Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 02 September 2011 00:00
It’s not every day that you meet an American tenor in the flesh. So when I opened the door to see Michael Amante standing there, I couldn’t help but be a little starstruck. On a hot August afternoon, the Floral Park resident was the epitome of dashing showman, dressed impeccably in a dark black suit and crisp white shirt. Armed with a cup of coffee, black as well, his presence was cool and self-assured as though he were ready to take center stage at a moment’s notice.
To his legions of fans, he’s simply known as “The People’s Tenor”and the “Prince of High Cs” for his impressive four-octave range. Crowned as “The Fourth Tenor” by Regis Philbin, Amante first broke out on the national music scene in 2001 with his self-titled debut album, which placed number one on Billboard magazine’s 2002 Year-End Top Midline Classical Artists chart alongside some of the world’s great tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and José Carreras. Among his most notable achievements was an Emmy nomination, for a PBS television special. He’s been named “the Voice of the Mets,” singing opening and playoff games at the former Shea Stadium and Citi Field, along with Madrid soccer game in Rome.
Growing up as one of five children in Syracuse, NY, Amante’s parents’ love story set the tone for his penchant towards all things romantic. In 1944, his father, a soldier enrolled in basic training, met his mother in a little coffeehouse where she worked in Upland, CA. Sporting a military dress uniform, Amante said his father came into the restaurant and ordered a coffee milkshake. “She wound up actually being so nervous she spilled it all over his lap so they became very friendly while she was trying to help him clean up his dress uniform,” Amante quipped.
An Italian American by heritage, the young Amante first became aware that he had a voice at the age of 6. “Back then, music was a big part of the curriculum and they did a musical every year. And unlike my fellow classmates, none of the boys wanted to sing, they were all into baseball and trying to be tough,” he said.
But the road to a career in the arts wasn’t always yellow brick for Amante. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor, while his mother wanted him to be a Catholic priest, but his passions led him down an entirely different path. “My father who was an airman in World War II, actually, unbeknownst to me, was in a play when he was young because growing up we always batted heads a little bit because I was singing in bands,” Amante said, adding that his father wanted him to get a “real job.”
After moving to New York, Amante’s gift for imitating rock stars like Foreigner’s Lou Gramm and Steve Perry of Journey got him noticed on the thruway circuit playing parties, clubs and colleges. “I started getting recognition mostly from girls and that was a real motivator for me. I was singing in rock bands...I could the hit those notes perfectly,” Amante said. But being driven, he still wanted to pursue things that were more difficult.
As luck would have it, he was singing for a church in Lafayette, NY and the choral master, Warren Otty, pulled him aside and said he had a “fabulous instrument.” He asked if Amante had ever considered singing opera before. “He gave me a recording of Jussi Björling, who was a big tenor at the Met in the 50s,” Amante said. Not fluent in Italian, he first learned the arias phonetically and eventually taught abroad in Italy where he had a milestone moment meeting Pope John Paul II. “I remember I called my father and said, ‘What do you think of me now meeting the Pope?’” Amante said. “He finally acquiesced and said ‘you picked the right job.’”
When he returned to the U.S., Amante got a job singing at restaurants belting out Italian favorites like O Sole Mio, and his big voice soon got noticed at the world famous Rao’s restaurant in New York. “I met this guy who brought me to Rao’s and Charles Koppleman was there and was like ‘give this kid a record deal,’” he said. Amante’s local fan base grew and he is grateful for their loyalty. “I have people bringing me food and handmade blankets. It’s humbling,” he said.
While performing at a Medal of Honor Awards ceremony on Ellis Island, Amante’s own romantic life took flight when he met the love of his life. He explains that the audience was filled with prominent politicians, but it was one lone woman wearing a red dress who caught his eye. “I thought ‘that’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and she’s by herself,’” he said. The mysterious lady in red’s date for the night suddenly appeared and Amante said he was crestfallen. As it turned out, his dream girl reappeared that very same night in another location and her date was just a friend. Amante says that 11 years later, he and his wife, Seema, are happily married.
Despite his international fame and success in the recording industry, the unassuming tenor next door, finds time to pursue his hobbies and enjoys working with hands, as a carpenter, artist and gourmet chef. The father of three says he still goes on tour, but doesn’t like to stay away from his family for too long. Of Floral Park, he says one of the nice things about it is there is low crime. “It’s a very nice village...It’s very, very quaint and nice,” he said.
Amante, who keeps in shape by walking 5 miles a day, says he always finds time to listen to music and still studies with coaches to fine-tune his voice. “I am obsessed with music,” he said. “You never get to a place where you say ‘I’ve made it. I can stop.’ If you do that, you stop growing. You’ve got to reinvent yourself, do something different,” he said.
Coined a crossover artist by music critics, Amante says he doesn’t like being labeled or boxed into one genre. “I do some Tom Jones. I do Broadway, I actually sing in six different languages,” he explains. “I take you on a musical journey...Even though I like some pop music, most of my music, in fact, all of my music, whatever language it is, it’s all romantic. It’s Italian love songs, or it’s love songs from Broadway. It’s all about, you know, that uplifting sort of energy,” he said.
For Amante, live performances offer him an opportunity to exhibit his love of music and goodwill to his country. “Music is a very powerful thing,” he said. “You can use it to heal. It’s a healing energy and it’s a pleasant and uplifting energy,” he said.
The singer says he uses his concerts as a way to spread that message to however many people may be there, whether there are 10 or 10,000 in the audience. “So it’s a paying it forward sort of thing. I hope that people will take that energy and power and happiness and uplifting feeling that they received from me and take it to their families.”