By Preston Spencer
Before the performance began, Howard Stern was shaking his head in doubt.
Needless to say, that didn't last.
To the surprise of the judges, opera singing group Vox amazed them and the audience during Tuesday night’s episode of NBC’s "America’s Got Talent" show. Statesville native DeMar Neal is one of four members of Vox, which is Latin for voice.
By the end of the quartet’s rendition of “Nessun dorma,” an Italian opera song meaning “None shall sleep,” Howie Mandel, one of the reality talent show’s four judges, was standing and, behind him, another 1,200 people were on their feet cheering.
“I would hope at home that they felt the power that we felt in this room,” Mandel said to the group.
All four judges gave positive reviews, moving Vox onto the next round of the show. Neal called it one of the “top three most exciting moments I’ve had in my life.”
“It was sort of overwhelming,” said Neal, 33, who graduated from Statesville High School in 2000. “It was really surreal.”
The episode that aired Tuesday was actually filmed in late March. Currently, the four singers who make up Vox – Kevin Blickfeldt, Arnold Geis and David Castillo are all based in Los Angeles, with Neal in Raleigh, where he is a professor at Meredith College – are waiting on a next-steps email from the producers of the show.
“They don’t actually tell us much about what’s going to happen until they want us to know,” Neal said.
The show’s contestants will next be whittled down, and then starting in August the episodes will be aired live. Neal said it would be amazing to continue to move on and expressed a hope that his group could help bring opera back into mainstream popularity.
“Through Vox and through 'America’s Got Talent,' we can take what we love to do and share it with the world and show everybody that this music is for everybody,” Neal said.
The ability to sing that Neal showed on national television is hardly the start of his performance career.
After graduating from SHS, Neal was a member of the popular Clef Hangers a cappella group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in voice performance and has sung with the North Carolina Opera and several other opera groups. In addition to teaching at Meredith, he is also an instructor at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh.
Before high school, Neal took four years of voice lessons from Dan Pardue, a longtime Mitchell Community College music instructor.
Neal’s parents, Dr. DeMar and Linda Neal, live in Mooresville, and Linda said they had never really watched "America’s Got Talent" until Tuesday.
“We were really proud of him,” she said.
Neal said that all the members of Vox just got together as a group about a month before auditioning for the show in March. But after six minutes on a national stage, already, he said, “so many things are happening for us individually and as a group.” And if they actually won the show, “it would give us international fame and glory and an incomparable platform to do what we love,” Neal said.
Neal is the second Iredell County native to make it through a television round of "America's Got Talent." In 2012, Ulysses Long progressed to the live shows.
WHAT THEY SAID
Vox earned universal praise from the judges of the show Tuesday night.
“You had the element of surprise. I wasn’t expecting you to do opera. And that’s always a great moment when guys who look like they’re the furthest thing from opera come out and sing opera, we get really moved by that. But when the four of you come together, wow! Boy, do you have a sound! And that’s when you won me over.”
“I would hope at home that they felt the power that we felt in this room. ... I think people will come to think of you as the classiest boy band there is.”
Melanie Brown (Mel B)
“It sounded magical. You all individually have great voices,” said singer Mel B, who is perhaps better known as Scary Spice of the Spice Girls. “Perfect song choice. (It) was a home run in my eyes.”
“I’m a fan of opera and I’m a fan of classical music and I thought that you did a great job.”
WANT TO WATCH?
To see Vox’s performance on "America’s Got Talent," visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjraGkT3zCY.
You can also follow the band on its Facebook page, VOX Sings.