In the now-viral video, Rihanna's face scrunches into a surprised grimace. She has thrust her microphone into the audience during the song "FourFiveSeconds" on her March 19 stop in Cincinnati on the Anti World Tour. On the other end of the microphone is Columbus, Ohio native Terah Jay (or TJ). He sings the lyrics back to her.
"Shit," Rihanna says. Because he is really that good.
I spoke with Terah Jay on the phone Tuesday afternoon about what he does, who he is, and how he got to sing a duet with Rihanna.
How are you today?
I’m good! Honestly, it’s been super overwhelming up until this point. There’s not really a guide out there for how to go viral… Someone should write that.
I got to do something that I love with someone that I love—unexpectedly. I’ve been very happy and just very grateful for all of the support, and really just to have connected with Rihanna in that very brief moment, because she is my fave.
How many times have you seen Rihanna?
That was my second Rihanna concert. [My] first was the Diamond World Tour. I just had the most fun, and that was in Atlanta. I was maybe 20 rows back, and I still got just all of my life. We made the decision after that show that whenever she went on tour next we would have to find a city where we could get tickets in the front row. That was three years ago at this point, and we were dying to be in the front row, but I had no idea then it would turn into all this.
I’ve been a fan for a really long time. But I don’t like to consider myself a fan, I like to consider myself Rihanna Navy because there is a difference.
What do you consider the difference between “fans” and the “Rihanna Navy”?
I feel like “fan” can imply fair-weather. I like lots of different artists, and I’m a concert goer. But I don’t need to be in the front at every concert. The only concert I need to be at the front at is Rihanna’s.
I think the Navy are people who really engage with Rihanna, and support her in the way that she’s unapologetically herself. I have always liked Rihanna. If you go all the way back to the beginning of my Instagram, you will see that she’s all over from the very beginning.
How did you get these incredible seats for the show?
It was definitely a coordinated effort. There was a package that was called the Ultimate Front Row Experience. It really is a lot of luck. We actually bought a total of 4 tickets. The best we could do was second row and after we purchased, we went back on and there and we refreshed and we had front row seats in our cart.
So we had to make that hard decision [pauses]…let me not lie, it wasn’t hard at all. We bought the front row tickets.
Luckily our two other friends are also really big fans of Rihanna, so they were literally right behind us in the second row. So all of the initial footage is either from my friend next to me or my friends behind me. That was all my crew.
How long into the concert was it before she sang “FourFiveSeconds”?
I wanna say there are two songs after “FourFiveSeconds.” It’s at the very end. That’s her crowd participation song. If you watch other videos of the tour, she’s engaging the crowd, you know, like, “clap your hands,” and trying to get them to sing with her.
It was kind of the perfect storm.
When did you realize you were going to sing with Rihanna?
What had happened was, I thought I heard her say something like, “Do y’all wanna sing?” I’m certain now that’s not what she said. But what I said then was, “Oh yeah, I sing!” And then all my friends were like pointing at me like, “He sings. He sings.”
I think what she actually said was, “Do y’all wanna help me with this song,” or something. [But] we were right in front, so she could see us. So then she was like, “Oh you sing.”
By the time she kneeled, I knew something might happen. I wasn’t right up at the gate, because I was standing back trying to record her. And so she waved me over and that’s when I was like, “Oh this is happening.” This was fight or flight.
Were you nervous?
I didn’t know what was gonna come out. That’s what I was nervous about—what I would sound like. I really couldn’t hear because of the audience, but I did the best I could.
Did you notice her reaction at the time?
When I was singing, I didn’t catch her reaction. I was really in my head like, “What are the words?” Obviously I know them, but I didn’t want to mess them up. At the end of the song she said, “Thanks for helping me out, babe,” and kind of embraced me and my friend’s hand.
By the time I got back to the hotel, Rihanna Navy was tweeting me: “Oh my god Rihanna followed you.” And I practically fell down in the lobby.
As I started walking to our car everyone was like, “Oh are you the guy?”
Did you know she would pick you?
I didn’t go there for that. There’s a lot of people out there like, “Oh, he went out there to pump up his career.” But that’s not why I was there. I was there because I love Rihanna. I was in the front row because I love Rihanna. I was not there with some kind of other hidden agenda
I am already satisfied… I am very grateful to have had that experience and been able to connect in that way. I’m already happy. Whenever something goes viral people are always like “I hope they get a deal,” but there’s a lot to be happy and grateful about already.
I really just wanted a selfie. That was all I wanted out of the concert. Just a selfie with Rihanna. And then I got what everyone saw.
How long have you been singing?
Since I was a kid. I’ve always been in school choirs. I was the president of a choir in college. I come from a fairly musical family. Some of my relatives on my mother’s side are very musical.
But you don’t sing for a living, right? What do you do?
I’m headed back [to school] to get my PhD in the fall—in higher education. I’m a social justice educator, so I work at a university in the multicultural center. I’m a fairly regular normal person. I just happen to like to sing.
You have several YouTube videos up, but nothing super recent. Are you working on anything new?
Oh, absolutely. Let’s just say, I’m working hard on some things.
One last question. What’s your favorite Rihanna song?
Oh that’s hard. I would say before all of this I would say maybe “Firebomb.” I think that is just a gem. I always wonder why it wasn’t a single.
But now I would have to say “FourFiveSeconds.” How could that not be my favorite song?
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.