Justin Bieber, step aside. Greyson Chance, make way. Here comes Suraj Parthasarathy. Though his name may be hard to pronounce, this young man from Montrose is an entertainment powerhouse. At 13 years old, he’s already earned the titles of drummer, pianist, actor, tech wizard, songwriter and, oh, yeah, singer.
Judging by the response he received at the recent Talentpalooza show, Suraj is a force to be reckoned with. He played and sang the Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There to a screaming audience, at one point abandoning his piano and walking among the appreciative crowd.
But his accomplishments don’t stop there. He was chosen out of 400 children to sing America the Beautiful at the 2009 U.S. Open Tennis Championship.
He won awards for both singing and acting at the 2010 iPOP! (International Presentation of Performers) convention, a talent showcase for teens. He played the lead role in Fiddler on the Roof. He’s a Memphis Novice Chess Champion. He’s even got his own website.
It all began when Suraj was 3 or 4 years old. “He used to sing in Sanskrit and Hindi at a church group in our home town of Memphis,” says his mother, Rajasree Parthasarathy. “People said, ‘He’s really good.’ Even I used to feel his sensitivity, his gift.”
“I love to perform,” says Suraj. “Songs can make people feel. They may feel like laughing or crying. I feel like I’m expressing myself, my art, when I perform and I connect with other people.”
“He also loved to bang on things as a little boy,” says father, Ramesh Parthasarathy, “so I enrolled him in drum lessons at age 3. It was mainly because I wanted to be a drummer.”
Drumming came naturally to Suraj, and when his drum teacher heard him sing, he introduced him to vocal trainer Bob Westbrook. Westbrook--who has worked with, among others, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears--coached Suraj for years.
At Westbrook’s suggestion, the Parthasarathy’s moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the talent agents who could help Suraj. Father Ramesh commutes back and forth every week to his job as a physician in Tennessee. “It is difficult, but we’re doing this for Suraj," Ramesh says. "We really believe in him.”
Suraj acknowledges that a good singer often has natural born talent, but that professional training is imperative. “Bob Westbrook, and my current vocal coach, Kathleen Riggs [daughter of Seth Riggs, Michael Jackson’s longtime coach] have taught me so much about the correct way to sing. For instance, through something called Speech Level Singing, I’m learning how to pronounce words correctly in order to relieve strain on my vocal chords.”
To become better at composing songs, Suraj took up the piano and is currently learning guitar. “The hardest challenge is to write,” says Suraj. “I am definitely inspired by the songwriting and lyrics of Rob Thomas.”
Suraj entered and won the Rosemont PTA Reflections contest for his musical composition We Gotta Be Happy With What We Have, inspired by the poverty he witnessed in his parent’s homeland of India.
He is also a big fan of Phil Collins because of his skill as a drummer and singer. Suraj practices his drumming and singing through a Van Nuys-based group called Join the Band. “They find other kids about the same level of experience and put you together in a band,” Suraj says “We’ve performed under different band names, like Pineapple Zombie Soup, at places like The Roxy, The Mint and The Whiskey a-Go-Go in Hollywood.”
At this point, Suraj is keeping his options open. “Whatever opportunity presents itself first, whether it is acting, singing, or drumming, I’ll follow," he says. " I am also very interested in consumer technology.”
In fact, he is contemplating starting a website called “Tech for Teens” that deals with issues that are relevant to today’s young technology users. He definitely plans to go to college and hopes to design personal electronic devices one day.
Is American Idol out of the question? “Absolutely not!” says Suraj. “I plan to audition when I turn 15.” Until then, he’s got plenty to keep him busy.