Don't let the black cowboy hats fool you. The Texas Tenors aren't your typical horse-ridin', calf-ropin', tobaccy-chawin' type of cowpoke. Far from it. They have the Stetsons and the boots and the vests, all right. And at least one of them has that Texas twang. They might even ride horses and walk funny, like John Wayne. One thing is certain, however: they may look like cowboys, but they sing like angels. Like professional operatic Great White Way angels.
Which is pretty much what they are. Except for the angel part. The Texas Tenors are very much alive. And for the past eight years, JC Fisher, Marcus Collins and John Hagen have traveled the world bringing their special blend of pop, opera, country and Broadway to thousands of fans. Now, at last, The Texas Tenors are coming to Fort Wayne's Embassy Theater on Friday, March 17.
The first glimpse anyone got of The Texas Tenors (And it is The Texas Tenors; other tenors from Texas likely exist, but they aren't these guys) was in 2009 on the NBC show America's Got Talent. Their take on My Way earned them fourth place in the finals. But fourth was good enough to launch a career.
But it's not like Fisher, Collins and Hagen were shuffling around, kicking rocks and waiting for someone to discover them. They each had loads of experience. Collins and Fisher were veterans of the cruise ship circuit following stints Off-Broadway and on television (Collins) and in Italy learning opera (Fisher). Hagen, too, was an opera singer who performed with orchestras around the country and in Broadway musicals prior to settling into teaching.
But for Fisher, the success of his solo career wasn't enough. So one day he and Collins found themselves in Galveston, Texas, waiting for a ship when Fisher got an idea.
"Marcus and I were solo entertainers on cruise ships out of Galveston," Fisher said in a phone interview while on tour in Tucson. "We had been friends for a long time before that working as entertainers in the industry. He had his solo show. I had mine. I had sung with John years before. We started doing things together and decided to make a tape and send it into America's Got Talent. That's what started the whole thing. We've toured ever since."
Fisher got his start singing in a less than usual way. He sang in church like everybody else and noticed that he could sing louder than everybody else. Not that he did, but he knew he could. He also played on his high school's basketball team, and one night before a game he got an idea.
"My basketball team was pretty good," Fisher said. "I told the principal that the next Friday night I was going to sing the [national] anthem. People went crazy. I was out there in my uniform. Then the next week, with three teammates who also sang in church, we worked up a quartet and we went out there and sang, and then they really went crazy. Never got applause for singing before."
Then his high school choir director came calling and told him and his friends they should join up. They did. After high school, he was off.
"I did two summers with a college program in Lucca, Italy," he said. "It was a program between Cincinnati Conservatory and Wichita State, where I went to school. I loved it."
Instead of following the opera route, as much as he may have loved it, Fisher opted for a more commercial approach and developed a country music-based solo act for cruise ships.
Meanwhile, Collins was taking a different approach. As a boy, Collins learned to sing by mimicking Garth Brooks and George Michael. In college he began classical training, then took off for New York where he landed roles with the cast of Hairspray, in Off-Broadway's Altar Boyz as Matthew, in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and as Jinx in Forever Plaid. He also found work in television as an actor, appearing in more than 100 episodes of network television, including recurring roles on One Life to Live and As the World Turns.
While Fisher and Collins found success singing country and pop, Hagen took his skills in a different direction. His is the most operatic of the three voices, and he used his gift to find success in the Big Apple. He made his Lincoln Center debut in Teatro Grattacielo's mounting of Mascagni's Guglielmo Ratcliff and went on to create three tenor roles in the world premier of The Lost Dauphin for Pamiro Opera airing on PBS.
Hagen has also performed roles ranging from Alfredo in La Traviata to the title role of Otello for Cleveland Opera on tour. His Broadway roles include Billy Bigelow in Carousel and Che in Evita. Hagen has performed the Verdi Requiem and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with more than a dozen symphonies including the Austin, Corpus Christi, Omaha, Nebraska and Cedar Rapids Symphonies. He has also taught voice and vocal pedagogy at Wartburg College and at his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa.
But none of The Texas Tenors ever dreamed of the success they've had in the last few years. They've had tours taking them to more than 20 countries. They sell out venues wherever they go. And they have had great success with their albums which include five studio and two live releases.
As a sort of prelude to the March 17 Embassy show, their Emmy Award-winning PBS special will air on WFWA PBS 39, with tickets to the show available for a pledge.
During the conversation with Fisher, Collins came to the phone and summed up the reason for the great appeal of The Texas Tenors.
"I've never had success like I've had with The Texas Tenors," Collins said. "We bring a spectrum of music with this group. Nice to have that variety. We offer the audience three different voices and three different guys to look at. It's much better than the solo experience. We each bring something different to the show."