With his vocals and stage presence, masked by a 3D drag queen avatar, Jay Miah stunned audiences in 2021 as Navaeh King on Alter Ego. OutCoast had a chance to catch up with the Florida super star for a recap on his experience and plans for the future.
Who is Jay Miah?
With a powerhouse, five-octave vocal range, Jay Miah was always destined to perform.
“I’ve been singing ever since I was a little person,” he said. “I started singing when I was three or four. My mom told me that I was always dancing, and I would break into song.”
The Longwood, Florida native eventually joined a choir, leading to an “awakening” – both spiritually and musically – and attended a magnet high school that encouraged his artistic pursuits.
Inspired, Miah moved to Tampa after high school about 12 years ago to elevate his skills as a performer, studying music with an emphasis on voice at the University of South Florida.
Jay Miah as a Drag Performer
It was during this time that he discovered the art of drag, performing under the name Miah Van-Cartier for several years. Not only did this boost his confidence as a performer, it also helped him grow into his “authentic self.”
“Drag gave me that freedom. It showed me that I’m supposed to be singing,” he said. “It also showed me that I am me and whatever I wear doesn’t define that for me. Drag has given me that feminine side. It’s been in me ever since I was a child. (Drag) has given me that beautiful space to be gorgeous and embody her because she’s there. I feel like a man on the outside and a woman on the inside and I’ve reconciled with that.”
He found a drag mother, who taught him the ins and outs of the art form, including “how to tuck” and find the right wigs. Despite winning some talent shows and pageants, though, Miah stopped performing for a period to focus on his studies and work.
“I’m my own saboteur,” he said. “I said, ‘No. You can’t sing. You have to go to college. Get a degree. Get a big girl job. Do that big girl job well.’”
And that’s exactly what he did, building a career in specialty retail, climbing the ladder as he worked with a range of products: children’s clothing, sunglasses, jewelry, vaping products. At every company he worked for, he was recognized for his talent for helping customers and cultivating staff. He kept getting promoted, even working closely with CEOs.
At the same time, the longer Miah stayed away from the stage, the more his confidence in his vocal talent began to falter.
“I wasn’t performing, and people didn’t even know that I sang. Every once in a while, someone would overhear me singing and would ask me, ‘Why don’t you sing?’” he said. “But I just didn’t know if it was for me. I loved it, but I didn’t feel like I was a singer anymore.”
Then, about four years ago, his world came crashing down. He lost his closest friend, Beyja King, to suicide. He was also devastated by the end of a relationship and being laid off from his corporate position with a vaping retailer when the company changed hands.
His Appearance on The Voice
With all this change, he decided it was time to perform again.
“I took all these signs and thought, ‘If there’s any time to do this, the time is now,’ and I jumped,’” Miah said. “I’m not normally one to do that. Normally, I start with putting one toe in, then two toes in. But I jumped.”
He landed a blind audition for NBC’s “The Voice,” appearing in season 17. It wasn’t his first time on a reality competition. In 2011, he made it to Hollywood Week on “X Factor.”
On “The Voice,” though he gave an impressive performance of “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman,” none of the celebrity judges – Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams – turned their chairs for him.
The judges were shocked when they laid their eyes on Miah for the first time, inviting him to come back and audition again.
Stefani, who left her chair to hug him, told him, “That was so gorgeous.”
She later added, “It was so intense. Like, your voice is so passionate. I can hear you in the way you sing and I’m sorry I didn’t turn. I mean, I feel dumb now about it.”
Clarkson told him he had “incredible” vocals and that he was “born for Broadway.”
Jay Miah Performs as Navaeh King on Alter Ego
Though Miah was disappointed, he didn’t let it defeat him.
“I’ve had ‘Nos’ my whole life. What’s another ‘no’?” he said. “I just didn’t fit the puzzle piece for that season. I realized in that moment, after I did some unpacking, that one ‘No’ is your ‘Yes.’ You are your ‘Yes.’ You don’t need somebody to define you. If you’re a writer, you’re a writer; a singer, you’re a singer; a sculptor, you’re a sculptor; and nobody else can do what you do.”
That “No” turned into a “Yes” when he was later tapped to compete on a new Fox show, “Alter Ego,” which premiered in September 2021.
On the show, the contestants perform as avatars that they help to create. They sing backstage wearing motion capture technology to control their on-stage personas.
For the show, Miah became the avatar Nevaeh King – the first name is “Heaven” spelled backwards and the last name is a nod to his late friend, Beyja.
When creating the character, he decided to perform as a woman – a look that would fit his vocals, he said – and partnered with the graphics department to create her look.
“I’d say, ‘Make her more curvaceous,’ and they made her more curvaceous,” he said.
Though he was eliminated from the show on the fifth episode, the show couldn’t have been more rewarding for him.
“I went into the process so much in gratitude, not expecting anything, and just being present,” he said. “It was awesome. That was so cool, like being in a video game.”
He experienced one of his most powerful moments as a performer on the show – singing “I Will Always Love You” on the first episode.
“It was so beautiful for me, just amazing,” he said.
And he loved giving the judges – Alanis Morissette, Nick Lachey, Grimes and will.i.am – a surprise when revealing his true self during his exit from the show, as they all thought that he, like his avatar, was a woman.
“That was an amazing moment, to be a gender kind of like bender and shock the judges,” Miah said.
Where To See Jay Miah Perform
These days, he regularly performs in drag throughout the Tampa Bay area. He’s the reigning Miss City Side and hosts a weekly sing-along at Cocktail in St. Petersburg. He can also be found at Christoph’s in Tampa.
Miah also sings with two St. Petersburg churches, First Unity and Today’s Church, and hopes to be on TV again soon. He’s submitted auditions to several shows that have expressed interest in him.
“I’ll sing at churches. I’ll sing at bars. I’ll sing at funerals, sadly, or happily, depending,” he said. “I’ll sing anywhere, wherever the wind blows, really.”
Fans can expect him to release some original music this year, as well.
“Good things are coming. It’s a good start to 2022,” he said. “I just want to share my love for music with others. Everything I’ve been through, I feel like there’s a lot to share, and I can share it through music. It’s a universal language and I’m so happy to be able to be part of it.”
To stay updated on future projects, visit his website here.
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