Far Rockaway Singer Gets the Golden Ticket
on ‘American Idol’
By Katie McFadden
When Far Rockaway resident Isaiah Tart was a kid, he used to play an “American Idol” karaoke game with his family. Tart had dreams of one day auditioning for the show. He recently came across the old game and the irony of the timing wasn’t lost on him. After all, it was a reminder that the now 24-year-old singer has proven to his younger self that he could do it. Not only did Tart audition for “American Idol” Season 21—he also got the golden ticket to Hollywood.
Tart has been singing from a young age and started to develop his talent in music class at P.S. 106 in Far Rockaway. But it was at church where Tart really began to hone his gift from God. For the past 10 years, Tart’s father, Sterling Tart, has served as pastor of Humbleway Church of God in Christ in South Ozone Park, where Tart says is where he really developed the courage to become a performer. “I’m a PK, a preacher’s kid, and my dad heard me singing everywhere but church, so he forced me into singing at church. But I thank God my dad pushed me in that direction because it changed my life. That’s where my confidence came from,” Tart said.
As he got older, his confidence grew through church and singing with the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club in Far Rockaway, and by the time he performed at his first big talent show in sixth grade at M.S. 53, belting out “Who’s Loving You?” by the Jackson 5, the response from his classmates let Tart know that he wasn’t just a good singer. “I opened my mouth and the reaction I got from them was insane. I was in sixth grade, and I had people in eighth grade calling me ‘nephew’ and ‘cousin’ after that. They approved of me. It was one of the biggest moments for me,” he said.
And it would be one of many. In 2016, Tart made it to The Gift competition. “It was local to Queens, and someone referred me to it. It was like “American Idol” for Sunday’s best. I won the final,” Tart said. That opened some big opportunities to him, like opening for famed gospel singer, Beverly Crawford in Delaware and Alabama.
At age 19, Tart decided to try out for something that would give him even more exposure. He tried out for NBC show, “The Voice.” Tart says he got far in the audition process but ultimately didn’t make it onto the show. However, he decided to put his church voice to the test on “Sunday Best,” a BET reality show for gospel singers. “I made it on the screen. That was my first screentime on a show,” he said. But it wasn’t Tart’s big break.
During the peak of the pandemic, Tart found his own audience. “About two years ago, there was this challenge on TikTok and the very first video I uploaded, I sang and I added church to it, and people loved it because it was different. I went to sleep and woke up to a crazy number of comments, likes and views,” he said. Utilizing TikTok to showcase his voice in different ways, Tart now has a following of 84.6K on TikTok. Someone took notice.
This time, a show reached out to him. A casting director for “American Idol” messaged Tart and told him they were interested in him auditioning for the show, without him having to wait in line. After realizing the message was legitimate, Tart pulled out all the punches for the online audition, renting out a studio, donning a nice outfit and prepping the perfect songs. The producers ate it up. “I was told that one of the head producers really liked it and they saw me as a game changer,” he said. Tart got a yes from the producers, and they invited him to an audition city to officially try out. Tart chose to go to Las Vegas. “They flew me to Vegas in September and picked me up from the airport, and everything from the flight to the hotel was paid for,” he said. And his mom, Jacqueline, joined him on the journey. “My mom was with me every step of the way since I’m a kid. Every rehearsal, every audition, she’s been on my side,” he said.
In early filming, Tart was asked to share his background story, to which the crew told him, “You have one of the best energies we’ve had since we’ve been in Vegas.” Tart told them, “I’m from Far Rock, it’s just the energy we bring. We give good energy, good vibes.” During the second day of filming, the crew asked him to react to a video of past “Idol” performances. Instead, he was surprised with a special Zoom call of support from his students at a high school where Tart works as an associate for United Community Schools, along with his co-workers and other family that couldn’t be there for the audition. “I walked out of that room and everything hit me, about how real this was. About how my nieces, my nephews, my siblings, my hometown, my parents had my back and how far I’ve made it. And I started shedding tears and I said to myself, ‘You got this. You’re gonna get the golden ticket.’”
Tart was given the opportunity to audition in front of the judges, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. “As soon as I walked into the room, the first thing Lionel Richie said was, ‘You’re going to Hollywood.’ I said, ‘you don’t know that.’ He said, ‘you got the look,’” Tart recalled. Then he got a chance to prove it. In a sweet dedication to his father, Tart opened with “Complicated” by Leandria Johnson. It was a performance that won over the judges. “I got a standing ovation from Lionel and Katy. Lionel said, ‘I see so much in you. You have it,’” Tart recalled. Katy advised him to maybe not give too much too early, and Luke didn’t have much to say, but there was only one word that mattered. Tart got a “Yes” from all three judges. “You’re going to Hollywood!” they said.
Tart got the golden ticket. “It felt amazing. It felt like I accomplished what I said I would accomplish as a kid. To go to Hollywood is big. I thought, we’re not in Far Rockaway anymore, we’re going to Hollywood.”
During Hollywood Week, Tart got to meet competitors from across the country in Los Angeles and was tasked with choosing a category to work on. Knowing stage presence wasn’t his strong suit, he chose that, and got some pointers from the first “American Idol” runner-up, Justin Guarini, who gave him some advice that went against what Katy Perry had said. Tart sang “Tell Me You Love Me” by Demi Lovato for Guarini. According to Tart, Guarini was blown away. Since he had the vocals down, Guarini gave him tips on stage presence and advised him to give everything he had, opposite of what Katy Perry had advised.
During his performance in front of the judges, Tart gave it his all. Despite receiving major applause from fellow competitors after his performance, the judges had something different to say. “Lionel said ‘you nailed the stage presence, but it was still too much.’ Katy said, ‘you have to save some for later,’” he recalled. Tart felt defeated but his fellow competitors reassured him, telling him he was Top 10 material.
By the end of the filming, Tart was given the bad news. He wouldn’t be making it to the next round. “That was the moment that broke me,” Tart said. Despite the devastation of being sent home earlier than he expected, Tart was shown immediate support as his family threw him a party when he got home. Tart started to look on the bright side. “They said, ‘we’re so proud of our idol’ and it felt good, and even though I was dealing with the feeling of ‘what if,’ I still had hope because I got my golden ticket and thought the audition would be aired.’” Recalling his story and the superlatives he received during auditions, Tart was counting on his audition being aired, so he would at least get exposure as an artist.
Season 21 began in February, but as the last episode of auditions aired on March 26, Tart was devastated once again to learn none of his footage made the cut. He held out hope for the Hollywood Week episodes, but after those wrapped up on April 3, Tart was nowhere to be seen on the show.
“I found out at work that it wasn’t being aired and it broke me. I remember feeling like dang, now your story is not going to be told. You were on ‘American Idol’ but you weren’t on ‘American Idol,’” he said. Despite not making it on TV, Tart says he takes it as a learning opportunity, and after initially swearing off all audition shows, he may wait two years before trying again. “God’s got something bigger and better. He wasn’t ready for me to be exposed yet. There’s always a setback before the comeback, like a launch. It’s like a slingshot. You gotta pull it back but once you release, you go farther than you could imagine.”
Tart still has his dreams set on success. He’s currently recording his first album, after already releasing some music on digital platforms, such as Apple Music and Spotify. He also has dreams of one day opening a center that can help give youth the tools they need to see their own dreams come to fruition.
In the meantime, you can check out Tart’s talents on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook @theisaiahtart or on YouTube under Isaiah Justice Tart.
Photos from Fremantle.