The scene appeared pulled from “The Sopranos.” The year was 2016, during season 11 of “America’s Got Talent.” Sal Valentinetti walked in slow motion along with two family members in the bright sun. His cousin, Big Tommy, ate a canoli while walking.
“How you doin’?,” Valentinetti said when he sat down for a confessional video. The Italian-American from Long Island said the same thing to judge Heidi Klum after he walked on stage.
The video showed Valentinetti joined by three aunts, his mother, and his two cousins, including Big Tommy. The family shared several pizzas while Valentinetti waited to perform.
“Up to a few years ago, I barely sang Happy Birthday out loud,” Valentinetti said in the show’s confessional. “I didn’t come here to try out, I came here to win.”
The 20-year-old has a trimmed beard and a boyish grin. His age can be difficult to define, since Valentinetti’s voice is inspired by crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He would listen to these legendary artists with his grandmother, and after she passed, music served as a form of an enduring connection. With this inspiration, Valentinetti can sing so much like past crooners, the only thing that seems missing is the hiss of a record player. He stakes his career on this skill, in going by “Sal The Voice” on his social media channels.
Valentinetti wowed the “America’s Got Talent” judges as a finalist, and now he plans to wow the Weinberg audience when he performs this Friday. We spoke with Valentinetti to learn how this “pizza delivery boy,” with the support of his Uncle Joe, became an international touring artist.
When did you start singing?
When I was about 15 years old.
Did you know you were a good singer?
Once everyone started complimenting me — when they didn’t throw tomatoes, I figured I was a good singer.
Did your dad or a family member inspire you to start singing?
My Uncle Joe. I mean [my dad] encouraged me to do it professionally to make some money off of it, but when I was 17, I was delivering pizzas in a Cadillac. The most counter-productive thing you can do. So, in order to make some extra scratch, he said, ‘Thursday night, a friend owns this restaurant and he needs a guy to come in and do three hours. He’ll give you $100. Would you be interested?’ Yeah, sure! I felt like Rockefeller with a hundred bucks.
He saw that I liked it and said ‘Hey, “American Idol” is coming to the coliseum in a couple weeks, it might be something you should think about.’ I said, ‘I’m not thinking about anything.’ “American Idol?” It’s a pop show. It’s a popularity contest. He said if they don’t love you, I’ll give you my Range Rover for the rest of the summer.
I went, and I was so confident that I wouldn’t be on the show, they put me on the show [and went to Hollywood].
Harry Connick Jr. turns around. He hated me. Hated me! Why? Because I’m everything he wishes he could be — I’m kidding. I wish I could be married to a former Victoria Secret Model. He heard that I got on the show as a bet so he bet me a $100 I didn’t know the real name to the song “Fly Me To The Moon” on national television. He didn’t like me then. He goes, Jennifer [Lopez]’s cold; does anybody have any suggestions?
They’re all yelling out … So I go, ‘Jennifa! I got a nice warm comforter. It’s back in my hotel room. How you doin’?’ She starts laughing. She asks how old I am? I say ‘Jennifa, I’m 19.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t matter how old I am, just like the music that I sing, it’s timeless.’ It went over pretty well. So well, I got kicked off the show the next day. But, an “America’s Got Talent” casting producer saw this video and a year later, they gave me a call.
Getting there was crazy. The experience was bananas. No one knew how it was gonna go. … It’s been a dream come true.
What was crazy about getting to “America’s Got Talent”?
It was crazy in the sense that now I knew it was real. OK, people like me. They think I have a talent. What do I do now? How do I take this seriously? I always said I was a pizza delivery boy and I was going to school full-time. I didn’t know what I had. I gave it my all. I worked at it. I got a vocal coach and everything. [I] left myself on that stage just the way Uncle Joe told me. Be yourself and they’ll love you. Go out there, and that was the most incredible experience of my life. Imagine being on this earth for two decades … you got to figure out what you want to do … and you have no idea what that is. You go out [on stage] and in an instant, your entire life is affirmed. You go, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I love this.’
Can you share why you donate a portion of your concert proceeds to Shriner’s Hospital?
I think that children are among the world’s most vulnerable. The fact that there are lives ending before they’re even beginning, that to me … that’s such a powerful thing to think about. So when I had the opportunity to take a tour of Shriner’s facility in Philadelphia, I was overwhelmed with what I saw. Equally overwhelmed with sadness, I was overwhelmed with the amount of work that the Shriners and the nurses and the doctors are putting in to finding not just cures for terrible diseases but solutions for kids whose lives were interrupted. Shriners is one of the world’s foremost actual manufacturers of speciality prosthetic limbs for children in hospitals like St. Jude and hospitals across that country that call on Shriner’s to mold and make most of their prosthetic limbs. These are for kids who are growing. They showed me all the different solutions for all the different issues that will eventually come up in these kids’ lives.
What do you have planned for your Weinberg show?
Definitely to have a lot of fun. My show is cut loose. Check your expectations at the door because I don’t even know what’s going to happen. It’s a whole lot of fun, it’s relaxed, it’s great music from a great time, it brings back great memories for people and allows younger people to make new memories of a live performance of music, and this style of entertainment. My demographic range at my show is as young as 10 years old … and as old as 105.
So you said that “My Way” is a song that you have to sing at every concert. And you dedicate this song to your Uncle Joe?
You know why? The end of the song goes like this: “For what is a man, what has he got, if he’s not himself, then he has not, the favorite things he truly feels is not the words of what he kneels.” The reason why that song resonates so well with me and I dedicate it every single show to my Uncle Joe is because when I grew up, I wasn’t popular. I was made fun of all the time. I was bullied. I was tortured. My Uncle Joe always told me, listen kid, they gotta catch up to you. You’re ahead of your years. Don’t worry about it. They’ll catch up. You be yourself. Never change. Be yourself and they’ll love you for who you are. And now, here it is a year later, and everything he told me is true.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.