'America's Got Talent' Crooner Sal Valentinetti Talks Sinatra, Simon Cowell & Adam Lambert
Sal Valentinetti may only be 21 years old, but the America’s Got Talent crooner is really an old soul.
Backed by an orchestra, (Aug. 30) on the NBC talent competition, Valentinetti once again channeled his hero, Frank Sinatra, and brought swagger to the Chairman of the Board’s “That’s Life” in the AGT semi-finals.
“Sinatra to me was an all around entertainer. I try to use my personality as much as can and I think that is what Sinatra did so effortlessly,” he tells Billboard. “It’s good to be able to channel Frank and be that guy up there. That’s the same guy I am. Frank was a confident, larger than life person, and I try to be the same style of entertainer.”
Tonight, Valentinetti will discover whether or not he made it through to the finals of AGT, but he said that either way, he plans to continue singing “win, lose or draw.”
“For me, no matter what happens tonight… this is what I am doing for the rest of my life,” he says. “I’m 21 years old, I’m in college, and it’s the most stressful time. You are only in this world two decades and you have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. That question, that stressful question, was asked of me up on that stage the first time, and that first audition. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life, so this is happening either way.”
Valentinetti said the encouragement from the judges, particularly Simon Cowell who said he now feels like the Bethpage, New York native is ready for the title.
"I felt absolutely great when Simon “now I feel like you are here to win,’” he says. “Simon Cowell is a titan in this industry.”
Judge Heidi Klum, who catapulted Valentinetti into the competition by pushing the Golden Buzzer, almost made Valentinetti tear up when she praised his “heart of gold.”
“I almost got a little emotional up there,” he says. “I feel like they see me singing up there on stage, and really I am as you see me. I try to be nice to everybody and as good as a person as I can. My parents raised me a certain way, and clearly if I acted any other way I wouldn’t be doing them justice. Making them proud of me is paramount, too. To hear that from Heidi was really special and it opened America’s eyes to an aspect they don’t get to see on the stage.”
To think America almost never got to hear the former American Idol contestant sing is unfathomable at this moment, but Valentinetti said his initial audition in front of Adam Lambert in Brooklyn was a “goof.”
“I did it on a bet. I never thought I was any good,” he says. “If I thought I was any good, don’t you think I would have worked harder to get out of that pizza joint?”
Valentinetti was delivering pizza for his cousin’s restaurant and singing at a friend’s restaurant for “$100 a week,” just to put gas in his Cadillac to take his girlfriend out on dates. His beloved Uncle Joe -- who sadly passed away in 2015 -- encouraged him to take a shot and audition for the Fox competition. Valentinetti was at first resistant to trying out for a “pop show,” but his uncle offered his Range Rover for the summer in the event he auditioned and did not come through with a Golden Ticket. He earned the ticket (and the car) after that audition and high praise from Lambert, who predicted that audiences would love him.
“He is really cool, actually,” Valentinetti says of Lambert. “He is a larger than life performer and entertainer, but a down to earth person.”
That Golden Ticket was his first introduction the live television, he says.
“I got on the show, was able to sing, and hit on J Lo [judge Jennifer Lopez] a little bit. We had a thing going,” he says, adding that he made a friend for life with fellow season 14 alum, Jax.
“She is a great friend,” he says. “Her family, they are great people. I met them in the holding room at American Idol. They gave me this little camera to interview people. I looked around and saw this girl with the ‘X’ on her cheek and her father is wearing an FDNY hat and I thought they seemed like cool people. I sat down and spoke with them and that kicked off a life-long friendship. She is constantly calling and asking about my well being, even with everything she is going through right now with thyroid cancer.”
When he was eliminated from the show after Hollywood week, his uncle passed away and he felt like the voice that was pushing him to continue was now silenced forever.
“I lost my best friend,” he says. “I gave up on that dream because I didn’t think I had the push in me anymore.”
Then, out of the “clear blue sky,” Valentinetti got a call from America’s Got Talent.
“They saw something in me that they could bring out. I didn’t see it. I was on [Idol] for a hot second,” he says. “When I got kicked off the show, there was all this negativity on Twitter and Instagram, ‘oh you deserved to get canned,’ and you start to believe it and when you no longer have that voice pushing you to go further.”
But Valentinetti believes that the call from AGT was from beyond.
“It was almost a year to the day that he passed when they called,” he says. “I like to think that he was still pushing me along, and he is still there for me even though he is not around.”
As for his future career, Valentinetti said he plans to not only continue standards, but hinted he would like to do a little bit more with re-imagining pop standards like he did with One Direction’s “Story of My Life.” Perhaps a duet with Postmodern Jukebox is in the future?
“I think bridging the gap between the generations is important, as well as working on originals and trying to get our own stuff out there,” he says. “What I tried to do there is prove to people is I am not a one trick pony. I’m an all around guy. I am what I am.”
America's Got Talent airs Wednesday (Aug. 31) at 9 p.m. EST on NBC.
Watch Valentinetti below: