Justin Su'esu'e

From: Modesto, CA

Age: 29

Instrument: Voice, Tenor

School: University of Southern California, MM Vocal Arts

Favorite Drink: Chai Tea Latte with Almond Coconut Milk

"I did quit music for many years, but that’s because I lost both of my parents. I lost my dad in 2007 to cancer and I lost my mom in 2009 to complications with cancer. So I gave up music and went and did business which I thought was a logical degree. I ignored my passion for music and pushed it way deep down because music made me feel too much, and with the art form of singing, there’s something unique about the voice because you have to sing text really heart wrenching texts. It wasn’t until after about 2 years after my mom passed away that I was asked to come back and perform in “Hairspray” with the youth theater group that I grew up performing with. They were having an alumni summer, but I hadn’t performed or done anything since my mom passed away. I was very hesitant at first, but I ended up doing it because I was going to play the drag queen in the show, playing Edna Turnblad, and I couldn’t say no to that. Also during this time, I met this choral director who I really connected with, and she would message me once a month trying to encourage me to sing in her choir, but I would just delete every email.

But, the minute I got on stage with the costumes and started performing I realized that doing this was what was missing for the past two years. In doing “Hairspray”, as cliche as it sounds, I had as Oprah would call it an ‘ah-ha’ moment and I realized that I was doing a disservice to my parents memory by not following my passion and my dreams of what I wanted to do. So, after the show ended I finally messaged this choir director back and told her, “I don’t know what happened, I guess I’ve had time to heal, but I would love to come back to school for music.” Within 48 hours she had sent me like, 28 things I had to do to submit an application to Westminster Choir College, mind you this is 2 weeks before move in day for the undergraduate degree. But, I don’t know what it was, but in two days I had my application submitted and the weekend before everyone moved in, the Director of Admissions emailed me and told me that I had been accepted and needed to be there in 4 days."

Advice to others: "I think the biggest thing, and people do not say it, is that you are never really OK. There will always be something. The terrible and wonderful thing about music is that the minute that any type of song comes on, and you happen to hear one sentence, it could just trigger 100% of your grieving or whatever. But then, after you have this little cry session, you realize how amazing you feel. I think everyone who has been through losing someone, especially losing someone who is close to them, you learn to cope throughout the years, and you learn different ways to move on, but there will ALWAYS be a part of you that is completely gone. It’s just never something that you can get over, no matter how old you are, and I think people try to pretend that you can.

But in regards to music, the way I went was what I needed to do, but I don’t necessarily think it was the right way to go. It was just what happened. If you happen to stray away from music for a while to heal, I think that’s completely acceptable. When you’re hurt there are a lot of things you need to do for yourself and if that means shutting off certain things for a while, then that’s what you have to do. But each individual person is different. I would strongly encourage them to keep music alive, but take the time that they need. You can’t think about what other people want for you. You need to think about what you want for yourself, especially in a time of great suffering."

Do you think inspiration and success depend on each other: "In this field, to be successful is not necessarily a monetary value. If you actually want to be successful, that can’t be what you think is successful. Of course, making any kind of money would be lovely. But I think, and I hate to sound like a cliche, but being a musician who doesn’t have any type of inspiration, that life, in my opinion, is just not worth living. I think that’s a part of being human, is having inspiration. I think it’s our job as musicians to be inspiring to others, because we forget that a lot of people look to us for inspiration. As far as success, as long as you’re happy with what you’re producing, that is the most successful you’ll be. Some of the best musicians I’ve met are the happiest ones."

Life mantra: Live, Love and be Fabulous.

Quote: “Legend of the Hummingbird”

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

Cause/Charity to raise awareness to: American Cancer Society Relay For Life, American Lung Association