Hawaiian At Heart

‘American Idol’ contestant and California native DeAndre Brackensick, at right, is Hawaii dreaming these days. The talented singer gets his wish Saturday evening when he performs with special guest Molia inside Hawaiian Brian’s Showroom. | Photo courtesy of Shugz Photography

You think DeAndre Brackensick, who was raised in California but taught to embrace the Hawaiian culture, is thrilled to be performing in the Islands Saturday night? ‘Ae

DeAndre Kamele Brackensick is proof that you don’t have to be from Hawaii or have indigenous blood coursing through your veins to experience an inseparable connection with the Islands and its culture.

If you remember, Brackensick is the American Idol contestant from last season who captured the attention of millions – as much for his high-pitched R&B/soul vocal stylings as for his long, curly locks. What you may not remember or even know is that this musician, who was born and raised in San Jose, Calif., began immersing himself in Hawaiian mele almost immediately after leaving the womb, thanks to a family friend with ties to the Islands.

“Around the time I was born, my parents, Scot and Dawn, moved in with my dad’s friend and I was basically hanai’d by this other family,” explains Brackensick, 18. “So I was pretty much raised in a hula and ki’eki’e world, where I’d always be watching hula auana or kahiko, or listening to old-school Hawaiian artists like Darlene Ahuna, Aunty Genoa Keawe, and Dennis Pavao and Hui Ohana.”

Recordings of these Hawaiian artists became the best home tutorial for Brackensick, who started demonstrating considerable falsetto skills at a young age. (Ever heard his rendition of Nawiliwili? Try Googling it.) As a teenager, his appreciation for Hawaiian language and mele grew as he diligently practiced his chops on the ukulele and dedicated a considerable amount of time to various hula halau. At age 15, in fact, he captured the male solo award at the Ia ‘Oe E Ka La Hula Festival & Competition, held annually in Pleasanton, Calif. Since then, he’s been a frequent competitor at the Merrie Monarch Festival and currently dances for kumu hula Kapua Dalire and Halau Kaliko Pua O Kalaniakea.

“First time I went to Merrie Monarch, I saw all the halau performing and friggin’ loved it!” he says.

But again, it’s Brackensick’s voice that his growing fan base wants to hear. Admirers can catch him live this Saturday evening at Hawaiian Brian’s Showroom, where the artist will appear with several friends, including R&B artist Molia, at his “Aloha Concert.” Doors open at 8 and the show begins at 9. Tickets can be ordered at honoluluboxoffice.com.

Brackensick promises a 90-minute set that includes his duet with Molia on Fuss and Fight, his just-released Maroon 5ish single Her Crazy (Truth Records) and several Hawaiian classics. It’s that kind of versatility in music genres that led him to an eighth-place finish during American Idol‘s 11th season.

“You know, I was never really into hapa haole songs growing up,” he confesses. “But I guess I should thank my mom for encouraging me to try the Motown sound and ’70s music like Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. She told me I needed to expand my talents, and I’m glad she did.”

Here’s what else Brackensick told Musical Notes:

MN: I hear you’re working on an album. When will it be released?

DB: If all goes well, it’ll will be out in January. The album will have soul, pop and Hawaiian songs on it.

MN: Regarding your American Idol experience, are you glad you had a platform to showcase your musical influences outside of the Hawaiian music realm?

DB: ‘Ae. But honestly, I was like a fish out of water at first! I mean, I felt comfortable singing songs like Sometimes I Cry and Master Blaster because I’d sing them at home, but the experience was still foreign to me because of the setting in front of those judges and all those people. But I’m glad I did it. I suppose I needed to prove to other people that I could do it.

MN: You were a part of the American Idol tour last summer, right?

DB: ‘Ae. We did a three-and-a-half-month tour in 48 cities – 47 in the U.S. and one in Manila – and it was cool waking up in different places every week.

MN: What are your plans beyond touring?

DB: I may be attending a junior college in California this fall, or possibly even taking online classes. My plan is to eventually major in Hawaiian studies and minor in business.

MN: It’s all about Hawaii, isn’t it?

DB: ‘Ae. San Jose is home for me now, but hopefully I’ll end up in Hawaii one day. That’s my dream.

Small-Kine Note: Recent Punahou graduate Evan Lin beat out five other finalists to capture the coveted International Institute for Young Musicians Piano Competition at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. After finishing second at last year’s competition, Lin took home the prize with a finals’ repertoire that included sonatas from Béla Bartok and Joseph Haydn, and Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F major, op.38. Lin, a student of piano teacher Joanna Fan, will attend Stanford University this fall.