Jersey boy, Leonardo Martinez, has all the makings of a pop star; he has charisma and good looks. But what sets him apart is his personal journey that he shares with the audience. I saw Leonardo perform with his piano player, Jay Essex, at the Rrazz Room in New Hope, Penn. this past summer.
Life wasn’t always easy for Leonardo; he faced struggles growing up, and coming out to his parents. When he came out at 14 to his mom, she said it was “just a phase,” and didn’t tell his father until a few years later. His father was not as receptive as his mom. He was bullied in middle school, and didn’t realize why.
Luckily, his best friend in school also came out at the same time, making it easier for him to have someone to share with. They are still best friends to this day.
Martinez enrolled in Montclair State University in northern New Jersey and majored in musical theatre. He then went out to California to get his Masters in Acting & Film. He started producing music videos and submitting them to film festivals, gaining recognition, and winning awards.
His music video “Feel The Love” won Best Music Video, Best Song, Best Performance, and Best Editing.
At the age of 18, Martinez became a go-go dancer at Splash Night Club in New York City. He said the club scene lead to a lot of partying, a lot of drugs and drinking, leading to addiction. One night he hit rock bottom lying on the floor, and at that moment he said he asked God to show him the way. Martinez described it as the moment that changed his life. He felt peace and comfort, and it became a transition for him.
His brother is autistic, which kept his family from attending a formal church service, because church members shunned them. He started attending Christian churches again, but found many members of the LGBT community had turned away from their churches because of lack of acceptance. Martinez turned to his music to write “songs about God that he felt in his heart.” He said the lyrics come to him first; he said he writes in “reality at the moment.”
Five years ago, he met his piano player, Jay Essex, through Facebook. At the time he was looking for a producer. Essex began playing the piano at age 9, inspired by Elton John and the music of the Lion King. When the two talents met, they shared a common bond of telling their personal stories through songs.
Essex wrote the song “IH8u” which is on the album Here I Am. The songs on the album tell a story of friendships, broken hearts, and being who you are. He said he writes music, “to inspire the LGBT community to give hope and love, especially in a world full of hate and violence.”
Martinez is now living in Los Angeles, although he has strong roots in New Jersey. He has started a Christian Bible Study Group for the LGBT community. The group started with just 5 members and has grown to 30 people who now get together and share their common beliefs. His new podcast, The Arena, has been picked up by REVRY, an app streaming LGBT entertainment.
Martinez said he doesn’t preach or judge. He says it all starts with a “conversation.” He has traveled the country playing his heart out at Pride events in Asbury Park, New York City, and Orange County, California. This fall he will be at Las Vegas Pride, and next spring heads back east to New Hope, Penn.in May.
“I have recently created my first album of original music and am planning performances globally.” Jay Essex is also producing an album of his own, Civil, which he says is more political in nature.
On stage Leonardo Martinez is a burst of energy, Off stage, he is humble and grounded in his spirituality. “My mission is to spread the love of God.” For a young artist, he is following his path true to his beliefs.