CHICAGO — Branden James will find out Wednesday night if he's made the finale of NBC's "America's Got Talent."
The California native and current Lincoln Park resident — who has performed with the Los Angeles Opera, The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center and The Lyric Opera of Chicago — has won over the four celebrity judges with powerful operatic renditions of Josh Groban's classic "You Raise Me Up" and Heart's "Alone."
"I love Branden James. I feel like he has that natural gift, you know, he has that beautiful, beautiful voice that gives me chills," said Heidi Klum, in a prerecorded interview during last week's show.
DNAinfo caught up with James as he prepared for his live performance on the show Tuesday night.
What has the experience been like so far?
It’s been a complete whirlwind. It’s hard to believe that my first audition was in January and here we are in September. It’s quite a long time. I’m not going to lie, at some points in the competition, it’s gotten to me a little bit, the pressure. I’ve really had to take a step back from that and meditate and just kind of Zen out and remove myself from this whole machine which is trying to win at something. It’s just not something that I’m generally good at in my life. I’m kind of like a selfless, pacifist kind of person, so it’s a strange balance to try to do my best because I want to make it to the finale, but also not let my ego drive everything that’s happening.
What’s your decision-making process like when you’re choosing your songs week to week?
It’s sort of evolved depending on the kind of reception I’ve gotten and based on trying to set myself apart from certain members of the competition. I like to pick a song that speaks to me, first of all, lyrics wise, and also has melody that a classical singer can handle. I decided last week that I wanted to try to set myself apart from the competition and just do something a little more edgy and something that people weren’t expecting. And I was really nervous the whole week about it and I think it kind of showed a little bit in my performance and the judges were like, “what’s going on?” But I think the people at home got it, and it worked so I’m glad I did that. I’ve gotten an outpouring from fans about how much I inspire them so I think going forward I’m going to choose songs that inspire people and mostly that inspire me.
Social media has definitely influenced the competition, it’s a huge part of the competition. How much do you feed into the comments both positive and negative?
Here’s something where I also changed my thinking. I stopped reading them. A couple of weeks ago I just stopped reading them because I realized that, even though I can kind of laugh some things off — there’s a lot of controversial things in there — I don’t need that to be in my subconscious, and I feel like it is whether you choose to acknowledge it on a conscious level or not. It’s still in your subconscious and it can really play games with you. It gets in the room artistically. So honestly, I don’t know what’s out there right now and I’m kind of happy just to be in my own zone.
The storyline of your family has been at the forefront since the beginning of the competition. Where does your relationship stand with your family now?
It’s great. Things have improved so much. I never thought that my story would be playing out on national television and that it would then act as a catalyst for therapy. It’s been a great way to reunite myself with my parents, who have always been by my side, but we’ve just had our different viewpoints, and sometimes expressing those viewpoints has caused friction and distance. At the end of the day, we’ve always loved each other and it’s nice to be able to finally put all that aside and actually meet on the same page.
Moving on to the Chicago connection. There’s also another act, the Chicago Boyz, that made the Top 12, so what’s that like to go back and forth with them and both represent Chicago?
I love it. I’m so happy because it’s really a city that gets behind its people and rallies around sports teams and supports the arts, and I think that’s awesome that there’s two of us standing at the end. It just shows how amazing and badass Chicago is.
And is there anything you’ve missed about Chicago?
I miss the lake so much. I’m a water person, and I’m a summer person. I live across from Lincoln Park and I have an eight-month-old puppy, and she’s at home and I haven’t seen her. My heart is like aching for her and I just miss being by the lake and walking her in the park.
"America's Got Talent" airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBC Channel 5.