America’s Got Talent is one of the biggest phenomenons of modern television. It has been running for the past 16 years, getting better with each year. The talent competition has opened its doors to contestants young and old – people with various and unique talents. Although the show has had many dancers, instrumentalists, novelty acts, acrobats, danger acts, comedians, magicians and animal acts, the majority of competitors turn out to be singers (choirs, solo artists, groups). But the winners themselves are diverse, for instance, this year’s winner was a magician, Dustin Tavella, last year’s winner was a spoken word poet, Brendan Leake. In 2019, it was Kodi Lee, a singer-songwriter, and before that, in 2018, Shin Lim, a Canadian-American magician.
The 16th edition of America’s Got Talent attracted superb talents. While the pandemic stopped many from travelling to the casting, the producers decided that virtual auditioning was also an option. Although the show came to an end, we recently managed to catch up with one of the semi-finalists, 1aChord, a vocal group consisting of Tavis (19), Julian (21) and Christoff (19).
Video © NBC & America’s Got Talent
The trio from North Carolina discovered their love for music from an early age. Now, all grown up, Tavis is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. Although Julian was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, this hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his musical career – he is currently a senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he’s studying a post-baccalaureate degree in Jazz Studies with a concentration in piano performance. Christoff is currently a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he is pursuing a degree in Vocal Performance.
Image © Trae Patton/NBC
Getting into America’s Got Talent was very exciting for 1aChord. The group won the judges’ hearts with their cover of Fix You by Coldplay. After reaching the quarter-finals, they had to work hard to go through to the semi-finals. And they didn’t disappoint! Their mind-blowing performance of R.E.M’s classic Everybody Hurts received a standing ovation from everyone. The performance gave them enough votes to advance into the semi-finals. In the next round, 1aChord sang The Police’s Every Breath You Take, and despite the fact the group’s cover was incredible, they did not manage to get into the finals. But this doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the road for 1aChord, on the contrary, the boys have various plans for the future, including the release of their own music and pursuing their individual dreams.
Video © NBC/America’s Got Talent
It is lovely to meet you! It’s best to start right at the beginning – how did your journey into music begin? Have you always wanted to be singers and be a part of a vocal group?
Tavis: My music journey began at the young age of 5, when I was a part of the Nazareth Missionary Baptist Church Youth Choir. Though my roots within singing reside in church, music has always been an influence in my life. I have many family members who play instruments and sing, so I believe that music genetically lives within me. My mother is also a singer, and from her I gained a lot of my vocal style and ability.
Julian: My journey with music began when I was a little toddler (around 2 or 3 years old), never knowing at that time that I had Autism/Asperger Syndrome. However, I have always been into making noises around the house such as singing, playing the maracas and other musical instruments like the guitar, the drums, etc. I was very active in the church youth choir and the youth praise team at my home church (First Emmanuel Baptist Church). At the age of 7, I started playing the piano (by ear). Having Autism was one of the biggest struggles that I faced daily, nevertheless, music has always been my niche and it helped me overcome my diagnosis.
Christoff: I grew up singing in my father’s church and I have been singing for as long as I can remember, probably as long as I could talk.
You recently got into America’s Got Talent. Your cover of Coldplay’s Fix You was incredible. You wowed not only the judges but also the audience. What or who made you enter the show?
1aChord: We entered America’s Got Talent after receiving a message from our producer, Courtney Harrell, offering us a chance to audition for this season. She discovered our group after viewing a video of us covering the song Name it Claim it by the Clark Sisters.
Your voices are sublime – deep, hypnotic, agile and well-controlled. Your live performances are breath-taking and the group’s vocal synchronisation is spotless. Did you receive any formal training before becoming professional singers?
Tavis: Before auditioning for this season of America’s Got Talent, I had very brief vocal training as a Musical Theatre student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with April Hill. Before becoming a Musical Theatre student, I had not had any professional vocal training.
Julian: Before being on national television, I took a few vocal lessons and I was taught how to use correct pronunciation for people to understand the words that I sing. Also, my teacher taught me dynamics/expressions so that people can feel my emotions and that I can connect with the audience.
Christoff: I did not receive very much formal training before starting with 1aChord. I’m primarily self-taught. Since being in college, I have started voice lessons!
Image © Chris Haston/NBC
You performed on the sixteenth season of America’s Got Talent a few times, and got as far as the semi-finals. Each time, you delivered an incredible show. Did you, or do you, ever get stage fright? Do you follow a process or ritual before a performance to get rid of nerves or performance anxiety?
Tavis: Personally, I do not experience stage fright. Of course, I may be nervous, because I want to deliver the best performance that I can, but as far as having a fear of performing, I do not have stage fright. A ritual that I always follow before every performance is resting my voice, drinking water and hot tea with lots of honey, focusing my mindset on the ultimate goal, and of course prayer.
Julian: When it comes to preparing for any performance, we never take on the action of being nervous on stage. Before we perform or do anything else, we always circle around each other and get into the right mindset/pray together so that we can have a positive atmosphere on stage.
Christoff: Surprisingly, I haven’t had any nerves with our AGT performances. I’m very confident in our ability as performers and when we get onstage, I’m confident in our arrangements! Before I go onstage, I pray and ask for God’s help and then I just let it flow!
If you could name your favourite judge on America’s Got Talent, who would that be?
Tavis: My favourite judge would have to be either Simon or Sofia. Simon is cutthroat and isn’t afraid to voice his opinion. On the other hand, Sofia is so sweet and not to mention that she is absolutely gorgeous.
Julian: One of my favourite judges on this show is Sofia Vergara. I love her personality and she is very funny too. On top of that, she is so beautiful and glamorous.
Christoff: Personally, my favourite judge is Simon. I love his honesty. If you can impress Simon, you’ve done something worth celebrating.
What’s the hardest thing about being in a group? As there are three members, there are also three different personalities. How do you make it work as a team?
1aChord: The hardest thing about being in a group is making sure that everyone’s ideas blend together cohesively. Our goal is to create a performance that everyone in the group can relate to and be happy with, so in order to do that we have to make sure that everyone in the group is being heard and that their ideas are being represented.
Video © NBC/America’s Got Talent
Are there any singers, vocalists or other artists who inspire you musically? Who motivates you to work hard and stay on track?
Tavis: My musical inspirations consist of Whitney Houston, Cynthia Erivo, Beyonce, Mykal Kilgore, Todrick Hall, Shelea Frazier, and Mitch Grassi. All of these artists have such big, clean, and strong voices, and I am inspired every day to create the best version of myself from these influences. Though I love all of these musicians, I take my biggest vocal inspiration from my mother. She has influenced me so much vocally, that I think I sound nearly identical to her when I sing.
Julian: There is a whole list of artists whom I love and admire no matter what genre. To name a few, the artists that inspire me the most are Jazmine Sullivan, Tramaine Hawkins, Kim Burrell, Twinkie Clark, Aretha Franklin, Avery Wilson, and Walter Hawkins. All of the artists that I’ve mentioned have so much creativity with their writing skills and singing ability (runs, dynamics, expressions). The person that really motivates me to work hard is my mother because she always makes sure that I stay prepared so that I don’t have to get prepared.
Christoff: There are so many singers that inspire me – too many to name. But anytime I see someone who has mastered their craft of singing, has originality and longevity, I am inspired and aspire to be like them in that respect.
Looking at the music industry, and since you became singers, have you suffered any ‘resistance’ or scepticism from within the industry? What would you say are currently your main artistic challenges?
Tavis: Since being in the music industry, I have definitely experienced individuals who try to “size me up” and who merely sing for self-glorification, but I quickly remind myself of my purpose with my gift of singing. I was given this gift of singing to share it with the world, and to change lives!
Julian: Being in the music industry, I have noticed many people not really liking or appreciating my sound. However, I continue to not worry about the approval of others as long as I am satisfied with my gift.
Christoff: Even though the response to our music has been overwhelmingly positive, there’s always going to be resistance from those who don’t understand your art. That is a part of being an artist.
Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive, process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
Tavis: The role of listening in musical communication is very important, because in order to understand we have to listen rather than just hear. Hearing satisfies the ears, but listening satisfies the heart. As musicians, we physically sing out of our mouths, but we truly sing from the heart. In order for music to be communicated effectively you have to listen in order to allow for the music to communicate with you.
Julian: We always want to have a great connection with the audience when it comes to having musical communication. We make sure that no matter how proficient we perform, we want our audience to feel what we are singing about. In doing so, we must also have that same feeling when we sing.
Christoff: I think in the setting of a performance, the listener’s only responsibility is to be present in the moment with an open heart and mind. A listener should be committed to going on the journey the musician strives to take them on.
Image © Chris Haston/NBC
Looking at your life, to what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?
Tavis: I believe I have always viewed the world differently. When I was young, I was always creating, whether it was dancing, drawing on the walls, or singing a song that I created. My parents really didn’t allow my brother and I to sit around bored, they’ve always encouraged us to be active.
Julian: Whenever I am with Christoff/Tavis, we always come up with some creative moments in our arrangements. With our different vocal/musical abilities, I believe that we’ve made progress in our arranging skills as well.
Christoff: My surroundings influenced me very heavily. I am a church baby all the way and have been surrounded by all kinds of music, but gospel especially, my whole life. That has made me into the person and musician I am today.
Is there anything you would like to change in the music industry that might help emerging artists get bigger exposure in domestic and foreign markets?
Tavis: If there was anything that I would like to change about the music industry that would help emerging artists is already somewhat in the works! That would be by creating more platforms in which new talent can display their artform. I’m starting to see more ways for creatives to display their art forms through various social media apps and websites.
Julian: I totally agree with what Tavis mentioned. There are so many gifted and wonderful artists in this world that need more exposure on social media as well as financial support. I would also help to create bigger platforms so that artists can get discovered more.
Christoff: I wish that artists were evaluated on their talent and persona. I wish that people weren’t hindered by shallow standards of beauty such as being thin or muscular, etc.
What would be your dream collaboration, if you could choose any singer or a group?
Tavis: My dream collaboration would be to sing and perform alongside Beyonce Knowles. Her stage presence, performances, poise, humility, and dignity are what I truly admire about her as an artist. All of these are qualities which I want to possess as a professional musician.
Julian: My biggest dream collaboration would be to sing/write songs with many artists such as Koryn Hawthorne, Cece Winans, Brandy, Jacob Collier, Kierra Sheard, Maverick City Worship, etc. With my love and passion for all musical genres, I feel like I can accomplish so much more not only as a singer/musician but also as a music producer which is one of my biggest dreams/goals to reach.
Christof: I would love to sing with Jessie J & Dorinda Clark Cole!
When you’re not working, what do you do to get away from it all and relax?
Tavis: Outside of singing, I love spending time with my family, friends, animals. I also draw, and I love to make something new on my sewing machine. All of these are ways that allow me to stay creative outside of my main focus.
Julian: I love listening to music on my phone, spending time with my family and friends, having musical jam sessions with other musicians, I love to eat, and also watch TV during my free time.
Christoff: I like to sleep.
What’s next for you as a group?
1aChord: We are blessed that we got into the show. We reached all the way to the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent! In the near future, 1aChord plans to travel all over the world sharing music, creating albums, as well as supporting each other as we pursue our individual goals of being actors, models, producers, and clergymen.
Image © Jiyoung Park, University Communications
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Feturead image © Chris Haston/NBC
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