School of Music, Theatre & Dance alum Sean Panikkar (BM '03, MM '04), a rising international opera star, will be moving on to the finals competition on NBC's hit TV show America's Got Talent on Tuesday, September 10 at 8 p.m., as part of a tenor trio named Forte. The group's performance on August 27 secured their spot, earning tremendous praise from the judges.
In addition to Panikkar, Forte includes Josh Page and Fernando Varela. If the trio is triumphant on September 10. they'll go on to the grand finale on September 17, competing for the grand prize of $1 million.
Panikkar joined Forte just days before the group appeared in the "Vegas Round" of the talent competition, replacing an original member of the trio who had to drop out due to visa complications. The three singers, who each enjoy solo careers, had never met; they found each other online and communicated through email and Skype.
In their first performance together they sang Andrea Bocelli's hit "The Prayer," and Panikkar was singled out (by judge Howard Stern) for having the strongest voice. In the elimination round to reach the semi-finals, at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, they sang "Somewhere," from West Side Story. In their semi-final round, they sang the Righteous Brothers hit "Unchained Melody."
Panikkar, who is of Sri Lankan heritage, lives in Saline, MI with his wife and two children. He has enjoyed a burgeoning operatic career since obtaining his master's degree in voice at Michigan, performing with many of the world's great opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, and as a soloist with the many of the most prestigious orchestras and ensembles.
Last fall he was honored by the School of Music, Theatre & dance with an Emerging Artist Award, presented during homecoming festivities. In an article in The Saline Reporter, he said that he hopes Forte's popularity will encourage more people to attend opera performances.
Five of the previous seven America's Got Talent winners have been singers, including season three's Neal Boyd, a pop opera singer.
Panikkar's appearance on America's Got Talent comes just months after another School of Music, Theatre & Dance alum, Michelle Chamuel, came in second on NBC's The Voice.