Hold Back My Heart: A Eulogy for a Friend

As I sit here, I don’t even know how to start this. Today has been an odd day and one that I haven’t really actually digested. I woke up feeling energized and happy because I was starting a new chapter in my life, going on to great things and feeling really optimistic. It was the first time in months that I felt this happy and content with myself. It was the first time in months that I felt my heart was finally on the mend and able to move on. Shortly after running some errands this morning, I received news that a friend of mine had died. And he’s not just any friend: Michael was a great catalyst to my life—a muse, you might say. He was someone who constantly encouraged me with feedback, complimented me when he didn’t really need to, and tease me like a big brother if I was being silly. In many ways, he was like a big brother to me and I really loved and appreciated him.

You might have heard about his passing today. A lot of people did. Reason being, Michael was a contestant on the FOX reality show, American Idol during the reality show’s seventh season (2008). Michael was, as society would put it, a celebrity. But he never acted like one. He always made everyone around him feel like they were just as important as all the attention that was put on him. He was humble, grounded, and an extremely down-to-earth person. Michael was charming, funny, sweet, and über talented. He might not have won the show, but he certainly won a great place in the hearts of many who adored and admired him.

Michael was always kind to me and I will never forget it. I met Michael at a meet-and-greet in Toronto back in July of 2008, when I was still figuring myself out. I was a 22 year old writer at the time who was trying to “make it” (some days I think I still am). He was extremely kind and warm, and there was nothing false about him. He was the type of person who would look you in the eye when you’d speak to him. He was the kind of person whose smile lit up a room if you made him laugh. He was purely magnetic.

Idols Concert 01

The day I met Michael is a day I won’t ever forget. I stood in a sweaty lineup inside the Air Canada Center for the American Idols Live Concert, waiting with my sister and mom as the Idols would make their way down the line and meet fans. As someone who is better at writing than verbally speaking, I was fortunate enough to make my way to the front of the line with letters I had written—one for Michael, one for David Cook. As Michael made his way down the line, my sister and I made some small chit-chat with him. He was very sweet and I noticed he would look her in the eye when speaking to her, even if he was two or three people away. As he made his way closer to us, I stood there in awe, just sort of watching him and not really paying attention. It was then that my sister shouted, “Give Michael your letter!” I started panicking, thinking he’d walk past us because I didn’t really acknowledge him or ask for an autograph. Immaturely, I held out the envelope and smiled at him, not saying a word. As he was about to sign it, he took a double take, then turned to me. “What’s this?” he asked with his smooth Australian accent, leaning in. I smiled and told him, “It’s for you!” Michael then took the envelope, smiled from ear to ear and tucked it carefully into his back pocket. As he did this, he kept his eyes on me and smiled. In a very soft voice he said, “Thank you so much. I appreciate it.”

I’ve always been one to understand body language and genuineness, and Michael was the epitome of a sincere and honest nature. He was goodhearted and extremely warm. You could tell he was so taken aback and humbled by the affection and admiration from all the fans. After he took my letter and had to make his way down to the others, he gave me a hug and smiled at me. It was extremely sweet and it was then that I knew Michael and I were going to be friends.

Soon after the concert, I grew incredibly inspired to continue writing and being serious about it. Michael was, after all, inspiring. His music fed my creativity and urged me to follow my own dreams. He was an example of someone who would take punches (like being on national television and being criticized publicly), but kept steadfast on his goal no matter what. I’m sure like any individual, he had dark moments but he always rose above it. And that was a lesson that I took with me on my writing journey. A lot of my early work on Newsvine was Michael Johns-centric, and sure that looks limiting for a freelance journalist, but I owe a lot to Michael. He helped me become the writer I knew I had in me, just couldn’t really pull out because either I was timid or unsure of myself. In any case, I enjoyed introducing him to new fans, while pushing my own goals forward in writing. I like to think he helped me grow in so ways that he might never really know or believe. I wish there was a way I could tell him, “Thank you so much. appreciate it.”

Michael Johns - Tweet 01

Michael and I kept in touch via social media and email throughout the years. I would message him from time-to-time with updates of not just my life, but my writing, my sister’s failing health (at the time), and even confiding in him about a guy I fell head-over-heels in love with. (I even showed him a picture of the dashing gent!) And like a big brother, he was caring and provided little nuggets of wisdom and reassurance every time he felt I needed it. When things started going sour in my relationship with “the guy”, Michael was unbelievably sweet and it was little things he’d say or do. During a Twitter party in 2011, I jokingly asked him if he could foresee my future and he tweeted, “Any one would be lucky to have [your] sense of humour for life haha.” It was funny and made me think, he’s right: “I’m not so bad…”

Something that you should know about Michael is that he was incredibly funny, and such a goofball. A day after my birthday last year, he thoughtfully wished me a “happy belated” and made a really funny comment about turning 28 that I am going to keep to myself now. But see, that’s the kind of person Michael was. He was considerate and thoughtful, and I’m going to miss him so much now. As I write this, I am in a pool of my own tears, wondering, how could this happen? I am truly heartbroken and devastated. I am at a point where I cannot believe he’s gone. There are so many things I wish I told him. Thank you. You’ve been one of my favorite people in the whole stinkin’ world. I love you like a brother. You’ve helped me in so many ways. You mean a lot to me. I appreciate you. I’m never going to be able to tell him any of these things and I just hope when he left this world, he knew of everyone who loved him. He knew he was everyone’s favorite person.

They say death ends a life, but not a relationship. I do believe that to be true. You see, the beauty and honor of knowing and befriending Michael Johns came with the added bonus of an army of friends that strongly formed because of a mutual admiration for the show and its contestants (“Seven is Heaven”). Because I was a part of the American Idol fandom, I had the privilege and opportunity to make some really, really amazing friends. A lot of them to this day are still my friends (my very good friends, my confidantes), and they just so happen to be some of the closest people I’ve grown to know and love. I do believe Michael played a great hand in bringing love into people’s lives because he was a loving person. He was so kind and generous. There really aren’t any other words to describe that quality about him.

My last interview with Michael was in 2012 for Newsvine. That was the year I went through my own hardships and extreme heartbreak. Basically, it was my low point and I was trying my hardest to distract myself because the pain I was feeling began to engulf my light. Michael was kind enough to agree to an interview immediately despite his busy schedule at the time. Because it was for his EP, Love & Sex, Michael and I discussed the subject of “love”. It was a sensitive topic for me at the time, but Michael would always approach it honestly and in some way, very brotherly.

He told me, “When you’re in your 20s, you think you know but in most cases, [you] don’t. I think people who get married too young, often I’ve found end up unhappy. Now some of the lucky ones at any age get to be with their true soul mate – 25, 35, 65, it doesn’t matter what age. Unfortunately for most, they don’t. I think sometimes people are so scared to say [they’re] unhappy and stay in negative relationships for fear of hurting someone or being alone or [for] the kids. There’s no perfect road map. You just got to follow your heart and try and be the best person you can.”

You just got to follow your heart and try and be the best person you can.

Those words are going to resonate with me for the rest of my life. I like to think meeting Michael sparked my direction and motivation, and because of that I owe a lot of my career to him. Writing on causes for Water.org, the UN Foundation; creating The Hudsucker; writing for the International Women’s Media Foundation, all of it. It all started with a single inspirational spark that kick-started a domino affect.

Since Michael said those words to me two years ago, I have made it my goal to be a better person, trying my hardest to pursue every single dream in this cracked heart because there is no road map in life. You make your own routes, your own roads and along the way, things will happen. Michael knew that. But Michael also knew that if you’re a good person and work hard, you do reap the rewards. With everything I know about him (and I may have just scratched the surface), I truly believe he lived and loved his life, family and friends to the fullest. He taught  me to be passionate and love what you’re doing. He was the epitome of fortitude, followed his heart and pursued his passions. I will never forget him and I will always think about him when I put pen to paper. Michael, my brother, I love you. You will be greatly missed.

My deepest condolences and sympathies go out to Michael Johns’ family, friends and the many fans out there who loved and admired him.

RIP Michael Johns.

I made this video six years ago with my sister. Making videos was something we liked to do and often share with some of the 7th season’s Idols. Along with the “mashups” we made, this was a video that Michael liked as well, set to his studio version of The Beatles classic, “Across the Universe”.

[Photo Credits: Getty Images, Tania Hussain, and Twitter]
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16 comments

  1. What a lovely and heartfelt tribute to Michael, Tania. It’s been a very sad day, but hearing how loved Michael was by so many people has brought some rays of light and hope in the midst of the sadness. I know you will always cherish your friendship with him, and please continue to follow all your dreams.

    1. Thank you Debra for the kind words. I will certainly continue to follow my dreams. It’s been a very sad very days and one I am still having a hard time actually understanding. I agree with you wholeheartedly—hearing from everyone of how Michael touched their lives and what he meant to them has really shed light on the power of love, and how one person can make a difference in this lifetime. <3

  2. This was touching, Tania, and in a way, very cathartic for me to read. Honestly, the one bright spot that came of this is having you and everyone else around as support right now. I truly can’t imagine what those close to Michael must be experiencing, given how we feel. Thank you for writing this. I know how hard it must have been to even find the words, but it truly helped me. Much love.

    1. Andrew, I’m glad to hear it brought you some solace at this time. It’s still unfathomable and I’m finding myself going through these bouts of sorts where I think I’m progressing, but find myself digressing in the stages of grief. I guess that’s a progress in itself? I’m so happy I got to watch that 7th season of Idol all those years ago because then I would never have been introduced to you. You are so wonderful and one of my dearest friends. We are lucky to have each other at this time. That being said, like you, I can’t imagine what those close to Michael have been feeling at this time. I can only wish them love and strength, and hope they find some peace in knowing how blessed everyone was to have known him in whatever facet they did. Love you.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I still can’t quite believe it either. He was gone too soon and there certainly was so much more for him to achieve. I’ll never, ever forget him.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me how one person can have such a tremendous impact, just by spreading their gifts to others. Thank you for sharing your experiences with Michael with us. He will never ever be forgotten. <3

    1. He really won’t ever be forgotten, and a lot of that has to do with how he brought so many of us together. I will always be thankful to him for how he blessed my life with not just beautiful music, but these amazing friendships that I cherish so deeply. <3

  4. That was beautifully written, Tania. I used to have you in LiveJournal back in the day and when I heard of Michael’s passing you were one of the first people I thought of because I remembered you were such a big admirer of his, not just of his singing but also just as a whole person.

    I’ll admit I did not keep on his post-Idol career as much as I should have but I’ll never forget what a talented and kind person he was. It’s so wonderful that you were able to form a friendship with him, and that he had such a positive impact on your life.

    It’s so tragic that he has to be gone well before his time, but there is some solace in knowing he brought happiness to others. I hope he was happy too. Rest in peace, Michael.

    1. Bailey! How have you been? It’s been so long! I hope you’ve been well and taking care. Thank you for the kind words and condolences. It means a lot. It’s so tragic. Michael was an incredible person, inside and out. Even post-Idol, he was ever humble and dedicated not just to his music, but fans too. He was very congenial and that was a beautiful quality about him. I’m lucky to have known him and have him be a part of my life in some way. Again, thank you for the words. They mean so much to me at this time.

      1. Thank you, I have been good, I hope you have too. It’s been too long!! I just kind of got out the habit of Twitter & LiveJournal and all that jazz, but I plan on starting again. I miss it!

        On a lighter note in this sad time, I just wanted to tell you that it’s been awhile since I’ve been on your site or read your work, and I am super impressed! All of your writing is excellent & interesting, and this site and all your other social media things are really well done and professional. Kudos to you! :)

        Once again, thank you for the beautiful tribute to Michael, I enjoyed reading it and I’m sure many others will as well. <3

  5. I have a distinct memory of you and your username on the MJO forum back during the S7 Idol tour. It’s been a while since I connected with MJ fans, aside from what I see on twitter. I had no idea you had this connection with Michael, but I’m extremely happy you did. The advice he gave you is amazing – and the fact he actually kept a connection with you is even more great. I was lucky to meet him during the tour and he was nothing but amazing to my family and myself. He even gave us 3 extra After Party passes so I’d stop stressing lol. I dunno. I just love him.

  6. What a beautiful tribute to Michael. Thank you for sharing your words and thoughts. One thing you said is like me as well — I write much better than I speak. I would have been able to write him a book, yet only speak a few words before my mind went blank. How special that from that letter to him, you became friends with him. Thank you for sharing a little piece of his life with us. So many people are heartbroken and devastated as you said you are. But your words will put a smile on many people’s faces as they think about him.

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