Nearly 5,000 entries from all 50 states and we had to pick just one! The competition rose to a new level this year, and the decision was harder than ever. Our judges looked at a vast array of music from every genre — and lots of music that couldn’t be categorized. The creative community these days is bursting, and the diversity of sounds and people who sent us entries made for many magical “wow” moments.
So, when it came time to pick a winner, we have to admit: It was tough. We debated, deliberated, championed and celebrated the entries that impressed us. In the end, it was a soft-spoken, soulful guitarist who captured our hearts. We’re proud to announce this year’s Tiny Desk Contest winner is Naia Izumi!
Naia is a 34-year-old musician from Georgia who regularly busks on the streets of Los Angeles, where he now lives. He impressed the judges with his intricate, complex guitar playing and his sweet, emotive voice. The video he submitted for “Soft Spoken,” recorded in the home studio he has built in his garage, showcases the incredible skillfulness and gentle spirit he brings to his music.
Talia Schlanger, host of WXPN’s World Cafe, said it this way: “The fact that Naia Izumi’s solo performance captivated the judging panel, out of a sea of big bands and flashy videos, says something powerful about what a singular talent we have on our hands. Naia’s remarkable creativity on the guitar, solid songwriting and gentle yet powerful charisma make me proud to root for him as our winner!”
Gaby Moreno, another of our Tiny Desk Contest judges, agrees, calling Naia an “undeniable talent.”
“I was captivated by Naia’s soulful voice, and the way he takes the unique approach to his virtuosic level of talent on guitar,” she says.
In the fourth year of the contest, we were simply overwhelmed by the energy, spirit and enthusiasm artists brought to their entry videos. And though there is only one winner, what makes this contest special is the way it gathers a community of artists, fans and friends together around a shared love of music. We’re so grateful to everyone who shared a song, a story or a moment with us.
The story of this year’s Tiny Desk Contest doesn’t end now that we’ve picked a winner, of course. Next, Naia will come to Washington, D.C. to play his very own Tiny Desk concert. Then, we’ll head out on the road with Lagunitas Brewing Company for a national tour featuring Naia and local contest entrants we loved. Stay tuned for dates and more information. We’re looking forward to seeing you in person. I’ll be spending some time celebrating the newest member of the Tiny Desk Contest family and getting lost down the rabbit hole of all sorts of amazing entries to this year’s contest. I hope this contest has brought you the joy of discovery like it has done for me.