Xavier Washington poised to take musical dreams to the next stage

Xavier Washington with an American Idol sign behind him.
Xavier Washington was invited this spring for an in-person, televised session on American Idol.

Xavier Washington found his voice at Yale.

That’s not to say he didn’t already have a strong baritone and singing chops when he arrived from Atlanta. Music was always an important part of his life. “I’ve been singing since I was able to talk,” he said.

But at Yale, where he majored in African American studies, Washington found something more: technique, assuredness, and opportunity.

At first I thought, when I got here, I’d go to law school,” said the 23-year-old from Silliman College. “I thought of music as a hobby because I didn’t know if I could really do it yet.”

At Yale, however, that started to change. During his first two years, he sang with the Shades of Yale, an undergraduate a cappella group. During his junior year, Washington joined the Yale Glee Club, which was his first experience with classical choral music repertoire. He was also a teaching assistant for the Morse Chorale, a youth choir sponsored by Yales Music in Schools Initiative.

Xavier Washington singing on stage.
Xavier Washington performing.

But it wasn’t until he performed a solo set at a Spring Fling concert in 2019 — culminating with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” — that he saw his future. “I realized this is what I want to do,” he said. 

Washington took a gap year during the 2019-20 academic year to be in the Whiffenpoofs before the group’s touring was halted because of the pandemic.

After returning to campus for his senior year last fall, Washington was contacted by “American Idol” scouts who had learned of his singing through his Instagram musical postings. (He has more than 40,000 followers.)

After a virtual audition he was invited for an in-person, televised session this spring in Los Angeles before judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie. Advancing to the third round of “Hollywood Week” — during which he performed “Gravity” by John Mayer — he made it to the end of that round. While he didn’t advance to the next round, the judges were clearly impressed.

Washington said his sound and style — which are rooted in the soulfulness and musicality of the gospel music he was raised with — have been polished, cultivated, and grounded at Yale with technique and experiences. 

He now plans to search for a job in the entertainment industry, ideally in New York City, while also continuing to create his music and performing on stage. 

Being at Yale has been a learning experience and has made me more confident in my vocal ability and musicianship,” he said. “I’m so grateful that I’ve had so many spaces to grow as an artist, as well as socially. They have really shaped me.” 

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