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Wisconsin musician CJ Rislove takes his music on the road from LA to the Ozarks

Cooper Sams, Reporter   Apr 12, 2024 Updated Apr 12, 2024

See Missouri State University The Standard News for sull story.

Musicians come from all walks of life. For Wisconsin native CJ Rislove, his walk of life rests on the four wheels of his home: the Jazz Wagon. 

The Jazz Wagon used to be a 34-seat passenger bus, until Rislove converted it into his home and studio. A self proclaimed  “f— around and find out kind of dude,” Rislove knew by 14 years old that he wanted to live a nomadic life. He described life on the road as “the ultimate adventure.”

Rislove distinctly remembers the day he decided to pursue a nomadic life. That night, he went into his parents’ bedroom and told them his dream of being a traveling musician. Just three years later, he and a friend bought the bus that would become the center of his life.

At first, his van was painted green and fittingly named “The Pickle.” After his friend sold Rislove his part of the ownership, Rislove became the sole owner of the bus, and he has since painted it white and christened it with its name, the Jazz Wagon.

Rislove has been on the road since January 2022, yet he is rarely ever alone. He typically travels with other nomads in caravans across the country. 

“Most people, if they live in a bus, and you ask them if they know CJ, they probably do,” he said.

Rislove said more than anything, the communal aspect of nomadic life is what is important to him. He described all the people he’s met around the country as “a gazillion friends that mean a lot to me.”

On his journey, Rislove has also been able to see much of the United States. He has visited more than 30 states. While each location has been special, Rislove called New Orleans his “favorite city in the world.”

By the end of 2024, Rislove said he plans on visiting all 48 states of the continental U.S., and has only the east coast still left to visit. Rislove plans to leave the Ozarks shortly and make his way to Florida to kick off the east coast leg of his journey. Even after visiting every state in the U.S. Rislove wants to continue bus life and is interested in traveling through Europe. 

Along with his travel ambitions Rislove is a rising musician. As with his nomadic lifestyle, he developed a passion for music early on in life.

When he was young, Rislove lived in Guam, where he said, “Everyone played the ukulele.” He distinctly remembers when he would sneak into his older brother Josh’s room to steal his ukelele and play it before he got his own. 

Despite how talented Rislove has become since he first stole his brother’s ukulele, he hasn’t had much actual musical training and is mostly self taught, having learned the piano entirely on his own.

While he is gifted in the performance aspect of music, Rislove said he enjoys the composition and creation of music more than anything. Some of his biggest influences are songwriters like Billy Joel, Elton John and Stevie Wonder.

While Rislove is inspired by many, there wasn’t any specific artist that he could point out as having the biggest impact. He emphasized that every artist is not just the result of one person’s influence, but of many. 

“Every artist is kind of like a rainbow coalition of all the other artists he looks up to,” Rislove said.

A mix of Billy Joel and Elton John is exactly how Katy Perry described Rislove during his audition for American Idol. 

When his audition was aired on March 3rd, he won over both the judges and audience alike. Not just with his musical talent, but also with his charming personality as well, with Lionel Richie even saying “I just love you,” after Rislove’s performance.

To get to the audition in Los Angeles, Rislove drove the Jazz Wagon four days straight down from Oregon to southern California. Despite breaking down on the way there, he was assisted by two local mechanics who helped him out and he made it to LA with no further issues.

His audition was unanimously approved by the three judges, and Rislove said it was a great experience. He said everyone involved was extremely friendly and hospitable. He did, however, describe Katy Perry as “Kind of a weirdo, but she was cool.”

While he ultimately did not advance past the next stage of American Idol, Rislove’s journey with music has not ended. Within the next few years, he wants to continue his work and plans to strive for consistency. He plans to finish both an EP and full album in the near future, and also has ambitions for creating a musical and writing a fantasy trilogy. 

For those on a similar path to a life of music, Rislove had advice to give. 

“Create things that you feel are you as a musician,” he said.

Rislove said that too many musicians try to imitate other artists when they only need to be themselves. He said that if you love someone like Lady Gaga, it’s important that you don’t try to copy them.

“There’s already one Lady Gaga in the world, we don’t need any more, we just need you,” he said.

On his own winding journey that has spanned across the country and across several years, it is this idea of individuality that has been the throughline.

“I don’t know how to be anyone else,” he said. “I’ve only ever been CJ."

‘Kid is going places’: Internet compares ‘American Idol’ Season 22 star CJ Rislove’s vocals with Elton John and Billy Joel

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Not only were the judges of 'American Idol' Season 22 impressed by CJ Rislove's performance, but the fans also expressed their admiration for his vocals. Many fans drew comparisons between CJ and iconic musicians Elton John and Billy Joel, who happen to be CJ's inspirations.

They highlighted how his singing reminded them of these legendary artists. The overwhelming positive response from fans included statements that he has the potential to reach the finals of the show. 

When Rislove walked in the audition room, he introduced himself as hailing "from everywhere and nowhere" and disclosed that he currently lived in a bus named the Jazz Wagon. As a unique gesture, he brought cookies for the judges. Later, in an interesting turn of events, they requested him to perform a song he had written just the day before. CJ, expressing a mix of anticipation and curiosity, seated himself at the piano, setting the stage for a noteworthy audition.

His performance was exceptional, leaving the judges so impressed that they couldn't resist giving him a golden ticket. Not only did the judges recognize his talent, but fans were also left awestruck by his incredible vocals. "I have CHILLS CJ is an amazing singer and songwriter I definitely see the Elton vibes," said a fan on Instagram. "YES!! With a tad of Billy Joel. He's probably my favorite so far. So genuine. And he made cookies!!," said another.  

Others found his voice similar to younger version of Elton John. "He was excellent!! I said it as soon as he started singing he reminds me of a younger Elton John! So talented and comes so natural. I want to know more about him and can't wait to see how far he goes in this competition! Love the show guys!"  "Billy joel, Elton, Bruce hornesby, kid is going places," said another.

"Bro is so talented! Immediate Billy Joel vibe with the piano playing!," said one. "His performance gave me BillyJoel songwriter vibes. I am so excited to see what CJ does on the show and I am pretty sure he will make it to live shows," added another. 

Who is CJ Rislove? 
Originally from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, CJ Rislove was born in 2001 and is now 23 years old. He discovered his love for singing at a young age, attending Chippewa Falls Sr. High School. His high school teachers recognized his singing potential, sparking his passion for music.

Over the years, CJ's musical journey evolved significantly. Currently, he is a versatile artist, serving as a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. An intriguing aspect of his creative process is that he lives, composes, and sings songs in his bus, affectionately called the jazz wagon. 

American Idol's CJ Rislove releases music inspired by Billy Joel and Elton John

CJ has a musical style he describes as a blend of Billy Joel and Elton John, catering to fans of both classic pop and contemporary music. To connect with his audience and showcase his creativity, CJ has undertaken an ambitious project – he's committed to composing and releasing a new song every day on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

This initiative reflects his dedication to consistently engaging with his listeners and underscores his artistic approach as a musician. CJ's deep fondness for American Idol comes from his authentic love for the show. He is genuinely excited about the opportunity to present his original compositions on the national stage, and shares enthusiasm to create music to a broader audience through this renowned platform.

Catch new episodes of 'American Idol' Season 22 every Sunday at 8 pm ET on ABC. The latest episodes will be available to stream next day on Hulu.

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