Musician Tyrus Bush, with wife Shaone, won Showtime at the Apollo five times.

American Idol contestant from Ewing has won Showtime at The Apollo five times

By Cara Latham

Is Simon Cowell really the harshest critic a musician can face on stage?

If you ask Ewing’s Tyrus Bush, the answer is no. Rather, a full audience of people who are serving collectively as a judging panel is a much more daunting experience.

In the more than a decade since he won “Philadelphia Idol” and finished as a Top 250 finalist on the second season of American Idol, Bush’s blossoming music career has placed him in front of a variety of audiences — including that of The Apollo Theater, the famed Harlem nightclub where the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, The Jackson 5, and others once performed.

It was at the Apollo Theater where Bush, now 28, went on to become the winner of “Showtime at The Apollo” — not just once but a total of five times.

“I’m what you call a ‘Super Top Dog’ on the stage of the Apollo Theater,” says Bush, who was the subject of an earlier feature in this newspaper in 2003.

And perhaps more fulfilling for Bush than winning the appraisal from the American Idol crowd is the fact that the audiences at The Apollo cheered him on, as opposed to booing him off the stage, as they infamously have done to other performers on the show, a syndicated music television show that featured an Amateur Night competition.

“As brutal as Simon is, and continues to be, the Apollo competition is a little more nerve-wracking because the audience is actually the judge,” said Bush, a pianist and vocalist since age 10. “They’re famous for applauding and for booing, and it’s kind of a part of the competition for you to not get booed off the stage. Thankfully, every time I went out, I got the applause, not the boos.”

As an artist, acclaim from the audience was important for Bush. “You’re not looking for the approval of one person or a panel of judges,” he says. “You really want the people to understand your craft and what you’re doing and where you’re coming from.”

Bush got to the competition at the Apollo after winning the preliminary contest at the War Memorial in Trenton. One of the most important lessons Bush took away from his experience at The Apollo — one that has helped shape his ongoing career — is to remain true to his craft and to be himself.

“Nobody can beat you at being you,” he says. “When you go on a stage like that, you just have to be yourself. Otherwise, they’ll eat you alive.”

In the decade that has past since his time on American Idol, Bush has steadily pursued his musical interests, rooted in his faith and honed by the lessons he learned while he was a young student in Ewing’s school district.

After his time at The Apollo, Bush went on to do background singing and writing for a variety of artists. Among the notable artists with whom he’s worked are R&B and television star Brandy Norwood and her brother and fellow artist, Ray-J, as well as Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, whose has produced music for artists including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and others.

“I used to want to be the main attraction, but now I’m kind of comfortable in the background,” he says of his musical career.

Bush has also worked as the music minister for New Hold Cross Church in Trenton, where his uncle, is the pastor and where his parents, Alfred and Valerie, have sung. He comes from a musical family. One uncle was a member of the group Instant Funk, and another a backing singer for Gladys Knight.

However, Bush just took another position as the musical director with a Somerset church, the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens under Pastor DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., the former Secretary of State of New Jersey under former Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

Additionally, Bush does a lot of inspirational speaking to youth around the country. “I feel that the music — the premier music in today’s world — is not as enriching as it should be, so I go around a lot and speak about music,” Bush says, adding that it is the responsibility that musicians and artists have to be a positive influence on today’s youth. “I have a praise and worship seminar that … to talk about how to reconcile today’s secular music with gospel.”

Bush is currently working on a gospel television program, although he can’t reveal more details about it just yet, and a number of other projects, including his goal of releasing his own gospel album sometime next year.

Through it all, Bush still lives in Ewing, raising his own family in the very neighborhood in which he grew up.

“Ewing is where my heart is,” he says.

Bush married his wife,

Shaone, eight years ago. His wife also has roots in the music industry — her uncle is Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, and her father is Fred Jerkins, an award-winning producer. The couple has three boys, ages 5, 4, and 2. His five-year-old son attends Parkway Elementary School, the same school Bush attended in his youth.

In fact, Bush credits Parkway teacher Laura Hall-Carney with introducing him to a variety of music styles, and he still stops by to visit with her on occasion.

“She was a great inspiration on my life,” Bush says. “She actually started to steer me into broadening my musical repertoire — not just singing R&B music and gospel music, but broadening my repertoire to classical music” and opera styles. Bush says he has found himself in a number of instances professionally, in which he has been brought in to consult on music projects in which those skills are needed.

“The very fact that I have those things on my resume makes me someone who is sought after,” he said. “I attribute a lot of my success and a lot of my learning to Ewing.”

While Bush could have pursued professional opportunities that might have put him on a career path similar to the likes of today’s bigger pop stars, Bush chooses to continue pursuing opportunities that are more in line with his values.

“Not to say there is anything wrong with them,” he explains. “But some of the messages they put out are not true to my values. They’re true to them, but not to me. You have to stay honest to yourself.”

Adds Bush: “I think the piece of advice that I would have for anybody is that to get anywhere, you need to be humble and not humble from a superficial standpoint, but humble enough to be honest with yourself. Are you going into the right direction, making the right decisions, and are your decisions based on the right principles? The more humble you are, it helps you make those right decisions.”