Second Annual Plug-In Memphis Indie Music Expo. A must-attend networking opportunity, the event connects artists with local vendors in an ingenious attempt to energize the community. Next year’s installment is already on the books, slated for February 15 at Minglewood Hall in Memphis. Pictured at the mixer are BMI's Mark Mason, 2010 American Idol participant Keia Johnson, The Barkays' James Alexander, and Memphis Music Foundation's Dean Deyo. -


I Need a Hit
Jamaican Sinsation
Yeah (Ft. Steve "Steevo" Bethany
Smeared Makeup
Movin' On



Keia Johnson is a rhythm and blues singer who uses emotionally colorful singing, barbershop harmonies, propulsive rhythms, and a sense of happiness in celebrations of life, love, and sex to reach her listeners. With funky beats and sophisticated arrangements and worldly lyrics, Keia's music is dazzling!