TRIB'LIVE - September 2017
What better place to be noticed by a professional Italian singer than through a video of you singing at a restaurant in Italy?
That's how Lower Burrell's Colin Aikins was discovered by Italian singer Giada Valenti, a Venice native, who saw and heard him performing through a friend's post on Facebook.
The young tenor's voice inspired Valenti so much she invited him to be her special guest at her "Giada Valenti: From Venice With Love" performance on Sept. 30 at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts in Fox Chapel.
Accompanied by her own band, Valenti is known for taking her audiences on a romantic and magical journey as she performs her own interpretations of hits from the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s, as well as recent songs.
She sings and speaks in five languages and pays tribute to iconic singers like Karen Carpenter, Edith Piaf, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James, Roberta Flack, Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey, Gloria Estefan and Selena Quintanilla.
Valenti contacted Aikins' mother, Maria Aikins, and invited her son to sing with Valenti.
"I am so thankful she asked me," says Colin Aikins, 17, a senior at Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School in Oakland. "I have been so excited ever since she asked me to sing with her. I love Italian music, and she is such a famous Italian singer who is known all over the world. This is such a cool thing and a dream come true. I can't believe I am really doing this."
Aikins and his classmates and teacher were at Zi Caterina in Pompeii, Italy, this summer as members of the Pittsburgh Central Catholic Baginski Scholars. His teacher asked the guitar player if Aikins could sing along, videotaped the performance and posted it on Facebook.
"He is from a Catholic school, and I am very religious and I like to visit schools and meet young people when I visit a city, so he was a perfect young man to invite to sing with me," says Valenti, who also will visit Central Catholic to meet and sing with the students on Sept. 29. "When I talked with him, he is such a sweet, young guy, and I am so happy to share the stage with him. His voice has such a warm tone. His voice reminds me of Placido Domingo. His body language speaks to me. He is polite and educated and very humble. I had been given these types of opportunities when I was just starting out, and I am grateful for those opportunities and I want to be able to give back."
The song the two will sing is a surprise, but it will most likely be an Italian classic, says Valenti, who lives in Los Angeles, but has also resided in New York, London and Amsterdam.
"I have loved living in many places," Valenti says. "That has enriched my life in so many ways. I tell people to follow your dreams and don't be afraid. You will miss the friends you had in one place, but you will meet new friends."
Valenti speaks Italian, Dutch, English, Spanish, French and some German. This will be her fifth concert in Pittsburgh.
"I love Pittsburgh. This is going to be special. It is nice to be able to give (Colin) this chance. … I hope the experience will stay with him forever," says Valenti, who has a PBS special, which is part of the programming of WQED.
"He is so excited to sing with someone from Italy," Maria Aikins says. "We can't wait for their performance."
Colin Aikins continues to be noticed for his talent and commitment to singing. He started singing in eighth grade, practicing in his house when he was home alone, and hopes to attend Julliard School in Manhattan or the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He works with a voice teacher, Maria Spacagna, an associate professor of voice at Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland. He recently sang the national anthem at a Pittsburgh Pirates game.
He won first place in the high school division of the 2017 Classical Singer Vocal Competition, which is a national event where 400 regional semifinalists qualified to attend. The prize included a scholarship to attend the Salzburg Festival in Austria.
Colin finished second in the American Protégé International Voice Competition and will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York on Dec. 17, where he will be accompanied by fellow Central Catholic student, Tyler Zeik
Next summer, Colin will take voice lessons from Domingo.
"Your body is your instrument and you can lose a lot of money if you can't sing," says Colin Aikins, who also is also an athlete. "So I don't scream, and I take care of my voice and my body."
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer.