Screen to stage: ‘American Idol’ star is back in Brooklyn • Brooklyn Paper

Screen to stage: ‘American Idol’ star is back in Brooklyn

Jug band: Qaasim Middleton, center, will perform with Juggernaut War Party at the Exalt Youth Benefit at C’mon Everybody in Clinton Hill on Dec. 20.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

He’s prepared for War!

A former American Idol finalist will funk things up with his band Juggernaut War Party at the Uplift! Brooklyn fund-raising event on Dec. 20 in Clinton Hill. The Crown Heights resident first found national prominence playing guitar on Nickelodeon’s “The Naked Brothers Band” television show as a 10-year-old, but says his musical inclinations developed long before that.

“My parents always said that I had a natural knack for music growing up,” said Qaasim Middleton, 21, who was born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “I was beatboxing at two-and-a-half. And I was rapping at two or three. When I was six, I was already harmonizing.”

Middleton auditioned for “American Idol” in 2015, after his mentor, dancer Kevin Hunt, and his mother encouraged him to distinguish himself from the competition by adding some dance moves to his vocal performance. He reached eighth place, but says the show helped him to try new musical genres and to hone his performance skills.

“I’m a balladeer, I didn’t sing fast songs or up-tempo songs until ‘American Idol,’ ” he said. “My mom and [Hunt] encouraged me to bring my dancing with my singing. They really helped mold me to really branch out how far I could take my artistry.”

After “Idol,” he formed Juggernaut War Party, and the group competed in the 2016 AfroPunk Battle of the Bands, winning a place on stage at the prestigious annual festival. The band’s influences include Pharrell, the Foo Fighters, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Ray Charles, said Middleton, a diverse set that has led to a distinct signature sound.

“The name Juggernaut War Party sounds very intense, and that’s the kind of music we create,” he said. “It’s funk, it’s rock, it’s hip-hop, it’s soul, it’s alternative jazz.”

At the Dec. 20 event, which will benefit Exalt, a local group that works with youth in the criminal justice system, Middleton and his crew will play alongside local acts Wishes and Thieves, Mr. Reed, and comedian Carolyn Castiglia. The group plans to unveil its new single “Anti-Hero,” which will be released next month, along with other new tunes. Working with the four other members of the band has helped Middleton to develop and improve the music that he’s loved playing since he was a gifted kid.

“I was always creating the kind of music that I now do with Juggernaut, but now we have a crew to play it with,” he said. “The development of the ideas that I had were brought to life more frequently with the level and caliber of musicians that I have in my camp. It makes me better.”

Qaasim & the Juggernaut War Party at the Exalt Youth Benefit at C’mon Everybody (325 Franklin Ave. between Clifton Place and Greene Avenue in Clinton Hill, www.ticketfly.com). Dec. 20 at 7 pm. $20 ($15 in advance).

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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