Meet Julian King & Kyn Rose, Samsung NXT 2.0 Finalists Embracing ‘Every Challenge and Moment’
Less than 12 hours before entry into Samsung NXT 2.0 closed, Julian King was scrolling Instagram. His manager had suggested he apply to the competition, sending over the specifics well in advance, but the Philadelphia native was dubious; over the course of his decade-spanning music career, the 30-year-old had lost faith in the supposed “meritocracy” of creative competitions.
Then, his thumb stalled. On his feed appeared a friend’s own online video submission, calling on Samsung NXT 2.0 to anoint them the next great unsigned artist. It was a summons. Julian decided to give it a go, too.
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Two hours north in Brooklyn, Kevin Doyle Rose, better known as “Kyn,” was similarly overcoming a “visceral hate” for singing contests. Toronto-born Kyn and Julian were both raised in church-going families alike, fostering a love for the arts from young ages, before their respective talents was recognized by teachers and talent shows.
While the parameters of traditional singing competitions always seemed artistically counterintuitive to Kyn, who contended with acute stage anxiety as a child, Samsung NXT 2.0 actually seemed empowering. Trusting the process, the 21-year-old climbed the ranks of the competition, flourishing in each week’s challenges until he and Julian were among the final three in the competition. Both artists shone bright in the February finale, with Nyla XO ultimately taking home the Samsung NXT 2.0 crown.
“It really pushed me past my comfort zone, and that was so much fun,” says Kyn. “Learning how to get into my influencer mode and find my voice as a presence — every challenge and moment was an eventful one. Merge that with all the talented acts aiming for the same number one spot and boom, that’s a good contest.”
Watching his sister gig around Toronto, Kyn fell in love with every facet of the music-making process, from production to performance to promotion. His creative starting point ranges from bass line, poem or even a one-off ad-lib in the kitchen on a weeknight. Earlier in his career, he experimented with rap — though the most consistently positive responses to his music always came from the melodic vocals. “Good things happen when I sing,” Kyn would often joke.
“I think the beauty of music, and sometimes the greatest things in art, come from being experimental and weird, forcing yourself out of the box,” Kyn adds. “Nowadays I’m definitely more focused on the story — what the music means to me on a personal level… I believe this creates a genuine, vulnerable artist I hope everyone is intrigued enough to listen to.”
For Julian, reaching the NXT finale might be characterized as cracking his artistic chrysalis. From graduating in the top 10 percent of his class from Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, to earning a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance, finding his voice as a performing artist corresponded with years of formal training. As such, his childhood church attendance, choral background and jazz studies all informed a seven-year sound evolution. Now, Julian’s naturally pop-anchored vocals – styling that once disadvantaged him among the gospel and R&B singers in Philadelphia – has become a strength.
“It took years and years to develop my sound, my writing style, and my approach to music, but it’s also the vehicle that drives me into some of my wildest dreams,” Julian explains. “I’ve thought about what it meant to be [at the finale], what my life was like before and also what my life would be like after, and every time I came up with the same conclusion: ‘I worked really hard to get here, so enjoy it, JuJu.’”
After a stellar rendition of SZA’s “Kill Bill,” Julian made it to the final round of the NXT competition to perform his original track, “Can We Go Back?” For him, the breakup ballad was the culmination of all the artist’s perceived contradictions — masculine and feminine, gospel and pop, Black and Japanese, writer and choreographer — united in one show-stopping package. “I’m a lot of things, yet I see space for me, and for people just like me,” he says. “I’m just using my voice, my music and my performance to open the doors for me. Once I can truly get in, I can handle the rest.”
In “the best way possible,” Kyn returned home from Los Angeles a very different artist. In many ways, the Samsung NXT 2.0 competition fast-tracked the singer’s evolution — offering him an outlet to “obsess” over his artistic vision, and ultimately, pushing him beyond his own self-imposed expectations. Moreover, it gave Kevin Doyle a glimpse as to what might be in store for Kyn Rose, with a little trust.
“Hopefully there are enough amazing people who connect with me that way to fill out arenas around the globe and break records,” he says. “That’s a lot of finding to do, but all in time and hard work.”
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