R.J. Bastedo had his ears pierced and wears hoop earrings, just like his idol, country singer Jason Aldean.
R.J. grew a goatee, just like Aldean.
He wears a black cowboy hat and cowboy boots and even carries his wallet on a chain, again like Aldean.
R.J., an 18-year-old from Gowanda with Down syndrome, describes himself as Aldean’s No. 1 fan. He even made a large poster proclaiming that fact.
Now he wants to meet his idol, at Aldean’s Aug. 17 concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.
Why does he like Aldean so much?
R.J. replied that Aldean is a great singer, an awesome man and handsome, before he rattled off a lengthy list of his favorite Aldean songs and CDs.
But what’s the real reason, R.J.?
“I like all his music,” he said, before breaking into a gigantic grin. “And I like all the ladies who dance with him in the videos.”
During a recent interview, R.J. couldn’t stop smiling and mugging for a photographer, flashing the personality that has his loved ones saying he has “Up syndrome.”
His Team R.J. – including his mother, aunt and longtime teacher – talked about efforts to have him meet Aldean. They’ve tried to contact Darien Lake, WYRK Radio and Aldean’s record label, management team and public relations people. They’ve even joined his fan club and followed the singer on Twitter.
His loved ones say R.J. spends his days singing along to Aldean songs on his iPod. In school, he’ll do almost anything for his teachers, as long as he can listen to an Aldean song as a reward. And for the last year, he’s been counting down the days until the Aug. 17 concert. Team R.J. also bought seats for him to attend the concert.
“R.J. spends his days at school trying to make everybody happy,” said his longtime teacher’s assistant, Deborah Jolls. “If it’s your birthday or you’re not feeling well, he’s going to make you a personalized card, and he high-fives everybody. He has empathy and joy all the time. It never goes away.”
“We essentially want to give that same joy he gives everyone back to him,” added his aunt, Jodie Denne. “We’re not asking for a lot, just two minutes of his time. That would make his year.”
R.J., who’s entering his senior year at Gowanda High School, has been mainstreamed, with the help of his teacher, Jolls. And he plans to walk across the stage at his graduation next June, though he may take additional courses at Gowanda before he turns 21.
The Aldean concert will be the first one he ever attends. And R.J. knows how he would greet Aldean.
“I’m going to high-five him and fist-bump him,” he said. “And I want him to sign his ‘Night Train’ CD.”
And if R.J.’s support crew could talk to Aldean, they know what their appeal would be.
“You know the feeling that you get when you’re on the stage making thousands of people happy?” said Denne, his aunt. “R.J. can give you that feeling by meeting him for two minutes.”
R.J.’s mom, Kelly, said neither he nor his family had ever asked for anything special. She was sitting in a coffee shop in Hamburg when she looked out the window and pointed at the sidewalk. Give R.J. a piece of stone from that sidewalk, she said, and he’d be ecstatic.
But this request is something special, a plea for a moment or two that R.J. will cherish the rest of his life.
“This,” his mother said, “is the one thing we’re asking for.”