It’s been almost three months since NBC’s America’s Got Talent finale, when hopeful tenor trio Forte finished in fourth place. “We were really disappointed in the final results,” Forte member Sean Panikkar said, “but we were never expecting to win.”
The group’s rollercoaster ride didn’t end with its Sept. 18 elimination, though. Last week the three men, who had never met before the show, performed at the White House for the National Christmas Tree Lighting.
Forte broke onto the stage in NBC’s auditions when some spunky guys wowed judges with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s arrangement of “Pie Jesu,” derived from the Catholic liturgy. Tenors Josh Page, Fernando Varela, and Sean Panikkar surprised themselves in making it all the way to the finals.
Since then, Panikkar said in an email, the group has tried to capitalize on the momentum and the exposure they received on the show. “It's definitely not going to be a walk in the park,” he said. “We went from being in front of 10 million people on a weekly basis, to being in front of no one. … It's especially challenging with three people who have different ideas on how to do things.”
The group’s first album reached No. 76 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 on Amazon.com’s bestsellers list. On Nov. 16, Forte performed in Carnegie Hall at a Golden Hat Foundation benefit for Autism awareness.
Panikkar and Varella were vocal about their Christian faith throughout the competition, and Forte continues its clean music on its album, released Nov. 12. Fellow finalist Cami Bradley sings with the men on “The Prayer.”
“We performed it without a female singer on the show, but the song was originally conceived as a duet with a male and female singer,” Panikkar said in an email. “Besides being a wonderful person, she is also a Christian and a music minister at her home church in Spokane.”
Still, signing with Columbia Records wasn’t something Panikkar envisioned when he agreed to be part of Forte. Even early in the live shows on NBC, Panikkar spoke of returning to his “real job,” singing opera unamplified for 10 years. But rapid change is the nature of the music industry—and being a part of God’s plan.
“I had intentionally taken the summer off and turned down work,” he said. “I thought it was a bit crazy to say no to jobs, but I wanted to stay at home with my family for the summer.”
Then Varela and Page came calling, Panikkar said: “God knows exactly what the plan is, and one way or another I become a part of it.”