Omar Apollo was supposed to be in Philadelphia on Thursday night. The R&B singer had been slated to open for SZA on her SOS Tour stop at the Wells Fargo Center, but that show was postponed at the last moment, leaving the best new artist Grammy nominee with an unexpectedly free evening.
Rather than waste it, he decided to give his loyal cadre of fans a special treat by announcing a secret show at New York City’s Irving Plaza.
With just a few hours’ notice, the concert was sold out, and Billboard was on the scene inside the packed ballroom for Apollo’s intimate, off-the-cuff set, which took place just two days before he’s slated to take the stage at Madison Square Garden to open for SZA. “You’re getting the real, unscripted vibes, you know what I’m saying?” the singer — clad in a black puffer jacket, sweats and backward baseball cap — told the electrified crowd after revealing he and his band hadn’t even had time to come up with a setlist or run through a full rehearsal for the spontaneous show.
Below, Billboard rounded up all the best moments from Apollo’s secret show in NYC.
‘Thoughts of a Third Make Me Weak‘
After a one-two punch of “Useless” and “Killing Me,” Apollo treated fans to a live performance of his newest single “3 Boys.” The heartsick ode to queer desire and casual non-monogamy translated perfectly from record to stage as he yearned, “Seems like everything I do take me further from you/ Three boys would work if I wasn’t so tethered to you/ What should I do? I can’t even choose/ I’m tethered to you, baby” while bathed in cool blue light. Apollo’s heart may not be ready to juggle multiple guys, but the crowd couldn’t get enough of the romantic ballad.
Playing with His ‘Tamagotchi‘
No song got the jam-packed room going throughout the night quite like Ivory single “Tamagotchi,” which was produced by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes. The bouncy Latin trap jam had Apollo engaging in a teasing back-and-forth with the audience, flashing some skin as he motioned to the band of his underwear (“Feel on my waistline”) and miming a sexually charged hand gesture on the song’s steamy chorus.
On Such a Winter’s Day
It may have been a chilly 40 degrees outside, but Apollo decided to bring some sunshine indoors by injecting a number of tender, off-the-cuff covers into his set. “So, yo, I didn’t, like, have a full entire set, but I do have some covers if y’all want to hear some covers,” he said as the crowd erupted into enthusiastic screams, leading him to admit, “Thank god. Thank god, it relieves me.”
First up was “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas and The Papas. Leaning into his fluttering falsetto, the alt-R&B sensation transformed the 1965 classic into a slow-burning groove, singing, “Stopped into a church/ I passed along the way/ Well, I got down on my knees/ And I pretend to pray/ You know the preacher likes the cold/ He knows I’m gonna stay/ California dreamin’, dreamin’, dreamin’/ On such a winter’s day” before letting out an excited yelp.
Next, the singer offered up an impromptu take on “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King. The only problem? He wasn’t quite sure of the lyrics, leading him to borrow someone’s phone to read off the words — but only after stopping momentarily to make sure a distressed fan was all right in the audience. “I was kind of nervous, I’ve never sang that before,” he admitted to the crowd after finishing the song, later adding, after a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication album cut “Porcelain,” “We didn’t rehearse sh–! I’m letting y’all know right now, we didn’t rehearse nothin’! We had to put it together for New York!”
An ‘En El Olvido’ Sing-Along
Following the trio of covers, it was time to get back into Apollo’s own discography, which he did by jumping into the Spanish-language “En El Olvido.” The rising star’s Mexican-American roots have always been a central tenet of his musical brand, and from the first jaunty notes of the guitar, fans went wild with appreciation. So much so that partway through the song, Apollo decided to pass the mic around to a number of fans in the front row, giving them the chance to prove that they did, in fact, know every single word of the deep cut en Español.
‘Evergreen’ Is Evergreen
Naturally, there was no more obvious choice for closing out the secret set than “Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All).” After all, the breakout hit was Apollo’s first entry on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as an array of charts around the world, and has since been certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
And for his big finale, Apollo demonstrated precisely why the midtempo jam made the leap from TikTok virality to a bona fide radio hit. “Evergreen/ She don’t know you like me/ She could never love you more, more than me/ But sometimes I pray that you fall in love/ I’ve cried, I’ve cried so much for you, baby,” he crooned as the house sang each word back to him in full force. Not even the thrilling encore of “Go Away” could match the energy of the rising star’s biggest hit.