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Area teenager's voice takes him to New York City

Alex Ottaviano

Fans of the Great American Song Book -- music first made popular by singers like Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and Ella Fitzgerald -- can thank singer Michael Feinstein for keeping the flame alive. His nightclub in New York City is a mecca for enthusiasts. Now, a local teen singing phenom is getting into the act. Sixteen-year-old Nick Ziobro from Fayetteville is currently the opening act for Feinstein's holiday show.

WRVO's arts reporter David Lowenstein spoke with Nick before he left for New York City about how the teenager got the gig there.

Ziorbro: I am about to open for Michael Feinstein's Holiday Gershwin show and I’m so excited for it.

Lowenstein: When you say open for him, tell me more about what that really means.

Ziorbro: I am booked to sing fifteen to twenty minutes right before Michael goes on to perform, and it’s his holiday Gershwin show and I get to sing four or five songs. It’s just the experience of a life time. I’ll be living in New York and it’s just been crazy.

Lowenstein: Okay, now tell us how you got to be his opening act.

Ziorbro: Over the summer, I competed in his Great American Songbook High School Vocal competition and I won. And part of my prize was to travel with him this summer and tour across the country, doing different concerts with various symphonies, and he asked me to come down and do this as an added thing after I got to know him. He’s become a great mentor to me.

Lowenstein: You sang with Michael and Marilyn May earlier this year, what did you do with them?

Ziorbro: I would come in, in the middle of the show and Michael would introduce me as the winner of the vocal academy competition and he would bring me up on stage and I would sing "All of Me" or "Georgia on My Mind." I would do that in the middle of the show, then he would thank me, and then I got to hang out and watch the rest of the shows.  Last time I was there, Liza Minnelli was in the audience.

Lowenstein: And did you get to meet her?

Ziorbro: I did. She signed a piece of sheet music I had brought with me.

Lowenstein: Now, let’s go back even further. How did you hear about this competition and how did you get involved in it?

Ziorbro: Well, I’ve always been a big fan of Michael. He came to Syracuse a couple of years ago to perform with the Syracuse symphony. I love the songs he was singing. I came home and I did some research and I found out he does a competition ever year for high school students. I did a couple of recordings of a few songs, and I sent them in, and I said, “What the heck. We’ll see what happens.” I mean, it’s funny how things work. I just wanted to go and meet Michael. I didn’t think it would actually lead to going this far and opening for his holiday show for an entire month.

Lowenstein: What is it about the kind of American popular songs, the standards, that you connect to?

Ziorbro: I’m not really sure why I connect to it so much. Definitely I find it more attractive than any other style of music. It has a different feel, it has more meaning to it, based on the artistry of the lyrics mixed with the artistry of the melody. It’s just something you don’t come across as much anymore with modern day songs.

Lowenstein: When did you begin this connection to that style of music?

Ziorbro: I was about eleven.

Lowenstein: And you are how old?

Ziorbro: Sixteen.

Lowenstein: Sixteen and you are starting your career. What was it about Michael Feinstein’s performance that you related to? What was it about how he delivered the music that you thought, "This is something that I want to do... I know how to do that," or "I want to learn how to do that?"  

Ziorbro: He sat down at the piano, and then a spotlight came on, and it was just him playing and accompanying himself. But I remember him looking out right into the audience and he didn’t look at the keys once. He was singing "I’ve Got a Crush on You," and I just remember that moment being the moment that I realized, he really knows what he’s doing and he knows how to connect to every single person in a room just by expressing with his eyes, his voice, and I said, “I want to do that.” And I worked on it and that’s what I’m doing now. It’s weird to say, and weird to think about. I’m still trying to get my head around it. I just can’t wait.

Nick Ziobro will be performing at Feinstein's in New York City through December 22.