SJU student shines on ‘Idol’ with Sinatra tune

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Salvatore Valentinetti

Nicole Gubelli, Staff Writer

Standing before three judges, wearing a suit and black wing-tipped shoes, Salvatore Valentinetti gives them a taste of his smooth Sinatra-like voice.  Two minutes and a hundred dollars richer, Jennifer Lopez hands him a golden ticket to Hollywood.

It all started when Salvatore Valentinetti was 14 years old. He began taking private baritone lessons when his instructor had him choose a song to sing.  Shocked by the voice that he had, the instructor informed his parents of their son’s gift, at which point they immediately had him start singing lessons.

“I needed a push out of the nest,” Sal said.

He then joined a competition through “Frank D’Ambrosio’s Broadway” show and was chosen to perform in the finale.

“The first time I sang in front of people, in front of a crowd, was unknowingly in front of 3,000 people,” Sal explained, “And I wasn’t nervous until the lights came on at the end of the song and I ran off stage.”

By age 15, Sal chose where he wanted to go with his gift.

“It kind of just became a passion from there,” Sal said.

He has been working professionally for two years now, performing famous Frank Sinatra hits at a variety of  private parties, restaurants, weddings, corporate events and many charity works.

He works closely with the American Cancer Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Breast Cancer Society.

A sophomore at St. John’s studying communications and business, Sal never saw himself as someone who would try out for American Idol.

That was until his Uncle Joe came up to Sal this past July to tell him, “American Idol is coming to Nassau Coliseum in two weeks; might be something you want to think about.”

Being a native Long Islander, growing up in Bethpage and attending Holy Trinity High School, Sal was only miles away from Nassau Coliseum.

Although Sal “went in saying I’m not going to make it,” he thought about it, put his skepticism aside, and went for it.

Just a few weeks later he found himself immersed in a space with other talented singers and artists, many of whom were quite different from him.

“I was different from everyone there.  Everyone’s you know, in their skinny jeans, Ray Ban glasses, and flannel shirts and everything,” Sal said.

Sal, on the other hand, was dressed in a suit and winged-tipped shoes. Then it was time for Sal to perform in front of the three judges.

“The nerves hit me all at once,” he explained. “Everything went white.”

Once he stood on that “American Idol” moniker, Sal wished Harry Connick Jr. a happy belated birthday. Then it was time for the song.

He stood in front of Lopez, former “Idol” finalist Adam Lambert and Connick Jr. and sang “In Other Words,” a song made famous by New York’s own Frank Sinatra. A song so bold and different from what the judges are used to hearing, that one of the judges was skeptical that Sal actually knew what the original name of the song was.

“The only thing I remember was that Harry Connick Jr. gave me a hundred bucks,” Sal said, clearly because he knew the name of the song.

For the next brief moments it was just Sal hitting the notes accompanied by a little bit of decorative piano.

Connick Jr. was first unsure of whether to send Valentinetti through to Hollywood. He admitted that Sal was talented, but didn’t think the New Yorker was what he was looking for that day “in terms of ‘idol.’” Lopez proceeded to argue that Connick Jr. didn’t give him a chance to sing a second song. Valentinetti quipped back saying, “How about country?” which prompted Lopez and Lambert to burst into laugher.

He then went on to get two votes from Jennifer Lopez and former finalist Adam Lambert, good enough to get him a ticket to Hollywood.

“I didn’t cry, but my dad did.  He picked up Ryan Seacrest and threw him up in the air; almost broke him in half,” he said.

“I was overwhelmed. I was one just shy of a hundred contestants out of thousands [that made it to Hollywood], singing the music that I love and just by being myself.  That alone was just a high,” Sal explained.

In the weeks leading up to Hollywood, “American Idol” sent a camera crew to go to Sal’s house and follow him around to let America know what kind of young man he was and where he grew up as a kid.

“I just figured, I’m going to talk to the camera like I talk to a friend,” he said, “I’m going to try to make America my friend.”

It was shortly after this that Sal realized his true love and passion for being on TV and performing for people.  That was when he decided to become a part of St. John’s student-run radio station WSJU.

He was given his very own talk show called, “The Men’s Room.”  The show plays once a week and is heading into its seventh episode.

He works closely with his co-hosts Ryan Mayer, Gabe Pabón and “Prospect” Carsinio.  Together the three have helped the show “become the most popular show at the station,” according to Sal.

For Sal, all of this boils down to one drive: his family. “It’s all about family,” he said.

When his Uncle Joe suggested “American Idol” to Sal, he mentioned Sal’s cousin, Stefania.

“She has severe autism,” Sal explained. “We’re the same age, only about a month apart.  She will probably never be able to do something like this and the fact that I have the opportunity to is reason enough.”

It’s not only his cousin that he is doing this for, but his Uncle Joe too.  Sal looked up to him like a father.

“He’s the one who got me out of my shell when I was younger,” Sal said.

Unfortunately, Sal’s Uncle Joe became very ill right before Thanksgiving of last year; about a week later, he passed away.

Although gone, Sal made sure that a man with such a profound impact on his life would never be forgetten. “The personality aspect of it, probably the most important part of my existence on the show; that was culminated from [Uncle Joe],” Sal said. “I modeled his personality. So moving forward, they really want to use my               personality even more than my voice; so that I really owe to him.”

Sal then knew that he would be competing on “American Idol” for his family, to make them proud of him.

“My inspiration to try out was my family.  It was that we have someone who can’t and to just be able to represent my family is so special.”

Sal will be continuing his journey through Hollywood this week for the solo rounds, which will be aired on Fox, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m.

After that comes Hollywood Week, where the remaining contestants vie for the final 24 spots in the competition.

The singing competition decided to shake things up this year, though. They have already revealed who the final 24 contestants are, sort of.

Since Dec. 1st fans of the show can visit YouTube and watch a clip where the final contestants are shown, but the only clues fans get are that of each contestant’s silhouette and perhaps a clip of their voice.

Is Valentinetti’s silhouette included in that clip?

Fans of his voice and charm will just have to speculate for now until his fate on the show is made certain.

However, Sal wants to make it clear to, “stay tuned because regardless what   happens on Idol, it won’t be the last time you’ll be hearing me.”