All-American: To multi-talented New Yorker Matthew Piazzi, rural Southeast Missouri is a second home

Monday, August 25, 2008

For all 31 years of his life, Matthew Piazzi has been a New Yorker by geography, and a Cape Girardean by DNA. His mother, Judith Farris, is Cape Girardeau born and raised. She spent much of her life in New York pursuing a career in music before moving back to Cape Girardeau recently to take a position as a vocal music instructor with Southeast Missouri State University. And along the way, her son Matthew developed strong ties to the town in flyover country he calls his second home.

Piazzi spoke with the Southeast Missourian Monday about his career, his Sept. 2 appearance on "America's Got Talent," and his love of Cape Girardeau.

MS: You were one of the MySpace auditions on "America's Got Talent."

MP: ... Well it was a video that I sent through MySpace, and they were very pleased with that, and brought me out to Vegas to audition for the MySpace segment of the show.

MS: What was on the video?

MP: It was a video of me doing a series of impressions. It was a one-and-a-half to two-minute video.

MS: What were some of the impressions?

MP: Some of the ones that I'll be doing in the next two shows: George Clooney, Dr. Phil, Vince Vaughn, Jack Nicholson, Ray Romano.

MS: I know that you've been working doing voice-overs, but that's far from the only artistic talent you have: you act, you perform music ...

MP: Yeah, and actually on Sept. 2, I'll be playing piano and singing and doing impressions at the same time.

MS: Is that something you worked up just for the show, or have you done an act like that?

MP: I've never done an act like that before ... I thought it would be a way to showcase many different talents at once and try to win America's votes.

MS: Was it challenging to do all of those things at once?

MP: Absolutely. Very challenging, especially since you only have a minute-and-a-half up there. In a minute-and-a-half it's very challenging ... especially having to figure out which line I've assigned to which celebrity and when they come in ... it's difficult to keep them all in balance.

MS: So far, the show has featured certain acts with more face time. You're not one of them. Do you think that makes you an underdog?

MP: Probably, yeah, I would say it does. Unfortunately I don't have anything to do with the editing process, but ... the editors have been particularly kind to some other contestants. On the other hand I feel it could be that I might surprise America in my next act, because they don't see it coming.

There was about 10 seconds airtime that I've had so far ... I performed twice already for the judges, and America hasn't seen that, so that opens it up for more material for me to use down the line, assuming I get voted into the next round.

MS: How did you decide you wanted to go up there and put yourself on the line in front of such a huge TV audience? That can't be a decision that's made lightly.

MP: Exactly. Originally, when I auditioned for it, I thought it would be just kind of fun, I thought it would be kind of neat, I thought it would be interesting to see how much exposure I get. I definitely didn't think I'd get this far. And now that I'm here it's an opportunity for me to give it my all and try to win America's hearts.

I think the difference between me and a lot of the other acts is that, the rest of my career doesn't really rely on this show. For a lot of the other acts, I think it does. For a lot of them, I think this is kind of their one shot. And it does make me feel a little bit better to know that it's not my only shot, but it's certainly a big shot and I'm not going to take it lightly.

MS: For people who don't know, give them an idea of what you do for work.

MP: I do voice-overs for TV commercials, movie trailers, some animation, and I live on royalties from that, and that allows me to pursue my acting, which is my main focus.

When I auditioned in Las Vegas for the MySpace auditions, in the end, several of the judges gave me high compliments, and of course, that didn't make it past the editing floor ... and Piers Morgan actually told me he thought that I should definitely continue doing what I'm doing, that I actually became the characters on stage before their eyes. And David Hasselhoff said that, on the other hand, I am acting ...

The interesting thing about this competition is that, if I get only through one or two more rounds, it's still going to be great exposure ... and it will definitely contribute to my career and how far I get.

MS: So how's the career going?

MP: The acting business in New York is definitely a struggle ... and luckily I've been able to stay afloat, you could say, with the voice-overs, but it's just not enough for me. I met Chas Palminteri once ... a couple of years ago, and I made conversation with him ... and I was really trying to pick his brain ... At the time I had trouble finding a "legit agent," which is basically a business word for a TV and film agent for my acting. And he asked me, he said "What do you do?" And I said I do voice-overs. He said, "Voice-overs, that's a good living. A friend of mine is 30 years old and making a million dollars a year doing voice-overs."

And I said, "Well I'm not there yet, but I just don't want to wake up when I'm 60 and say, 'Could I have done more?'"

And he said, "Well you should be happy with what you've got. You should be happy ... if you make it in this business in voice-overs, you should be happy with that."

And I said, "Wasn't it you who wrote the line in 'Bronx Tale,' there's nothing worse in life than wasted talent?"

I think that's the bottom line here. That's what it comes down to. I've got so many other talents that I'd like to share with the world and voice-overs is only a small part of that, and there's so much more I have yet to achieve in the entertainment business. And I'm really hoping that "America's Got Talent" is that door that ... I can jam my foot into.

MS: Where does music play into your many talents?

MP: Well, music has always just been sort of a hobby of mine. When I was 14 years old I had a doo-wop group, and we used to harmonize with '50 songs. And I taught myself to play piano when I was about 12 or 13, and never could read music. My mother tried to teach me several times, but it never stuck, it kind of took the fun out of it for me.

So I've always had an ear, and I think that connects the impersonations with the music. I always thought that if I could hear the pitch of someone's voice as if it's a note, a musical note, and I could match the pitch of my voice to that note, that musical note, I have an impression. So it was very much like music for me always. There's always been that connection there between the two.

The very first talent show I ever did was when I was ... a freshman in high school, and I actually played "Great Balls of Fire." And so, I'm going to be bringing the spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis back when I hit the stage on Sept. 2, so it will be sort of like my life coming full circle in a way.

MS: People in our area are curious about your affiliation with Southeast Missouri.

MP: Cape Girardeau's always been a second home to me. When I was a kid ... the woman who raised my mother, who I considered my grandmother, Louise Sikes, she died a couple of years ago, but when she was alive, I spent a lot of time visiting, and I would come on summers, and I would come during some holidays, and when my mother finally moved back there, it was a chance for me to reconnect with Cape again. When I was really young, I spent some time going to day care there, and Bible school there, and I do have some cousins and uncles there, and a lot of friends who I've made through the years, and at some point, some day I might consider retiring there, but for now, it really has been a second home to me.

I feel a connection to Cape, not just because of my mother, but because there is an all-American feeling that I get, a safe, All-American feeling that I get, when I leave New York and come to Cape because it keeps me in check with who I am and ... there's a down-to-earth, real vibe from Cape, and the people who live there. It's a nice break from the rat race that is New York City.

Certainly the people of Cape always are so welcoming to me and so supportive of my talents, and I just constantly look forward to revisiting back there any chance I get.

MS: There has to be a lot more excitement in New York.

MP: Certainly, culturally there's a lot more that New York has to offer, artistically, not to mention the opportunities here careerwise. But sometimes you get your fill of that, and you need to step back and take a look at your life, and take a look at yourself, and I think there are very few places that you can really connect with ... and Cape is one of those places for me.

MS: So when you're in New York, what do you do with your free time?

MP: Well, I've been so focused on honing in on my crafts -- I've been continuously studying in acting class, and I'm auditioning for commercials -- so when I'm not doing that, I'm either in the gym or ... studying in some fashion.

I've been an entertainer ... really I discovered that I loved to entertain people when I was about 10 years old. I went away to school for many years, and the first time I started making friends was when I was doing impersonations of the faculty at the schools that I was at. And the kids loved it ... and it was the first time I realized that I could do that, that I could impersonate and make people laugh. And I got such a joy out of it that it just stuck, it's just something I love to do. I love to go in piano bars in New York and play my heart out, I love to entertain a room, go into somewhere else and sing a little bit, go into a comedy club and work on some material a little bit -- just constantly working on my craft while entertaining people. Because really, in the end, "America's Got Talent" is a wonderful opportunity for me to shine, but I'm really trying to have as much fun with this as possible, because, in the end, I really enjoy entertaining people. And that's what I feel that I was born to do.

MS: Are the New York crowds tough?

MP: They can be tough, but if you really believe in what you're doing, and you're able to impress yourself, then I find that others will be impressed. My mother always told me that: "Impress yourself first, and others will be impressed." And I've always taken that to heart.

MS: So what was the first impersonation that you ever did? Was it one of those faculty members you talked about?

MP: I think it started with the faculty, and then I went on to do celebrity impressions. I was always enamored with '50s pop music and pop culture. I was a big Elvis fan when I was a kid. I was a big Jerry Lee Lewis fan, Chuck Berry, people like that, those are definitely some musicians who've influenced me ... Then when I got into high school, then I started doing the faculty again, only my ear at that point was much better, so I was able to work out entire routines with the faculty involved. And in a way, it was kind of the audience's way of ... sticking it to the man.

So if I get voted on to the next round, I have a few tricks up my sleeve where I think the same psychology is going to apply.

MS: Anything else for the people in your second home and everywhere else?

MP: If you think it, if you can dream it, then it's a possibility. And if you believe in yourself, as cliche as it sounds ... that's the only foundation you really need to reach for your dreams, to get what it is you want out of life. The opportunities are out there, you just have to reach for them, within yourself.

Piazzi's impersonations

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