A Conversation with Branden James

Classical crossover singer Branden James stole America's hearts when he appeared on "America's Got Talent" earlier this year. (Photo property of NBC's Virginia Sherwood)

Classical crossover singer Branden James stole America’s hearts when he appeared on “America’s Got Talent” earlier this year. (Photo property of NBC’s Virginia Sherwood)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

Classical-crossover singer Branden James had one of the best auditions on a Reality TV competition show this year.

His audition on America’s Got Talent received over 528,000 views on YouTube and propelled him to be one of the most powerful male vocalists that has ever appeared on the show.

But before he stepped onto the AGT stage, Mr. James trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performed at the Los Angeles Opera, the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

In addition, Mr. James had the honor of performing for Pope Benedict XVI for his 80th birthday and collaborated with world-renowned vocalists Sarah Brightman and the 12 Tenors.

I talked with this rising star about his AGT experience and his latest album: The Voice of Christmas.

Jacob Elyachar: How did you get interested in opera?

Branden James: It all started when I was 17-years-old and a friend of mine heard me sing in the car.  She told me that I should audition for the choir and I told her: “No way!” I have always been a shy person and I told her, “That is not going to happen.” She convinced me to audition and I did my junior year at Irvine High School and I landed in the most advanced choir: the Irvine Singers. My choir mentor told me that my voice had a “natural, classical sound” and he recommended a teacher to study with and suggested that I should fine tune my voice and make it into my craft and my mentor guided me in the direction of classical music.

JE: When did you decide to pursue a singing career?

BJ: The very next year, I had to figure out where I was going to go to college. I decided to audition for numerous music schools. Out of the many schools that accepted me, I decided to enroll at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. As soon as I got up there, I never looked back.

JE: In every career, there are always challenges. What were some of the challenges that you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

BJ: I was in New York for nine years, so that was a challenge in itself. At that time, I studied with a teacher after college. I attended lots of auditions for opera and Broadway as well. New York is a hard town to make it in. I think the most challenging thing is being told: “No!” a lot. The way that I overcame it was to just never give up and not let the “No’s” discourage the “Yeses” I had in me.

JE: You received four big “Yeses” when you auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” this year. Why did you decide to audition for the show?

BJ: I always for some sadistic reason wanted to be on a competition-based reality show. It all started when I tuned into the second season of American Idol and I became a huge fan of the genre and I was hooked since. I have auditioned previously for both American Idol and The Voice…but I never passed the first round of the producers’ table. I consider myself very lucky and grateful that people paid attention this time around and realized that there was something that they could do with me.

JE: This season was huge for opera singers as you, Forte and Jonathan Allen made it to the Top 60.  I think it was also a first that “AGT” had five phenomenal male vocalists in one year!

BJ: I think it was a testament to the fact that America is more accustomed to the classical voice and the genre of classical crossover music. I think that opera singers will continue to flourish on this show.

JE: Throughout the season, it seemed like both the judges and the producers pitted the five of you against each other. Was there any tension between you and the other two opera acts?

BJ: No, not at all! We were all so individually busy that it was very rare that we had contact with one another in the Live Rounds.  The show had one act going to shoot B-roll, another at interviews and another at private music rehearsals. But, when it came time for the show…everyone was in their own zone and concentrated on their own performances. There was never any tension and I had nice conversations with the acts and it was nice to have a common bond that we were all classical crossover singers.

Branden's performance of "You Raise Me Up" brought judge (and staunch supporter) Heidi Klum to tears. (Photo courtesy of Branden James)

Branden’s performance of “You Raise Me Up” brought judge (and staunch supporter) Heidi Klum to tears. (Photo courtesy of Branden James)

 

JE: What were some of your memorable moments from your time on the show?

BJ: I loved performing “You Raise Me Up.” I have always been a big fan of Josh Groban and the song  is based on the theme of “Danny Boy,” and it is a very inspirational song itself.  “You Raise Me Up” also blended the two styles of music that I love…which is both pop and classical crossover. I also loved singing “Hallelujah.” It is one of my all-time favorite songs and it is on my album too.

JE: Could you please describe performing in one of America’s treasured venues: Radio City Music Hall?

BJ: It was amazing! I had some experience performing in large houses because I perform with multiple opera companies. Some of those houses had anywhere between 500 and 4,000 seats. But I never performed in a house with 5,000 seats in it. In addition to the size of Radio City Music Hall, the judges were right in front of me…so it was very overwhelming. I calmed my nerves by saying: “It is just another night at the opera, even though it was in front of millions of people.”

JE: What were some of the lessons that you learned from your experience on “America’s Got Talent” that will help you in the next stage of your career?

BJ: When I was on the show, I started to understand how important it is to establish a connection with your fans. After the show was over, all the votes are counted and you want to make a career for yourself, you have to be loyal to your fans. My fans have been so loyal to me. I funded my debut album through a record label called Pledge Music. It is very similar to Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  I ran a 60-day campaign and within 30 days, I was fully funded. This was a testament to how loyal my fans are.

 

Branden James The Voice of Christmas

Classical crossover singer Branden James infused his operatic vocals into holiday classics with his CD: “The Voice of Christmas.” (Album cover property of Branden James)

JE: Speaking of your album, what were some of the challenges that you faced with recording “The Voice of Christmas?”

BJ: The most challenging part of the recording process was the fact that I just went into the recording studio after I left the competition. Everyone I called to collaborate on this project ranging from PR and marketing to producers and musicians said that I should have recorded the album months ago. The whole challenging part of the recording process was having it released before the holidays and we were able to accomplish that feat. I never really got the proper opportunity until I finished recording to process the whole summer and what had happened on the show. I still feel that I am playing catch-up.  With all this excitement, I still need to find personal time for myself and enjoy it all!

JE: What can your fans expect from you in 2014?

BJ: A lot of my fans have asked me: “Are you coming to Omaha?” “Are you coming to Texas?” “Are you coming to Japan?” I think in 2014 I will be doing a tour. Obviously, Christmas is a short-lived season and what I am hoping to do use the momentum from this project onto the next one. I hope I can record another full-length album that features original songs and some classical covers of different genres of music. I have a huge love for eighties music especially Sir Elton John, Stevie Nicks and Journey and I would like to take some of those songs and tweak their melodies and transform them completely.

JE: If you had the chance to meet with aspiring singers who want to go into the music industry, what advice would you share with them?

BJ: I would say: “Never give up!” and “Ignore the voices in your head that say that you are not good enough!” Lastly, do not read the reviews! If you read everything people say about you, those comments become part of your sub-conscience and interfere with your artistry! If you believe in yourself first and foremost, then your artistry is going to show through.

For more information on Branden and his new album, visit his website: http://brandenjames.com/

You can also connect with Branden on social media by visiting his Facebook, Twitter & YouTube pages.

Also, Branden will be celebrating the release of “The Voice of Christmas” at the Chicago City Winery.  For more information about the concert, click here: http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/tickets/branden-james-the-voice-of-christmas-with-special-guest-marisa-bucheit-12-19.html

 

 

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Copyright 2015 Jacob Elyachar