Have you ever wondered what happens to the music stars on Television? Well as a writer not just for publication but also for music I was curious what happens to the contestants of major music shows. So I reached out to Ron Bultongez, recent top 24 contestant on American Idol. I said, “Ron, so many people think once you’ve performed on a major television show like American Idol, you’ve made it. But one thing I know to be true from my own journey is their perception is the furthest from the truth and for success to take place we must speak our truth.” Ron agreed and this is what he had to say.
What was life like as a child growing up Ron? Take us to that place.
“Life in the Congo has some beautiful moments and some painful ones. I can’t always remember events but I can definitely remember how I felt. It was free in the sense that people have a sense of richness from the simple things in life like playing soccer with a stuffed garbage bag as a ball and sticks for a goal. Then there was the pain of seeing armed soldiers and my family being covered with fear. There are so many emotions I feel with the Congo. I was around 10 years old when we fled and the older I get the more it becomes a blur.”
Why did you come to America?
“The fighting for power made the country crazy and we wanted to flee so we could experience a richer life. I encourage people to not judge immigrants because you never know what they had to go through to get here. We first started in NYC and never in a million years did I expect to come full circle and audition for American Idol. Of all the cities they could have chosen for my audition they chose NYC, what are the chances of that? It was obviously designed to be that way. We first stopped at NYC and then joined my father in Dallas; there were a total of 7 kids, my mother and father, all in a 1-bedroom apartment. My father was forced to leave the Congo and leave us behind so we then fled it was to join my father. My Mom had to do so much alone; she is truly the strongest woman I have ever known. So, Texas is where we set our roots. But that’s where things really became chaotic for my family.”
Explain to me the pain that you experienced while growing up in Texas?
“I was known in the Congo as the Man of Tomorrow and that troubled my father. Everything I touched I progressed in and that caused my father to set high expectations but when they weren’t met to his standards abuse followed. I would like to think my Dad’s intentions were good but his habits weren’t healthy due to his own upbringing. Then there were cultural clashes that caused more abuse because my thoughts didn’t align with my Father’s thoughts and that came with a price. The more I gained my voice the stronger the abuse became to the point that I slept outside in extreme temperatures which landed me in the hospital and on meds after my father threw me out and said, “You are not part of this family,” that was such a tough thing for a kid to hear. Move after move followed and I didn’t know where my family was. There was so much dysfunction, I bought into the story that the problem was me, that’s what happens when you get whipped and experience severe punishment not just on a physical level but on a verbal level. There was a time I remember when I was playing Play Station 2 and I went over my time, he unplugged the system and told me I was less than dirt. He smashed the gaming system and threw it at me and I just stood there in shock, my eyes were really big, he looked at me and I felt this rush of coldness, this freezing feeling on my face and as I touched it I realized there was blood everywhere, there was a huge gash in my face and he walked away. Before he left that night he came back and said, “I wish it would have crushed your whole skull,” and I thought he was coming to apologize. All I wanted was a loving relationship with my father. That abuse carried over to my school where people laughed at me and bullied me, because I had a bandaged head and a weird haircut due to it. Also there were times that I smelt bad due to sleeping outside. It has taken me years of counseling to realize that it was not me that caused the abuse. The beginning of my life was filled with extreme fear and abuse.”
So what has been your coping mechanism?
“It has taken me two lessons to get into a good place mentally plus years of counseling to turn my life around, along with reading lots of self help books and investing in myself. There are so many systems in the world today but if you get to the root and treat people the way you want to be treated then things flow better. I speak a lot in schools to kids and I tell them that the number one thing to understand is life is not fair. Also while life is difficult, you don’t have to go through it alone and we are designed for community. Anyone who thinks they can go through life alone it’s a matter of time before they crumble. Don’t victimize yourself; reach out for help instead. Remember that fame and fortune or misfortune regardless of what side you are on it’s all temporary.
Whatever you have been through it doesn’t define you, it’s important to allow people to speak truth into your life and learn positive self-talk. The power of the mind dictates your life. There are still good people in this world and your life matters. I know today that what my Dad did to me was coming from a place of fear and I forgive him.”
What got you into music?
“It goes all the way back to the Congo, people are very musical there. It started with Michael Jackson, I didn’t speak the language but I loved the music. I didn’t have a passion to pursue it there though. Many people don’t know this but my father used to sing and play the guitar. It wasn’t like I wanted to be like him but in 2010 I started song writing to express what I was going through. I got into Hip Hop and saw myself as a producer. I was filled with so much anger that Hip Hop and Rap resonated with me. But then time passed and I went on to play college football. But it was really difficult to get a scholarship and I trained real hard on my own and made it. There were several things that happened with football and I eventually ended up with two knee surgeries, but I had taught myself to deal with so much pain I played with bad knees. After that I experienced a concussion and that led me to transfer schools. It’s surrendering to my passion and playing with the love for the sport rather than the hope for the gain that helped me advance on my journey in football. But this time things were different; I realized that I was in a grind instead of following my true passion. I ran into a guy in the music business that saw my musical talent and he encouraged me to follow that talent.”
What has your music journey been like?
“On November 7, 2016, I realized I hadn’t taken a day off. For about a year I got into my foster Mom’s car and was driving from place to place, coffee shop to coffee shop; I went as far East as Philadelphia and as far West as Los Angeles, chasing the dream. I went from Texas to Las Angeles and back on $600 to play in as many places as I could. Then I got an urge to try out for The Voice so I went to Houston to try out. I woke up at 4:15 in the morning, drove four hours, got in line for four hours then sang for 45 seconds. I drove back disappointed having sacrificed everything for this huge NO but on the way to my hotel I knew they were going to Philadelphia so I booked a flight leaving for Pennsylvania. Same thing, woke up at 4:00 in the morning, stood in line and sang for 45 seconds, went back to my hotel and same thing NO. So later on I drove to Nashville, 10 hours straight by myself one way, I auditioned for The Voice a third time and I wasn’t taking NO for an answer but they sent me home again with the same answer. There were a lot of people in the industry promising me a lot of things and people who thought they were in the industry were promising me things and nobody ever delivered.”
So here you are with all of these empty promises, what created the shift and how does American Idol come into the picture?
“I was so frustrated and hit a point where I decided from that moment forward that I was going to make the decisions that would best benefit me from a business and career stand point. I shifted from fairy tale thinking to career based thinking. It was 2017, when I decided to get serious about music.
I had set an intention back on December 31, 2015, that If I was going to get serious about music in 2016 I would experiment, in 2017 I would expand, and in 2018 I would explode, it’s pretty cool how that has worked out. I started getting calls from shows and music competitions, record companies and management companies. I decided to go with American Idol because I like Katy Perry and then I imagined the level of wisdom and experience Lionel Richie has. I decided to just go and do my best and whatever happens, happens, it was a place of surrender. Every round I made it was completed without expectations of making it. There were different rounds that I needed to go through before making it in front of the judges. I was enjoying the journey instead of forcing it. There is one time I cried on camera because I sang Home by Phillip Phillips, because for a long time when I was homeless and when I was bouncing around from different homes and shelters, if you asked me what was home to me I couldn’t picture anything. I didn’t feel like I had a home for very long in my life and that’s why I like that song, it’s about people that make your home, not a physical location. So now wherever my son is at that’s my home. I had to pull myself together for the interviews but it was from such a place of authenticity that caused me to cry I had to share the truth.”
What did American Idol do for you and where is your music career at today?
“My confidence and stage presence has improved. It has helped me grow my platform and my fans have become like family to me. I feel like through American Idol it has opened my eyes to the reality of the music business through their mentorship. It was like boot camp, it taught me a lot that will ultimately improve my career in music and I have gained credibility. Anywhere I go out especially in the Dallas area people recognize me.
I am starting to get more opportunities since American Idol. I get so many messages from people about how my story has helped people deal with their addictions, abuse and overcoming fear. I speak in schools and encourage people to transition from being a victim to a victor.
I have gained custody of my two younger brothers, ages 16 and 17 because they were being neglected and as a father to a newborn and I’m now 22 years old, my music career is what has to support us all. There are times when I was working 25-35 performances in a month just to help us all survive and live in a three-bedroom apartment. There have been a lot of financial sacrifices made but seeing them with a smile on their face makes it all worth it.”
What is your ultimate dream?
“I remember when I was flying out of the Congo, I told myself I would come back and make a difference here. I want to do Kick Hope I want to build a soccer field and build it as an activity that will bring people together and make them realize that they are more similar than they are different and then I want to take the concept all around the world. As an effort to help dissolve division, I want to speak about this all around the world.”
Wow, I have interviewed many incredible people over time but Ron’s story is definitely one that has captivated me and inspired me to continue to make a difference in this world. So many times we will read a story in the tabloids or watch a person on television and think, “They have it all” when in reality there is a story behind the scenes that is yet to be told. One that involves turning pain into a platform in hopes to heal the world. Beauty for ashes!