(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jackson State University student Deshawn Goncalves visibly moved the “American Idol” judge during his piano playing audition of “Everything Must Change” by Nina Simone. Goncalves’s emotion-laced performance earned him a ticket to Hollywood.
“That was powerful. I needed you today. Just consider yourself hugged, OK,” said Richie. “I don’t know where you came from, but God saw fit to put you in front of us.”
Well, Goncalves came from Ohio and landed at Jackson State via a full-ride scholarship. The music technology and performance major plays the sousaphone, aka tuba, in the university’s marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South.
While performing is not new for the sophomore, he admitted to a slight case of nerves before facing the Idol judges, which also included Katy Perry, pop music sensation, and country singer Luke Bryan.
“But when I walked in the room, that all changed. You know, seeing them smiling at me. It just felt really good,” he said.
Goncalves, 20, was even more relieved to learn he was heading to California.
“It was a big weight lifted off my shoulders. It felt wonderful, you know, for them to care so much about what I’m doing and then to get awesome feedback and to know that I’m being seen.”
It’s all a bit of a whirlwind for the soft-spoken Goncalves, who described the singing competition as a “dope” experience thus far. “I’m meeting so many talented people and, you know, I’m learning so much about myself, and I’m learning so much about the industry,” he said.
The gifted musician always appears ready to learn. He began tickling the ivories at 13 after being inspired by his seventh-grade teacher at A+ Arts Academy.
“I was very intrigued by the way she played the piano, so I started trying to imitate what she was doing,” he explained. “She really pushed me and saw how important music was to me and took the time to answer all my questions.”
The same teacher Goncalves said made him take note of his voice.
“There was a Black history program, and they needed someone to sing “A Change is Going to Come” by Sam Cooke, and she asked me to sing.”
Thinking the song was out of his range, Goncalves was doubtful of his abilities.
“But she made me sing that song, and it forced me to believe in myself and get it done. I haven’t looked back since.”
If he were to look back, life could have turned out differently for the golden-ticket winner.
His mother, Treyshawn Fason, was 13 at his birth and his father, Stephon Goncalves, was only a few years older.
“Well, being that my mom was so young, things were really rough. As a young child, I watched us get evicted, and then she worked her tail off to get us a new home,” he explained. “My mom prevailed over all of those things. Watching her work ethics played a huge role in who I am today.”
Goncalves also shared that his dad’s incarceration caused him to lash out. His grades took the brunt of his antics and almost upended his future success. But, upon his father’s release, the two reconnected, and Goncalves regained his footing on his path to purpose.
“When it comes to my father, knowing where he came from, where he started, and the things that he’s been through motivated me,” he explained. “He was there to give me advice, like spot-on advice. He was my blueprint for when you get knocked down; just always make sure that you get up and keep pushing.”
Goncalves poured into his schoolwork, graduating at the top of his class, which led to him fielding college scholarship offers, including one from JSU.
He said he chose Jackson State for several reasons: the outstanding music program, his desire to march in the Sonic Boom of the South, and he longed to attend an HBCU.
While the full scholarship offer nudged his decision-making process, Goncalves said it was something about JSU that drew him in, and he knows he made the right choice.
He acknowledges Dr. Roderick Little, director of bands and assistant professor of music, and Dr. Loretta Galbreath, assistant professor of music and assistant director of choral activities, as two of his most influential instructors at the university.
“They both push me musically to limits I didn’t know I could achieve really, especially Dr. Galbreath. She does not let me rest. She sees something in me and makes sure to let me know that there’s more than what I’m giving at times,” he said.
Still attending classes virtually while pursuing his musical ambitions, Goncalves said his intentions have always been to sing for a living.
“I will still be obtaining my degree. That will not change. I will get my degree,” he stressed. “But yeah, I love to sing, and that has always been my plan.”