Justin Guarini’s positive message reaches Quakertown students

The American Idol and Broadway star, the school district’s Artist-In-Residence, preached con­fi­dence and a will­ing­ness to fail to ulti­mate­ly achieve suc­cess.    

From the out­set of a more than two-hour coach­ing ses­sion with Quakertown Community School District stu­dents and par­ents, Justin Guarini put every­one at ease. Headlined as an Audition Secrets Masterclass, the star of Broadway shows and American Idol let every­one know that he sat where they’re sit­ting and their dreams can be fulfilled.

I’ve done what you’ve done and lived what you lived,” he said. “I’ve been where it is you want to be. It takes a lot of hard work but if I can do it you can do it.”

His mes­sage hit home with Quakertown’s young peo­ple. Karinna Richardson, a senior who per­forms with the Varsity Singers and in school plays, said “It’s very reliev­ing to know that I can be more con­fi­dent in my own abil­i­ties. He made it in act­ing and you can see he’s a real per­son. Where else would I ever hear these things from some­one of his back­ground or have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet him?”

Mr. Guarini was brought to the dis­trict by the Quakertown Community Education Foundation’s bien­ni­al Artist-In-Residence pro­gram. Dr. Erin Oleksa-Carter, a QCEF board mem­ber and QCSD’s Supervisor of Middle Level Teaching and Learning, hud­dled with sev­er­al teach­ers to dis­cuss the pro­gram. Erin Camburn, the high school’s choral direc­tor, sug­gest­ed Mr. Guarini.

On January 30, his inter­ac­tive Audition Secrets was a huge suc­cess as he shared the high­lights and low­lights of a career that took off in the first sea­son of American Idol in 2002 when he reached the finals with Kelly Clarkson. Mr. Guarini, 44, has been the lov­able “Lil’ Sweet” in Dr. Pepper com­mer­cials since 2015 and per­formed in sev­en Broadway pro­duc­tions. On February 1 he will be giv­ing point­ers to 10 stu­dents select­ed by teachers.

As he spoke and grace­ful­ly maneu­vered the stage in the Quakertown Performing Arts Center, Mr. Guarini used pho­tos, videos and his mag­i­cal singing voice to teach, encour­age and moti­vate his atten­tive audience.

(Being here tonight) is one more step in a long road of steps to your suc­cess,” he said. “I’m tak­ing you by your hand … watch that pot­hole. Everything you want is wait­ing for you on the oth­er side of will­ing­ness to fail.”

It felt real, and I was very excit­ed to hear what he had to say,” said Zach Polek, a junior who fin­ished first in audi­tions as both a singer and instru­men­tal­ist or the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District 11 cho­rus, band, and orches­tra. “I have to be con­fi­dent. It’s okay to be me where I’m at.”

Mr. Guarini enjoyed the back-and-forth with audi­ence mem­bers and they savored his feed­back. He opened up about his fail­ures, includ­ing get­ting words wrong Idol’s Big Band Night when singing Route 66. “I just kept going,” he said.

A low point came one night alone in a hotel room in Los Angeles, watch­ing Saturday Night Live when Tina Fey on Weekend Update announced Mr. Guarini had been dropped from his record­ing con­tract. It’s how he learned about it.

Mrs. Camburn ref­er­enced that type of “authen­tic­i­ty. To hear him describe the incred­i­ble highs and crush­ing lows was so inspir­ing and a great mes­sage for our students.” 

Stephanie Zajkowski, QCEF’s board pres­i­dent, said he “spoke to them in a way they can relate. ‘You need to go for it.’ ”

In addi­tion to the audi­tion tips he shared, Mr. Guarini’s advice is some­thing that will inspire stu­dents with just about any chal­lenge they face or career they seek. “There’s some­thing you have to give,” he said. “You’re not just an instru­ment in a line of peo­ple.  You all have value.”

He also said some­thing many par­ents were hap­py to hear.  “Create anoth­er stream of income for your­self,” Mr. Guarini said, hold­ing up a cell phone. “With this, any­one can do it.”

Dr. Oleksa said “His mes­sages are impor­tant no mat­ter what you do. The goal of the Artist-In-Residence pro­gram is to touch on a vari­ety of career path­ways. We think hear­ing what our stu­dents did from a star per­former will go a long way.”

Mrs. Zajkowski of the QCEF said “the things he said are going to stick with our kids for­ev­er. It’s not just about audi­tion­ing. His words work for what­ev­er path they choose.” 

For his part, Mr. Guarini is hop­ing “the under­ly­ing lessons and prin­ci­ples I teach will be part of my lega­cy. My hope is that I teach peo­ple how to avoid the mis­takes I made so they can get down the road to suc­cess faster than I did.”