Brooklyn resident and Puerto Rican native gets shot at being the next American Idol


The third time's the charm.

Bedford-Stuyvesant resident and Puerto Rican native Gilberto Rivera has always dreamed of singing in front of large crowds. He got that opportunity as millions watched the popular singing competition show “American Idol” on Sunday, March 15 and received the coveted golden ticket to go advance to the Hollywood stage of the show in front of judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry.

“I have been singing basically most of my life,” he told this paper.”I grew up singing in church, and I come from a background of auditions. My mom sings as well. That’s something that inspired me at a very young age.”

The journey

For the 23-year-old Rivera, who moved to Orland at 11-years-old from Puerto Rico, getting on “American Idol” was a dream. So much so that this was his third time auditioning to nab a spot in Hollywood.

Photo courtesy of ABC

“Seeing so many idols of mine on that show and being on it inspired me to want to follow in their footsteps,” he said. “It gave me a way to let my voice be heard and to show the world what I have to offer. I want to be seen and heard. I was able to audition and be seen by the judges and I’m just so excited to be able to share that experience.”

During the audition, Rivera was part of a bit when he sat on the judges chair while Perry was not in the room. Richie walked in the room, pretended to be a contestant and sang Hello. Rivera took over with the performance and left Richie impressed.

“You just fractured me completely,” he said and the two hugged.

He then gave an energetic performance of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” which impressed the judges.

“I was nervous but ‘American Idol’ helped me feel comfortable and it is something that I have been longing for,” he said. “I was able to just completely enjoy the experience without letting my nerves get the best of me which I was very happy about because usually I would be very nervous and while I was nervous, it was the good time and I was able to project what I wanted to.”

Photo courtesy of ABC
Gilberto Rivera and Lionel Richie share a hug.

Richie was impressed but offered a different take on his performance.

“We are in this business for uniqueness,” Riche said said. “You are clearly unique. Is it pop or is it theatrical? Theater may be your stage.”

However, Rivera responded, “I love theater but it’s not something I see myself doing. I love to sing and I am theatrical where I have to sing on the trains and catch your attention.”

Perry said that he should focus more on his performance and less theatrics and outfit.

“You sang really well,” she said. “You need to take yourself a little more seriously because your voice really does stand out. Your voice is the rainbow flag. Your voice is the red boots. You need to put all that sparkle and attention into your voice and present it like you just did. It’s a yes for me.”

Richie said, “I still respectfully think it may not be the lane for American Idol so it would be a no more me.”

However the other two judges said yes and gave him the golden ticket to advance.

Rivera was born in Bayamon (?) before moving to Orlando at 11-years-old where he went to school.

“About two years ago, I decided to sell my belongings and my car and give New York a shot, which has been on my bucket list for a very long,” he said. “I came here and started singing in the subway. It’s been an amazing experience. I’m really glad I made the choice to come here.”

Photo courtesy of ABC

He also discussed struggles while growing up.

“Coming from that Puerto Rican background, it can sometimes be hard to be accepted into that society where men are supposed to be a ‘strong man.’ As a gay man ,it was hard for me to express myself the way I wanted to . But I love Puerto Rico. I have family over there. There’s a lot of culture, music and love. It’s great.”

His mom always sang at churches and was a huge inspiration to Rivera.

“I was always around it,” he said. “That’s how I got into music. Seeing her do it. I always felt confident about singing. Having that background in my family with music. Every celebration we come together, we always have a karaoke machine ready. Even as a kid, I would always get a karaoke machine as a gift. When one broke we would get a new one. My family knew it was the one gift that would make me the happiest.”

Rivera claims his style is similar to the work of contemporary artists, such as Sam Smith style, Ed Sheeran,and Justin Bieber. He also loves classical performers.

“I like to sing R&B, ballads and love songs,” he said. “I also like singing classical songs. “Tina Turner, Luther Vandross / , Frank Sinatra. All these classical artists and songs that people have known and loved for so long.”

He also gave advice to those afraid to pursue their passions.

“If you have a dream or passion, you have to really go for it,” he said. “I’m just a boy who had a dream and really wanted to make something of himself and I decided to put my life on hold and take that big step and go for it. A year ago, I didn’t think I’d be on American Idol and doing the things I’m doing today. I went from singing in the subways to performing on national television.”

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