It isn't every day that you hear about a 14-year-old rising pop star that insists on writing songs that save lives, but after he releases his eponymous debut album today, Caleb Flood-Goldstick is hoping he'll become as well-known as Justin Bieber.
Splitting his time between his Hastings-on-Hudson home and Los Angeles, Caleb worked with producer PJ Bianco, who's also collaborated with the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus, to get "Caleb" off the ground. And although he looks like a typical teen heartthrob with his floppy blond hair and blue eyes, he's more than just a cute kid with a guitar spouting bubblegum pop lyrics -- he's an advocate for anti-bullying and tolerance who donates proceeds from his performances to charity.
"Usually, when you see a 14-year-old boy on YouTube playing and singing and stuff, they generally aren't very mature-sounding," Caleb said. "I think, just from what people have told me, my songwriting is very mature for how old I am."
Caleb's rise and an anti-bullying platform
Caleb's history as a philanthropic performer dates back to February 2010, when the then-11-year-old gathered his classmates during winter break to make a music video supporting victims of the earthquake in Haiti. With the help of a local parent, the group produced a music video that raised $2,000 for charity.
After that, Caleb gave two solo performances in July 2010 to benefit local charity Green Chimneys, a residential school for children with special needs that also has a division in New York City that houses homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. For Caleb, Green Chimneys' cause hit close to home, not only because his mother is gay, but also because his brother, Ryan, is autistic.
In September 2010, Caleb penned, recorded and uploaded a song about his grandfather's passing, "I'll Miss You," to YouTube. Less than a month later, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. After talking about the tragedy with his tearful mother, Diane Flood Taylor, Caleb went upstairs to his room and came down an hour later, song in hand. "You're Not Alone," the anti-bullying, anti-suicide anthem inspired by Clementi's tragic death, was recorded and uploaded to YouTube soon after.
"Caleb and I read about the other teens who took their lives over being bullied that very school year," said Flood Taylor, who is also her son's manager. "We talked about how scary and lonely their experiences must have been with recognizing they were gay, if indeed they were . . . Many kids had taken their lives for the same reasons the year before, which Caleb found absolutely heartbreaking and totally unacceptable."
In that conversation, Flood Taylor shared some of her own struggles about growing up gay. Caleb says he was struck by how hard those experiences -- both his mother's and that of other gay teenagers -- must be and decided to make a career out of helping young people realize that they're not alone.
"I was old enough to understand that bullying could really hurt people, but I didn't understand how serious it is, that people kill themselves over it," Caleb said. "[I wanted] to be able to reach someone, to really give them something to hold on to."
After posting those first songs online, Caleb asked his mom if she'd be willing to help him get his music out there. She didn't hesitate.
"It was a challenge, because nine out of 10 producers won't work with a 12-year-old," Flood Taylor said. But within five minutes of receiving her email, Caleb's current producer, Bianco responded, asking, "How soon can you guys get out to L. A.?"
Caleb's rising star
During the past two years, Caleb has continued to post new songs online. His official YouTube channel has amassed 4,450 subscribers and gotten more than 4.2 million video views to date, more than half of those for "More Time," a song written in support of teens that feel bullied.
He also has continued to perform live gigs, appearing in 2013r for free at an ASPCA fundraiser and headlining a sold-out concert at The Roxy in West Hollywood, Calif., to benefit "Stop the Hate," a national campus hate crime prevention organization.
His eight-song album, available for download for $7.92 on Amazon and iTunes, includes "More Time," plus new tracks he worked on with his producer, like "We Run" and "You Don't Know a Thing About Love."
"To me, anytime that I'm not doing this with him is time that's either wasted or lost," said Flood Taylor. "As a teen, it's not easy to come out as having a gay mom, but he always comes out for me and is proud of me. And I am even more proud of him for the young man that he's become."
The life of a normal teenager in Hastings
Despite his demanding schedule, Caleb still insists on attending high school in Westchester County instead of enrolling in online classes. Fortunately, the staff at Hastings High School has been more than accommodating, excusing all 23 of his absences this school year and preparing course materials for him in advance. Doing schoolwork on a plane and spending five 12-hour days in the studio is especially stressful as he strives to be a straight-A student like his 13-year-old sister, Anya.
Caleb sees himself as an "authority figure" around his younger siblings, Isabela, 7, and Max, 3, but lately, his brothers and sisters have been feeling the strain of his newfound glory.
"His siblings have mixed feelings about it all," Flood Taylor said. "I've been talking to them about how our lives will change, explaining that there are things they're not going to love."
However, receiving messages from fans that have been helped by his music makes the stress of juggling school with his career and family life worth it.
"I can hardly explain how it feels when I read messages from people who say they've held onto that song when they had nothing else to see them through," Caleb said. "That's what makes me want to write more songs that help people."