Wisconsin’s CJ Rislove heads to Hollywood on ‘American Idol’

Singer-songwriter describes himself as a soul-pop artist who's inspired by jazz

CJ Rislove advances to the next round of competition on “American Idol.” Photo courtesy of ABC Press

Wisconsin native CJ Rislove is bringing national attention to the state for his musical talents. The singer and songwriter who spent his teen years in Chippewa Falls has advanced to the next round of “American Idol.”

“Everything’s finally clicking into place and it really feels like this is what I was trying to do the whole time,” Rislove told WPR.

He describes himself as a soul-pop artist who’s inspired by jazz music and artists like Billy Joel, Elton John and Stevie Wonder.

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Rislove attributes a big part of his success to the people of Chippewa Falls, especially the music department at Chippewa Falls Sr. High School.

When Rislove was a student there, then music teacher Ron Buckles saw him playing trombone and tuba and, according to Rislove, thought, “That kid is made of music.”

Buckles recruited Rislove to join the school choir his senior year. He said that encouragement is why his passion for music took off.

“They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Rislove said. “I think about how much I grew as a musician in that time.”

School bus turned ‘Jazz Wagon’

Rislove was born in Stevens Point but his family regularly moved around. He attended more than a dozen schools before moving back to Wisconsin for high school.

As he settled in for his freshman year in Chippewa Falls, he started saving money in a pickle jar for the nomadic life he had grown accustomed to and was itching to return to.

“It would be my dream to be able to just have a studio on wheels,” Rislove said.

CJ Rislove converted a school bus into a van, adopting a nomadic lifestyle. Photo courtesy of ABC Press

At 17 years old, Rislove had enough money to buy an old school bus. He began retrofitting the vehicle so it could be a house, a car and a music studio all in one. He said his neighbors in Chippewa Falls were supportive of his dream, even if it seemed unusual. Neighbors donated a mattress, a refrigerator and barnwood.

“I love everyone from that town so much,” Rislove said.

Since then he’s traveled the county in what he calls “The Jazz Wagon,” taking the community with him everywhere he goes.

“My heart is spread out in a million pieces across the United States because there’s things I love about everywhere,” Rislove said.

Advancing on ‘American Idol’

Rislove said his unconventional lifestyle informs his artistry.

“I want to make just the absolute best use of all my time, because I know it’s so limited and really nomadic living is the biggest teacher for me,” Rislove said.

Rislove is diligent about his passion. He writes a new song every other day, focusing first on brainstorming lyrics, and then on polishing the song.  

“Songwriting is the thing that really lights a fire in my heart,” Rislove said.

As he walked before judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry he said his heart was beating fast. When Perry learned about his continuous songwriting, she asked him to sing what he had written the day before.

“My heart almost beat out of my chest when she asked me that,” Rislove said.

Rislove performed an original song, “The Astronaut and The Rockstar,” for the judges. Afterward, they took a unanimous vote to advance him to the next stage of the competition in Hollywood.

He said he’s excited to continue competing on the show. In the meantime, he hopes he can inspire other songwriters to keep creating.

“Done is better than perfect. There ain’t nothing to it but to do it,” Rislove said.

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