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Dorian Holley


Dorian Holley

Dorian Holley
Genres R&B, soul, pop
Occupations Singer, backing vocalist, vocal coach, vocalist for The Tonight Show Band
Years active 1987–present

Dorian Holley is an American musician, backing singer and vocal coach. Holley began his professional career as an on-stage backing vocalist for international entertainer Michael Jackson during the Bad World Tour in 1987. The series of concerts had him perform to millions of people throughout the world, including British royalty. From there, Holley went on to travel with Jackson for all of his subsequent world tours. He also performed with other artists such as Rod Stewart in 1991 and James Taylor in 1994. His stage presence and vocal ability were praised by music critics during such performances.

Holley successfully auditioned to become a featured vocalist on the reality television show Dancing with the Stars. He served in this capacity for the first three seasons of the American series. Holley has also worked for several years as an associate music director and vocal coach for the singing competition American Idol, where he works with contestants before and after they appear before the show's judges and a worldwide television audience.

In 2008, Holley self-released his debut album, Independent Film. The subsequent year, he worked with Jackson for the final time, in preparation for the entertainer's ill-fated concert series This Is It. Holley was to serve as a backing vocalist, as well as the vocal director for the shows. Jackson's death forced the concerts to be canceled.

As of 2011, Holley is the vocalist for the house band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, led by Rickey Minor. He is also the Artist Development Director at Los Angeles Music Academy College of Music and teaches in the school's Vocal Department. Dorian is married to trial attorney Shawn Chapman Holley, who once represented Jackson. The couple have three daughters together.


Bad World Tour and Rod Stewart

Holley first performed with pop singer Michael Jackson during the late entertainer's first solo concert series, the Bad World Tour. Beginning in Japan in September 1987, the tour lasted for 16 months, during which time Holley visited 15 countries while serving as a backing singer for Jackson, along with Kevin Dorsey, Darryl Phinnessee and Sheryl Crow. As part of the tour, Holley performed to over 4 million people, including Diana, Princess of Wales and Charles, Prince of Wales. The Bad World Tour concluded several months later in January 1989.[1][2][3][4]

English musician Rod Stewart enlisted the services of both Holley and Phinnessee in 1991, when he toured the US. The two singers were part of a 11-man backing ensemble, when Stewart performed at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, Orange County, California in September 1991. During the show's encore, Stewart performed his signature song "Twistin' the Night Away". The Los Angeles Times described in a review of the concert that the song was "embellished with a delicious a cappella doo-wop break featuring the 46-year-old star and backup singers Darryl Phinnessee and Dorian Holley".[5] The two vocalists were also praised by the Chicago Tribune after a performance at the Poplar Creek Music Theatre, where their "sublime harmonies" "formed a perfect counterpoint to Stewart's impassioned pleas on 'This Old Heart of Mine'".[6] The San Jose Mercury News concluded that Holley and Phinnessee were "great".[7]

James Taylor, Dangerous Tour and HIStory Tour

Holley returned to work with Jackson for the Dangerous World Tour (June 1992–November 1993), a 69 date concert series which was attended by almost 3.5 million fans. The tour was cut short, however, after child sexual abuse allegations were levelled against Jackson and he cancelled the remainder of the tour due to the stress caused by the accusations.[2][8][9]

Dorian is mature and intelligent, and that comes through in an ineffable way when he sings. That said, he can also put it on hold and be one-dimensional and shallow if he has to. Dorian is a real utility player.

James Taylor[10]

In 1994, Holley joined with Kate Markowitz, Valerie Carter, and David Lasley to form what The Pantagraph and The Boston Globe respectively described as a "wonderful" and "angelic" backing group to James Taylor.[11][12][13] While on tour with Taylor, Holley was praised for his vocal ability by several news sources. The Roanoke Times stated that the highlight of the show at the city's Civic Center was the performance of "Shower the People", which "showcased the singing" of Holley.[14] The St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed that during a performance of the same song at Riverport Amphitheater, the backing vocalist "sang a spirited solo that drew an ovation equal to anything Taylor had drawn thus far".[15]

Holley worked with Michael Jackson again for the entertainer's last concert series, the HIStory World Tour, which began in Prague, Czech Republic in September 1996. The tour attracted more than 4.5 million fans from 58 cities in 35 countries around the world and concluded in Durban, South Africa in October 1997.[2][16][17]

Reality television work

Holley auditioned to become a featured vocalist on the American reality television show Dancing with the Stars. The audition consisted of him performing seven different sounds, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Sly Stone. He was successful and became a featured singer during the first three seasons of the series.[10] Holley later noted that the concept of diversity in vocal performance was not a new experience for him. "I've been at sessions where a producer has said he wants me to sound like Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen at the same time. I've had people say can you make it a little more green. Huh? It's tricky." He added, "Sometimes they think they want Sheryl Crow, because she has a hit single. But what they really want is magic, and that is whatever you, as an individual, can bring. It's a tough call between being a blank slate and being yourself."[10]

Holley has also served for several years as an associate music director and vocal coach for the reality singing competition American Idol. As part of his job, he helps contestants rehearse and arrange the songs that they are to perform. He states that his primary task, however, is to encourage and support the participants as they face scrutiny and criticism. Holley added that it is common for some of the contestants to "crumbl[e]" upon leaving the stage if they have received critical comments from judge Simon Cowell.[10] His job on American Idol has had him work with winners such as Jordin Sparks and Kris Allen.[18][19]

Debut album, workshops and This Is It

Independent Film, Holley's debut solo album, was self-released by the singer in 2008. Joan Anderman of The Boston Globe described the album as being a "soul-satisfying project that won't pay the bills".[10] It was reported in October 2008 that Holley had been conducting workshops on the art of audition. He drew inspiration from his time on American Idol, as well as his experience with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera, Kanye West and Queen Latifah. While at Berklee College of Music, he offered advice to young singers who wanted to become famous. "Everyone starts out dreaming, and then you get married, have a baby, buy a house and a car, and what I want to let people know is that there are so many jobs out there. My thinking is, if you're a musician and you can make music instead of digging a ditch, make it."[10]

Holley's last experiences with Jackson were in 2009, when he prepared for a scheduled 50-date concert series called This Is It. Holley rehearsed with Jackson as a backing singer at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and was also hired as the vocal director for the ill-fated shows. He was present on the singer's last night of rehearsals in June 2009. Hours later, Jackson died after he entered into cardiac arrest at his nearby home.[20][21][22] Holley sang during the group rendition of "We Are the World" at the entertainer's memorial service the subsequent month. He was joined by fellow This Is It backing vocalists Darryl Phinnessee, Judith Hill and Orianthi.[23]

Personal life

The singer is married to trial attorney Shawn Chapman Holley, who practices law in the areas of both civil and criminal litigation. A partner of Howard Weitzman of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldiser LLP, she has defended and worked for individuals such as O.J. Simpson, Sara Jane Olson, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Mike Tyson, The Game, Axl Rose, Jesse McCartney and Michael Jackson. She was also an on-air legal analyst during the E! Network's nightly international coverage of Jackson's 2005 child sexual abuse trial. Together, Dorian and Shawn have three daughters; Nayanna, Sasha,and Olivia.[24] The Los Angeles Times reported in 2005 that the family live in a 2,800-square-foot (260 m2) home, which was built in 1920 and bought by Holley and his wife in 2003.[25] The Standard noted in 2007 that the pair had purchased a 3,500-square-foot (330 m2) Italian Renaissance Revival home in Lafayette Square, Los Angeles. Writers for the publication further commented that the Holleys planned to keep a home in nearby Wellington Square.[26]


  • Independent Film (2008)


Year Title Role Notes
1992 Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour Himself Jackson's backing singer
2009 Michael Jackson's This Is It Himself Jackson's backing singer and vocal director



External links

  • Official website
  • Internet Movie Database
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