Lys Agnès (America's Got Talent 2011)
Carpe Diem - The Lys Agnès Story'
One minute Lys Agnès had the TV world on its feet, applauding not only her incredible voice, but her spoken bravery too. The next, and solely due to some harsh judging remarks, Lys had left our TV screens and thrown back into the wilderness of day to day reality.
Lys' time spent in reaching the top 10 best new acts on the highly popular talent show, Americas Got Talent was incredible. Her extraordinary ability to fuse opera and rock was beautiful, powerful, and mesmerizing. But as we all discovered along her televised journey, on the outside, Lys was strikingly beautiful, her music enough to bring you to tears ... but so too could her tragic personal story.
Lys Agnès was born in Reno, Nevada to MGM's "Hello Hollywood Hello" principal singer, Diane Petersen. During her childhood, Lys attended many of her mother's performances until the show's close, but no one knew of her own singing abilities until her mother came upon her hiding in the basement singing into a little tape recorder, playing it back to herself to hear how she sounded.
Upon entering high school, Lys became the National Anthem singer for the school's basketball games. After graduating, Lys chose different paths, eventually ending up at a university to study music. She chose classical guitar as her focus but quickly discovered her operatic voice while fooling around transcribing operatic arias to her guitar. Lys fell in love with the operatic sound but could not get her heart into the operas. So, she continued to build her operatic repertoire.
Sadly, three years ago, her fiancé, Darins life ended suddenly in a car accident while in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Because of the intense grief, Lys stopped singing. Indeed, she retreated from life and entered a cocoon. She took odd jobs to get by, but finally discovered that, while still in mourning, her life was slipping away and her talent lay dormant.
Demonstrating a high sense of urgency, she abruptly quit her retail job to fully pursue her singing career. It was around this time she discovered composers, such as Arvo Pärt and Hildegard Von Bingen, who influenced her style into a whole new direction. Later, she briefly went abroad to England and then Paris to study orchestration.
And so today, Lys' own compositions are a fusion of musical styles. Her dramatic-mezzo voice explores a wide range in rock, blues, jazz and operatic and sacred music. And yet these styles remain in an exploratory class of their own when brought forth by Lys incredible vocal talent.
Exclusive Magazine recently sat down with Lys Agnès and discussed her time spent on America's Got Talent (AGT), her famous mother, her late night guilty pleasure, her tattoos, and, of course, ... Penguins!
Firstly, congratulations on being a Top 10 finalist on this years sixth season of 'America's Got Talent' (AGT). It was a very impressive Top 10 this season, quite unlike any before it, but was this sentiment echoed backstage between all the contestants also, perhaps? "I think we all recognized the talent in one another and could see how dedicated we all were to our performances. There was always a little tension when it came time for the results, because we all understood each other's gifts."
For my money, some acts went home before their time from said Top 10 - you were one of them! In all honesty, and speaking freely now, do you feel you went home too early? "I think it was a blessing in disguise. Whether the outcome made any sense doesn't really matter. All I can say is that I was really shocked by the reaction of one of the judges in my final performance. It felt very contrived, subjective and intentionally harsh. Unfortunately the majority of votes were greatly influenced by that judge. They keep saying 'step it up, step it up, step it up.' That's exactly what I did, so I don't know what they were looking for."
And, for that matter, knowing that your song choice in the SF was a huge risk, any regrets about choosing it now? "No. Here is the bottom line. I felt that as a singer it was so important to show my vocal range in a show like that. If I were in an opera and had to stick to a character, my voice would stay true to that character. But, as an artist in a talent competition, the last thing I wanted to do was to go out there and be predictable. Most people are not comfortable with change."
If you could reveal one fantastic, truly stand out memory of your entire time spent on AGT, what would it be and why? "The 'Ave Maria' was definitely my stand out moment, because I was at my purest. I wasn't performing, I was just singing."
OK, more on AGT later, but for now, and going back in time, taking it from the top, you were born in Reno, Nevada to 'Hello Hollywood, Hello' principal singer, Diane Peterson. Growing up there, in those surroundings, what are your earliest memories of watching your mother's performances? "The stage was the size of a football field and they were able to fit a plane on it, which was very memorable. At Easter, I remember a giant bunny rabbit skipping across the stage. My mother was also friends with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Of course, at that age I didn't understand fame, so they were just people to me. I remember Sinatra's shiny black shoes, and I remember being under a coffee table eating jelly beans and watching cartoons in Sammy's dressing room, hearing him carry on a conversation."
Before it closed after nearly 13 years at the MGM Grand Hotel, and having been seen by more than six million people, had there ever been a moment when you yourself had wished to have been a part of the show, perhaps? "I didn't relate to any of it. I think at that time I wanted to be either a painter or a writer. The stage was my mother's world."
Is it true that you used to hide yourself away in the basement of your house to sing alone into a little tape recorder, rather than perform upstairs for everybody? "Yes. I loved music, but I didn't like being looked at, because as a child people would stare at me trying to figure out what race I was. This made me fearful of being center stage. Eventually, I learned to ignore it."
Knowing your vocal sound now from season six of AGT, what were those songs you were singing into that recorder compared to what we saw you perform live recently? "They were my own! I just had a knack for lyrics and melody and needed to put it somewhere. I would awaken in the middle of the night hearing songs in my head and would run downstairs to record them, so I wouldn't forget them in the morning."
Upon entering High School, you then became more at ease with your singing as you quickly became the National Anthem singer for the school's basketball games! So, was there ever an occasion, whilst singing the National Anthem each game that something weird/funny/embarrassing happened during it?! "Nothing weird ever happened. In fact, many times people would start to cry and I never knew why, but I began to realize that perhaps I was given something in my voice that moved people to emotion. I think there was a sorrow in my voice that expressed my understanding of the lyrics and how they related to the reality of American culture."
During your time at High School, what classes did you excel at and which were your worst ... and why?! "All my classes were fairly simple to me. I was often bored with the system and would look for subjects outside of school that really stimulated my mind and spirit. I got on the fast track in my Junior year and graduated a year early at 16 years-old. I was awarded a full-ride academic scholarship to college, which I ended up letting go of, because I was too young and all I wanted to do is travel."
It's been said that you discovered your operatic voice whilst fooling around transcribing operatic arias to your guitar! Thinking back please relate to us your exact thoughts at that precise moment of vocal discovery! "My operatic voice came out around my second year of music studies when I was transcribing arias to my classical guitar. It was just kind of there naturally, and so I decided to change my major to vocal studies. I did not attend a conservatory, because I wanted to double-major in art as well. I had many interests, but the operatic studies were exciting to me, because I had not thought of myself in that light before."
You later went abroad, and over to my homeland of England to study orchestration. Where did you do such a thing over there, how long for, and what memories of where I was born and grew up do you still lovingly cherish today? "My time in England was incredibly sorrowful, and I don't wish to talk about it, sorry."
Fair enough ... moving on, and not to dwell on this subject too much either, but you suffered some personal heartache along life's way too, which I am truly sorry to hear. Such memories must be very inspiring to you to move forward, to still accomplish, to show those all around you (on earth and above) just what is inside you and how bringing it to the masses makes you happy? "I don't know if a sense of happiness is part of the goal anymore. All I know is that my desire to sing is instinctive, because of a strong drive to communicate something that I can not express otherwise. When you lose everything in life, and I mean EVERYTHING, you learn to focus only on the things that have lasting value to you."
OK, back to AGT and when you were 'voted off the island' in the SF's, was your mind already attune to the possibility/probability, due to either your song choice, some of the judges comments the night before, or perhaps even the fact that you were mentally becoming exhausted with it all and would welcome the final curtain being drawn? "I was completely tapped at that point in the competition, physically, mentally, and emotionally. There was more than just the show I had been dealing with, for the 7 months I was a part of it. I had to filter all the crap stories that had been written about me in the tabloids that I could do nothing about and was offered no protection from. I didn't have money and I wasn't eating properly. I dropped 15 1bs by the end of the show and was sick constantly. No one seemed to care, and I was just over it all. The sad part is that I wanted to win so badly, not for the fame, but because my mother and I were literally starving. In TV land, you have to put on a happy face no matter what, and I wasn't buying it anymore."
Was entering AGT, knowing beforehand that Susan Boyle had won the British version of the show a few years earlier with her own operatic voice a spur on for you to accomplish the very same thing here in the US? "I don't compare myself to anyone and I don't appreciate being compared by others. I am not Susan Boyle, Cher, Freddie Mercury, or the Blue Alien Diva from the 5th Element! I'm Lys Agnès, and I did the show because I wanted more from my life. I wanted to attain this by presenting MY voice, not someone else's."
Again, and with all honesty, were you shocked that iLuminate didn't win the whole thing?! Surely that's a Vegas show right there? And what about Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. Great voice, lovely man, but surely Vegas has an overabundance of Rat Pack singers, no?! "I'm not shocked by anything on that show. I have nothing more to say about that!"
Did you even watch the Final 4 (both nights) duke it out? "I tuned in and out of the finale show, because I was still attached to it and it hurt too much to watch."
And, if you had been in the Top 4 for celebrity duet night, who would you have LOVED to duet with, on what song, and why? "I wanted to sing with Robert Plant. I didn't care which song, because anything by Led Zeppelin would have been insanely good. I thought it would have been a very cool pairing with my operatic side."
And, have you yourself been offered (even at this early stage of AGT just finishing) a show in Vegas? Or, perhaps a CD has been requested of you in time for a Christmas release? Come on now, some phone calls must have come in?! "It's a CIRCUS! I'm trying to cut through all the smoke and just focus on mastering my original work."
With AGT now behind you, the weekly worry of phone votes a thing of the past, I've heard that your aim is to create a new wave in the operatic and symphonic rock genres. Well, young lady, just how will you begin on that journey, may we ask? "I began that journey some time ago. It's just a matter of putting the right songs together now."
And with you in the process of finding and forming a new group of musicians to create your vision of a musical future, is there any chance we could see you perform here in Detroit some time soon? "I'd love to! I see myself performing everywhere."
Final Fun Five:
1) With over a 3 octave range, you have a "dramatic mezzo" voice ... does this mean if you came over my house and sang for me that all my windows would shatter?! - "Probably not, but I do know how to break a wine glass and tick off your neighbors :)"
2) I think I noticed some small tattoos on the inside of both your wrists on AGT ... was I mistaken, and do you have others - and where and of what?! - "I have 4 tattoos. In the inside of my wrists are the Alpha and the Omega, to remind me of my ultimate destination and reality. I have the cross of Lazarus on the back of my neck as a sign of resurrection. The other I am keeping to myself!"
3) OK, for the record, what IS your natural hair color ... and during all the performances you gave, how many did you wear a wig for?! "Does it matter?"
4) Fair enough ... OK, as the fans are begging for a either a duet with Jackie Evancho or a threesome (if you pardon the expression!) with Jackie and Susan Boyle, has something like either of these scenarios been discussed with you yet? - "I'd be open to it, but nothing like that was ever discussed."
5) What is your late night snack-attack weakness?! - "Oooh! I love cheese and crackers, gingersnaps, or licorice!"
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to operatically cover today ... and why? "'Sweet Child O' Mine' by Guns N' Roses. That song always gets me going, and I think it has a beautiful melody."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins (and not the hockey team!) ... do you? "Who DOESN'T like penguins?!"
Interview: Russell A. Trunk
Follow Lys Agnès on Twitter!
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