Illustration of Zachary D’Onofrio by Greg Williams/Florida Southern College
May 10, 2021
Before his recent appearances as a singing contestant on ABC’s “American Idol,” Florida Southern College student Zachary D’Onofrio ’23 used the voice lab for one of his music classes as a remote rehearsal hall, debuting several song possibilities for his classmates.
“He tried them out there, playing for the camera on his keyboard, to see how his classmates would react and to see how he reacted to the performing pressure,” says Mark Thomsen, one of D’Onofrio’s music professors and his vocal instructor. Thomsen has introduced the music management major to an array of classics and standards – even Italian arias – to help him find his inner voice. “He’s got chops! He has a real voice in there, and could be a real crossover singer, if he wants to.”
This assessment should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the determined singer’s “American Idol” outings during the current season and in 2018 (as a Wesley Chapel high-schooler), from his YouTube clips (singing solo and dueting), or his Instagram feed (where D’Onofrio promises in his bio, “I’m cool sometimes”).
In a high-pressure setting that would turn many nonprofessionals’ legs to jelly, D’Onofrio displayed a stage persona that was calm and collected.
But, wait: While the 20-year-old might be somewhat soft-spoken, his onscreen presence is not simply low-key and likable. He’s also a man of contrasts, sporting wild and colorful sweaters during his March 2021 appearances on “American Idol” and, during his first-ever audition at age 16, handing out novelty socks as gifts for the celebrity judges and dancing onstage with pop superstar Katy Perry, who wore her gifted socks as mittens while D’Onofrio crooned “The Way You Look Tonight,” Frank Sinatra-style.
In both of his outings on the singing competition, D’Onofrio made it past the audition stage to demonstrate his vocal talents during the program’s early Hollywood segments. Before he left the show this season, he says, “The producers – and Katy Perry herself – hinted at me coming back for a third try.”
He is considering the idea, and encourages others to audition, as well.
“This show truly changed my life,” says D’Onofrio, adding that opportunities have come his way every year since his first audition because of his involvement with the program. “A young performer can gain so much experience by even just auditioning. Seeing it all, firsthand, will help you understand the industry, and how exciting it truly is. You will gain so much knowledge and experience.”
After his most recent appearancess on “American Idol,” D’Onofrio received praise from around the country, including an Instagram comment from actor Selma Blair, who wrote on one of his posts, “You are gold.” Singer/songwriter Clark Beckham, a Season 14 contestant who was a runner-up in 2015, commented on his own YouTube channel, “He’s good, honestly; I think he’s got potential to have a music career. … He does have something special.”
In D’Onofrio’s on-screen performances this season, he tackled popular hits by The Beatles, Harry Styles, and Daryl Hall and John Oates – but he hasn’t lost his longstanding fondness for romantic ballads.
“I’ve always been influenced by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and other crooners,” D’Onofrio says. Like Michael Bublé, another of his favorite performers, D’Onofrio hopes “to help bring that old style of music back, and try to make it fun again.”
He enjoys writing, producing, and sharing his own compositions with fans, releasing several original singles on Spotify, YouTube, his personal website, and social media channels.
D’Onofrio’s musical interests do not focus exclusively on his own ambitions as a singer, however. He is serious about bettering the music industry, and his music management classes at FSC are bolstering the personal insights he gained as a performer on the national stage.
“Being here at Florida Southern College has been exactly what I needed after the ‘American Idol’ experience,” he says. “I am able to improve my vocal quality through applied voice lessons and improve my music industry knowledge.”
D’Onofrio plans to learn as much as he can about the music business, including product retailing, working as a producer, and managing the careers of other artists. As others before him have observed, the industry can be a harsh environment for performers in the early stages of their careers; he hopes to help make things better for others who wish to find their way as professional singers.
“I want to figure out how to help artists feel comfortable in the industry,” he says, “to help them achieve their goals, their dreams, and find their voice.”
Through his classes at FSC with Dr. Jeff Benatar (“Introduction to Music Business” and “Music Product and Retailing”), D’Onofrio has begun to explore the current state of the music industry, including website design, branding, marketing strategies, and streaming services. He also has been refining his technical skills in areas such as recording, editing, mixing, and video editing as part a “create-your-own-single” project.
His vocal coach at FSC also sees great promise in D’Onofrio’s future – as a performer, in the world of artist management, or via endeavors that reflect his interests in both spheres. Thomsen specifically notes the “great and gracious” ways D’Onofrio related to his classmates who supported him during his most recent “American Idol” appearances.
“He had a nice little crew at Florida Southern who were watching and following him,” says Thomsen, who sent group emails to inform other teachers and music students about D’Onofrio’s progress, which they would then disseminate. “We were really proud of him, to have the daring to do that. When he would come into the voice lab or student recital class, there would be recognition of his showing, and part of Zach’s reaction was to tell the other students they should try doing ‘Idol,’ too.”
It helps others, Thomsen says, when they hear that sort of encouragement: “I’ve noticed an uptick in people trying to do new things. As you try, you do. That moves everything forward.”
For his part, D’Onofrio expresses appreciation for the support he has received from his classmates and instructors.
“The FSC Community has been amazing, in that everyone is invested in seeing each other succeed,” he says. His message to classmates and other hopeful performers is one of self-confidence and resolve, gained through his own willingness to keep trying – and to keep learning. “Never turn back on your goal. If this is what you want, get it done; don't second-guess yourself!”
Music management major hopes to help others achieve their dreams.
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