LAKELAND, Fla. — Welcome to 9 Questions with…, an exclusive Spectrum Bay News 9 feature in which we get to know some of the Bay area’s movers and shakers a little better. It could be a politician, an artist, a first responder, a bartender — just about anyone, really. This week’s subject is up-and-coming Lakeland-bred singer-songwriter Josh Stephens. Is there someone you’d like to answer 9 Questions? Let us know!

What You Need To Know

  • Spectrum Bay News 9's series spotlights notable members of the Tampa Bay community

  • Rising pop singer-songwriter Josh Stephens grew up and cut his teeth in Lakeland

  • Check back every week for a new "9 Questions with..."

Are you a Lakeland native? If not, where are you from?

I was born in Eustis, FL; my family moved to Lakeland when I was just a toddler. I loved growing up in Lakeland! Having spent my childhood and teenage years in the city, I grew to know every corner. I attended Lakeland Christian School and really enjoyed it. I made lots of great friends, some of whom I still keep in contact with today. I swam competitively in my freshman year and played sports for fun. But my passion was music. Immediately following high school graduation, I moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University.

How would you describe your job or claim to fame?

My music has pop and R&B influences. I love the soul that R&B music brings. Some of my biggest musical and creative influences are Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber. Though I've been enthralled in music for a long time, writing and recording for a while now, I am relatively new to the music scene here in Nashville, but enjoying becoming part of it. I just released my second single, "Who Taught You," which is a fun upbeat dance song. My aspirations are to headline a tour someday and perhaps share the stage and work alongside some of my favorite artists.

What’s your favorite Lakeland restaurant?

Grillsmith in Lakeside Village is definitely one of my favorite spots in town. Something about the atmosphere, the location, and the food — it's amazing. I always get the Chicken Milanese with Rice. I’d rate it 10 out of 10 stars as highly recommended! Whenever I am back home, that’s my “go-to” place to dine with my family.

Do you have a personal Lakeland area “secret spot” and/or “hidden treasure”?

One of my favorite spots is Loyce E. Harpe Park, formerly Carter Road Park. The park itself is not really a secret spot, as it is a sports complex for soccer and baseball as well as mountain biking. But there are lots of really cool little hidden spots nearby some of the lakes in the park that are really cool and peaceful. I also grew up going to the park as a kid, riding my bike with my dad and brother as well as playing at the kids park, so I have lots of good memories there.

What is your favorite local tradition?

One of them is going to Grillsmith whenever I am back home. I also used to love to go to Cobb, the movie theater in Lakeside Village, with my family. We used to always go see the latest movie, usually within the first week that it came out. That place makes the best chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever had! I’ve not been able to enjoy going for some time, since the pandemic. I look forward to going back.

What’s one thing many people don’t know about you that you’re willing to share with us?

I have a very irrational fear of frogs. I had an experience with frogs when I was younger that has made me fearful of them even to this day. I know they are completely harmless, but when I see one, I do get a little nervous and have no problem admitting it!

If you could change one thing about your hometown community, what would it be?

Maybe I have just become accustomed to living in Nashville, where there are always a hundred things to do, but I would love to see a little more nightlife in Lakeland. Lakeland is growing like crazy, so I think there might be a good.

How did you get into music?

I started singing when I was in fourth grade, and in fifth grade I picked up the guitar. Throughout middle school, and eventually high school, I played in the praise band at my school, which I loved. Once I gained more confidence, I played gigs outside of school at local venues with a band of my friends. While attending Belmont University, which is a big music school, I played at different places around Nashville. I’ve been concentrating on songwriting, which I really enjoy, and writing music with people you trust is a great process. I think that element of trust and confidence in your co-writers is super helpful since oftentimes when you write the stories are about really personal and intimate things. That level of trust and respect (with co-writers) really helps to be open about life experiences. 

How important is it to you to represent your hometown community and ”where you came from” through your art/career?

It is very important to me. I think everyone wants their hometown community to be proud of them, what they are doing, how they’ve grown and what they’ve achieved. I still keep in touch with friends and people back home, so I definitely have not cut ties with Lakeland just because I no longer live there. Although Lakeland is not a super small town, it is still relatively small and certainly, at least in some capacity, feels and holds a small-town mindset. You don’t know everyone, but you know lots of the people in the community. Growing up in Lakeland has certainly impacted and shaped how I view things, my lifestyle, morals and my music.