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Dream Role in Hairspray Eclipses American Idol

Austin Holmes ’16

Austin Holmes standing outside of the Syracuse Stage
Photo by Susan Kahn

Austin Holmes ’16 had an agonizing—if enviable—decision to make. The drama major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts ( VPA ) had just won his dream role as super-cool Seaweed J. Stubbs in the 2014-15 Syracuse Stage production of Hairspray. But he had also made it through three rounds of auditions for American Idol, and was invited to continue in the competition. Given the amount of time each option demanded for rehearsals and performances, he couldn’t do both.

After a great deal of soul-searching—and more than one change of heart—he decided to pass on Idol and take the part in Hairspray. “At first, I had regrets about not doing American Idol—it’s one of my favorite TV shows,” says Holmes, the winner of the 2012 Syracuse Idol competition. “But being in Hairspray was one of the best experiences in my life. At Syracuse, I’ve learned that everything happens for a reason—I was meant to stay in school and finish my training.”

In spring 2016, Holmes had the chance to fine-tune his craft as a student in the Tepper Semester, VPA’s rigorous artistic immersion program in the heart of New York City’s theater district. With his sights set on a career in music, television, and commercials, the Maryland native has already reached a number of milestones, including performing on BET’s Apollo Live! competition at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, launching his YouTube site, AustinHolmesMusic , and signing with Syracuse University Recordings, the University’s student recording label. Holmes’s first album, Drive , a mix of pop/hip hop and R&B, is dedicated to his late grandfather, who helped finance his college education.

If you take advantage of everything SU has to offer, it will set you up for life

Originally wait-listed to Syracuse, Holmes was surprised to receive an email congratulating him on being accepted to the drama program. “When my mom and I visited SU, we were told the drama department accepts only about 25 students each year,” he says. “So when I got here, I was scared to death to go up against all the kids in my class. Everybody is so talented. My confidence just wasn’t there, and I wondered how I could do this.” The turning point was his Syracuse Idol win, and the opportunity to perform a solo during an “After Hours” event in Hendricks Chapel, sponsored by the a cappella groups on campus. “At the end of my song, everyone stood up and applauded,” he says. “It was a moment of satisfaction for me.”

Holmes finds inspiration—and encouragement—following in the footsteps of such noted Syracuse alumni as Vanessa Williams ’85 and Taye Diggs ’93. “When I think of them being in the same classes I’m taking, sitting in the seats I’m sitting in now, it makes me believe anything is possible,” he says. For this aspiring singer/actor, the University is a place of opportunity for anyone who wants to pursue their dreams. “If you take advantage of everything SU has to offer, it will set you up for life,” he says. “A lot of things happen when you don’t stay in your room and collect dust.”

Paula Meseroll

This story was published on .

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  • Tepper Semester

    The Tepper Semester is a unique program that offers undergraduate students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a rigorous artistic training program in New York City.