FLINT, Michigan -- There's a light oozing from Flint's most notable Black queer pop artist Furillostar. It shines through his smile when he answers questions about growing up between Flint and Atlanta—where music and dancing were prevalent. His friendly personality flourishes, recalling listening to his top five favorite artists: Michael and Janet Jackson; Britney Spears; Justin Timberlake; Usher. Furillo's warm personality is present when he speaks about his experiences with his dance group Final Destination. The group performed on BET's 106 & Park, auditioned for America's Best Dance Crew, and now are principal dancers for his solo endeavors.
Yet, there is a hint of darkness amid this vibrant sea of colorful pop songs and life experiences. It sits deep in the back of Furillo's eyes, allowing a brief glimpse into the struggles—like losing a record contract—Furillo's had to overcome. These are reminders of how far he's come and how much room there is to grow. He tells me, sitting across a Foster's Coffee table, wearing a matching Mickey Mouse hoodie-sweatpants set, a red wave cap, and colorful shoes, of those moments of happiness and sadness. That even with Billboard Magazine
and The Gay Times
music shoutouts, there's still a lingering desire to be acknowledged in the one city he calls home—Flint.
"When events were happening [in Flint], and things popped up, and I didn't see my name … I used to get offended because I'm here—I still live here," Furillo says, trying to crack a smile. "I do have those feelings and experiences. Living somewhere where the community is building this super artistic, creative space and not be part of that, that's tough."
"What was more of a journey for me was how do I be a Black queer entertainer?"
Challenging but not impossible. To date, Furillo has amassed over 200,000 Spotify streams and YouTube views combined. His music invokes the late 90s and early 00s signature pop sounds he grew up with and "the glorious early-aughts heyday when mainstream pop radio was saturated with insanely catchy R&B melodies," according to PAPER
Magazine. Close ties to Brelia Renee
on her hit song Vibe With You—and its accompanying remix—alongside his single Text'n Me have placed him in iTunes Top 30 and Top 10 R&B and pop charts, respectively. He's a guest feature on Shemy's
latest album, Awkwardly Confident, headlined statewide Gay Pride concerts, and has received several celeb shoutouts from his and Renee's TikTok videos.
But Furillo is one of two prominent Black male queer music artists in Flint—the other being Jesse Davis
of Him/Hers Dance—and it's a feeling of being pushed aside that he’s wrestled with publicly and privately. In favor of what he calls a "straight male rap" perspective, it is another reason why several in Flint call Furillo one of the city's most underrated artists. But it's one area of his life that he intends to move beyond. While at times Flint isn't as "progressive as other [major] cities," it hasn't stopped him from going after his dreams of becoming a dancer and now a pop artist.
"Being a performer, being on stage, you have these alter egos that help, and I think sometimes you can't turn it off," he says, exhaling and relaxing a bit. "My mom always says, 'be grateful for things because none of it has to happen.' I'm very humble, thankful, and blessed enough to have experienced a lot."
As the youngest of three children growing up, Furillo tells me with a grin that "me and my family were close," accepting his sexuality and feeling like he had "two moms" between his mother and sister. However, his dreams of singing and dancing almost never happened. Born with metatarsus adductus, a foot deformity, he wore a cast on both legs for years before his mother requested its removal. His mother—a dancer herself—witnessed his passion and took him to audition for a play where he danced, got accepted, and eventually went on tour. What followed was an opportunity to move to Atlanta, thanks to a family friend, and join an R&B boy band. Both opportunities gave Furillo first-hand "experience working with amazing producers" and "industry-level knowledge." Unfortunately, the record label dropped the group, causing him to return to Flint, reinsert himself into everyday life, and step fully into his queerness.
"Looking back on it now, I appreciate coming back because it allowed me time to grow," Furillo says with a laugh. "What was more of a journey for me was how do I be a Black queer entertainer?"
A look of relief washes over Furillo's face, happy that he's moved beyond the phase of being unsure of potential backlash for being a Black queer pop artist in Flint. Initially, Furillo continued writing lyrics and creating music addressing women instead of the men he wanted to up until "two years ago," noting how it "just wasn't clicking." Comfortable with sharing that aspect of his life with friends and family, he created a video for the HIV/AIDs center, Wellness Services, and it’s Coming Out Stories, that marked the moment of letting the world see him authentically and to come "join this journey with me."
That sparked support from Flint residents within and outside the LGBTQ+ community. With renewed confidence, Furillo began work with new producers and writers, which led to Wellness allowing him to perform at Flint Pride—a moment highlighted by the release of his Pride EP. The Flint Pride performance, in addition to his music, saw him invited to perform at several Gay Pride concerts across Michigan, which he called the Pride Tour. Soon after, he released his second project, FLAME.
"I want to be the biggest gay pop star ever."
"It felt like it was a reintroduction saying this is who [Flint is] going to be getting from here on out. That's when everything started to click," he says. "To experience [the Pride Tour] and see everybody authentically be themselves, it was one of the best experiences to be around people like that."
Although Furillo had no intention of becoming a role model for Black and queer communities, it is a title that he's slowly grown to appreciate. Now, he pronounces, "I want to be the biggest gay pop star ever." It is that purpose and trying to showcase greater vulnerability to allow his fans an authentic glimpse of who he is, which propels him to greater heights. Because even when he felt like he wasn't a part of Flint's music boom, the place he does hold—as an example of Black queer representation—remains vital.
"I think my role is representation. When I was a kid watching music videos, I didn't have Black queer entertainers. The more I can be seen and achieve things because of that, that's my biggest [goal]," he says with confidence. "I want to be that for Black queer kids."
You can find Furillostar on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. You can listen to his latest release, RUNAWAY, streaming on all media platforms.