Branden James
From left: Branden James and James Clark in their video “Hallelujah.”

Branden James, a former contestant on America’s Got Talent, talks about dealing with his HIV diagnosis, dating and falling in love, in an excerpted story from aTEEN, a magazine for young gay men.

James grew up in a religious family, he tells the magazine, and once he left home he began experimenting with drugs and sex. He contracted HIV in his mid-20s, about 10 years ago.

“I formed a major complex about what people would think of me,” says the singer/songwriter. “It became so bad that I was concerned that people could actually ‘see’ I was HIV positive. I kept it a deep dark secret to everyone except the trusted few.”

Eventually, he decided to disclose his status, first to family and friends and now to the public. “I decided a few years ago to be transparent about it with prospective dates,” James recalls. “It was liberating actually, and I was shocked to see that people took it a lot less harsh than I ever anticipated. Honestly, I’ve only had one guy who said he couldn’t date me.”

In fact, he found love—and a musical partner—with cellist James Clark. Together, they are the Los Angeles–based duo Branden and James.

Download the entire issue of aTEEN here (it’s from the U.K. team that publishes Attitude). And watch Branden and James’s new music video, “Hallelujah,” below.