Who is Tyson Venegas, the 17-year-old from Port Moody, B.C., wowing American Idol audiences?

·4 min read
Tyson Venegas, 17, has advanced to the competition's top 10. (Tyson Venegas/Instagram  - image credit)
Tyson Venegas, 17, has advanced to the competition's top 10. (Tyson Venegas/Instagram - image credit)

UPDATE — May 2, 2023: Tyson Venegas was voted off American Idol on May 1, despite praise from the judges for his rendition of Lewis Capaldi's Someone You Loved.

Seventeen-year-old Tyson Venegas of Port Moody, B.C., has been making waves in Hollywood with his performances on Season 21 of American Idol.

But long before that he was making waves in the local music scene — even winning a major talent show in Vancouver when he was just seven years old.

On Sunday, Venegas advanced to the show's top 10 for the season, and is considered a standout among this year's slate of contestants.

He made headlines early this year when he wowed judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, and received the season's first Platinum Ticket for his cover of Billy Joel and Tony Bennett's New York State of Mind.

WATCH | Venegas wows American Idol judges with audition:

On American Idol, four Platinum Tickets are given out during auditions to accelerate contestants past the first round, into the Hollywood Week round.

"To make it this far, I'm really grateful that I get to have these different experiences," Venegas told CBC News.

"I'm very nervous, the competition is only getting harder and there is so much talent," he said.

"But this is what I want to do."

'An amazing, innate sort of feel for music': vocal coach

Venegas says his American Idol journey started when he was scouted by producers in L.A. to try out for the show.

While the offer was shocking at first, he says the opportunity was a dream come true.

"For the audition, I was a little bit nervous and my palms were sweaty.… Before the doors opened, I was like, 'Ahhh what's going to happen next?'"

But American Idol isn't Venegas's first rodeo on a live singing competition.

At 14, Venegas auditioned for The Voice Teens Philippines, and at age seven he won a local singing competition at the Pacific National Exhibition, British Columbia's largest annual fair.

Former vocal coach Camille Henderson says Venegas's success comes as no surprise.

She describes the young singer as an "anomaly" because of his natural talent from a young age.

"He is shockingly talented and just had an amazing, innate sort of feel for music," she said. "But he was also quite a shy kid, so it was an interesting juxtaposition because he didn't speak much."

WATCH | Seven-year-old Tyson Venegas performs Route 66:

Henderson's partner, Chris Hockey, says he taught Venegas drums for about a year and that he'll never forget their first lesson together.

"He has an interesting way of taking in information," he said. "He would look away while he was talking to me … like he was spacing out … and then he would just snap back in when I was done talking and nail it."

'The words weren't coming easily, but the songs were'

At a young age, Venegas says he struggled with a speech delay that made it difficult for him to communicate.

He says his parents introduced him to a variety of musicians, from the Beatles to Michael Jackson, because "the words weren't coming easily, but the songs were coming easily."

With time, he began to dream of becoming a musician, and naturally started to create his own versions of songs.

"I'd make songs my own like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Let It Be," he said, which prompted his family to encourage his musical development and enter him in competitions.

"My parents and my family are the ones that inspire me the most."

WATCH | Venegas makes it to American Idol's top 10 with a performance of For Once in My Life:

Venegas says one of the highlights of American Idol has been performing for his role model, Lionel Richie.

"Performing for Lionel Richie is the best! I've looked up to him since I was young," he said, adding one of the first live concerts he attended was by Richie.

"I love the way … how he told stories and not just sang … throughout the whole concert."

Henderson says she hopes "this will be [Venegas's] moment" to make it big, but also that American Idol is just "one stop in the road" for the teen, whether he wins or not.

"I don't think he [will] feel done [with American Idol] and not know what to do beyond it.… He's got the floor now and so he can do whatever he wants."