Bobby Hill Named One of Ebony Magazine’s 2015 Power 100
Remember Bobby Hill? He’s the 14-year-old with the “voice of an angel” who wowed the world during Pope Francis’s papal visit with his last-minute a cappella performance of “Pie Jesu.” He’s a soloist with the Keystone State Boychoir and is having quite the autumn since that breakout performance.
Selected as one of Ebony magazine’s 2015 Power 100, Hill is flying out to Los Angeles to sing at the magazine’s 70th Anniversary Gala this Wednesday, December 2nd at the Beverly Hilton. This Central High School student should have plenty to keep him from getting bored as he’ll be honored alongside Prince, Penn alum John Legend, Janet Jackson and Viola Davis.
Three weeks ago, he and 50 members of the Keystone State Boychoir auditioned at Queens College on November 14th for Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent. Steve Fisher, founder and artistic director of the choir, says that Cowell has followed Bobby’s story since the papal concert and has a soft spot for the sound of boy choirs.”We’re not through yet,” says Fisher, “but we didn’t have to wait in line. It’s really a screen test with one producer and a camera. Bobby sang four different pieces with the choir behind him. We’ll find out next month, if we go through to the next step.” That would entail flying 50 members of the choir out to Hollywood for a week to film the initial episodes for the season, which airs sometime this summer.
When asked to make a prediction about the ensemble heading to Tinselftown, Fisher says, “It’s hard to know. These shows are so quirky, but they’re always looking for a great narrative in addition to talent.”
“As a nonprofit celebrating its 15th year, we are always scrounging and being frugal,” says Fisher. “But they wanted as many boys there as possible. I asked how they’d have the budget to fly out 50 kids. They laughed and said, ‘This is Hollywood. If Simon wanted 100 boys there, that’s what he’d get.’”
While Hill waits for the results, he can rehearse for another upcoming special performance. He is scheduled to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra at its Academy Ball in late January.
“Hill has an extraordinary instrument. We have to take care of the boys’ voices through the change,” says Fisher referring to the toll adolesence takes on the angelic quality of boy voices. “We have to protect it at all costs. He shouldn’t be belting out ‘The sun will come out tomorrow’ on Broadway. If he makes good choices, we will see him on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera some day. He could be the next [Luciano] Pavarotti. His voice is that good.”
“From the moment Bobby walked into the choir at age 7, I said, ‘Bobby, you need to have your own talk show,” remembers Fisher. “It’s been a running joke for seven years. This is a boy who’s 14 going on 40. I wouldn’t have sent out a boy on stage to perform for the Pope unless he’s someone who lives for that, and thrives with that spotlight on him.”
We couldn’t help but ask to hear the inside scoop on that epic show biz moment during the concert for His Holiness.
“It was so last minute,” recalls Fisher about the unplanned solo during the September 26th concert. “The producer came over to me and asked if we could have the boys cover the set change so the pope wouldn’t be staring at a stage crew for 60 seconds, but I knew we couldn’t get the choir on and off in that time. Then they were panicked looking at me from the booth when I sent out to the stage one kid unaccompanied, with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Andrea Bocelli watching. I told them, ‘He will hold his own and it will be a spectacular moment.’ I had every confidence in him. I wouldn’t have asked Bobby unless I knew he could nail it.”
Fisher also elaborates about the present Bobby Hill gave the pope on behalf of the choir: a rock from Antarctica, where the choir had performed in 2009. Fisher says they tried to get the special rock to His Holiness before the show, but had no luck getting close to him. “When this moment came, I directed Bobby to take the rock for good luck and then to make a beeline for the pope and give him the gift then.”
After finishing the song, Hill promptly turned towards the pope with something hidden in his hand. He didn’t have permission to approach the pope, nor was anyone prepared for the gesture. “How many boys would have been able to do that?” asks Fisher. “It looked like it had been rehearsed 10 times, but the producer said, ‘What the f—- is he doing!’ It was this huge international moment and the kid coulda gotten toppled by the secret service.”
Fisher says if you watch the video of the exchange, you can see the security guy literally pop his head around the left side of the pope’s chair as Hill approaches with the mystery object in hand. Hill showed the rock and the Holy Father asked, ‘For me?’ The rest is history, including the media blitz that bombarded Hill after his performance.
“If anyone doubts that singing can get the world to stop and pay attention,” says Fisher. “They’ve been proven wrong. The world stopped to listen to that voice. That was the moment of the night.”
We’ll look forward to hearing how Wednesday night’s performance goes at the Ebony event, but there’s little doubt Hill will have as much fun on stage as he will walking the red carpet in L.A. The kid’s a natural.
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