Lebanon native, Lucas DeBard has reached a pinnacle that many more seasoned performers have yet to achieve; but the humble 19-year-old student at I.U.’s Jacobs School of Music is taking it all in stride. Winner of the 2015 Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador award, DeBard was named the top singer at the Great American Songbook Competition Finals on July 25th at the Palladium in Carmel. As part of his prize, DeBard joined Michael Feinstein at Feinstein’s 54 Below, where the founder of the Great American Songbook Foundation performed during his inaugural engagement held Dec. 20th through the 23rd.
Recently byteclay.com spoke by phone with DeBard who had just returned from Manhattan to spend the remainder of his Christmas break with family and friends in Lebanon, prior to returning to I.U. on Jan. 10th.
“I got to do a lot of once-in-a-lifetime things this week,” said the mild mannered DeBard, about his time in Manhattan including, of course, his New York debut.
Feinstein’s 54 Below show received glowing reviews in which DeBard was also mentioned by Broadway.com’s Alix Cohen. She pronounced that “DeBard has natural stage charm, an appealing tenor, good, easy swing phrasing, and more than a little resemblance to the younger Feinstein.” Referring to the song that went a long way in charming the judges at the Songbook Competition Finals last summer, Cohen also noted about DeBard, “His ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ morphs into “tweet myself a twitter . . . a lotta hashtags at the bottom” . . . Feinstein’s implicitly winking response? “I’ll say to you what Cy Coleman said to me, ‘Rotten kid.'”
Theatremania’s Zachary Taylor said, “Debard possesses a warm and resonant voice as well as irrepressible charm. We hope to see much more of him in the future.”
And finally, Sandi Durell of Theatre Pizazz noted, “Seems this young man has learned a lot from his mentor in the fun department whipping out his cell phone mid-song to send a tweet with lots of hashtags on the bottom.”
In addition to the shows, DeBard said that an added bonus were the celebrities, many of them his idols who were in the audience and with whom he chatted after each show. Some of the show business luminaries he engaged with included Bernadette Peters, Marilyn Maye, Elaine Paige, Kelli O’Hara, Norm Lewis and Susan Lucci. “It’s one thing to listen to the music of your heroes or watch them on television, but it is quite another to actually have the opportunity to interact with them on a personal level rather than shaking their hand and saying, ‘My name is Lucas.’”
When asked about the focus of conversations with the entertainers, DeBard said, “I got to talk to them about music and performing and things like that. And the advice I got from these people was priceless, even the most simple things from people who have been performing for so long and so well. Most of them talked about the importance of perseverance. That was the number one thing. They all told me they had been through hard times during their careers but that’s what made the high points seem better. That was something Elaine Page really emphasized. She must have said “persevere” 20 times during our conversation and that was the word that really stuck with me.”
While in the City, DeBard said he also went to see the Nighthawks Orchestra at Iguana New York where he met bandleader, Vince Giodarno, who invited him to sit in with the band and sing “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” the tune that may well become the young performer’s signature song. DeBard said that he also attended the legendary Monday open mic “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party” at Birdland where he also performed. Other experiences DeBard said he enjoyed were “The King and I” at Lincoln Center and going backstage to meet Kelli O’Hara (who starred as Anna) afterwards; seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center; and taking in the Rockettes’ holiday show at Radio City Music Hall.
Summarizing his New York adventures, DeBard said, “None of it would have been possible were it not for everything that Michael and his husband Terrence (Flannery) did for me that week. I so appreciate it.”
DeBard who said he is looking forward to his new classes once he returns to I.U., will experience yet another substantial milestone in his blossoming career when he returns to NYC on Feb. 10th. There, he and previous Songbook Competition winners Madelyn Baillio (2014), Julia Goodwin (2013) and Nick Ziobro (2012) will join Feinstein at Carnegie Hall in “Standard Time with Michael Feinstein,” a series produced by Michael A. Kerker of ASCAP.
The Songbook Academy application for 2016 is now open. For more information about the American Songbook Vocal Competition visit thesongbook.org.