A not-so-minor talent, Dalton Cyr is ready to take off to LA and beyond
Favorite artists: The Beatles, John Mayer
Favorite guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughn
Favorite performer: Michael Jackson
Listening to now: Parachute
Running and jumping around the stage, Dalton Cyr looks like a seasoned performer. As he serenades girls on stage, he doesn’t look a bit nervous. At 12 years old, he has been performing for only a couple of years. With a management team in Los Angeles and a second album in the works, he's a busy middle-school student who strives to maintain a normal life.
Last summer, Cyr released his first album and went on the road with the Country Pop Rock tour, which highlights upcoming young musicians. On a trip to Los Angeles, he was coached by choreographer Anthony Carr, who has worked with Justin Bieber and Missy Elliot. Cyr has chosen to stay away from choreography and focus on his vocal quality and instrumental proficiency. He said he has also turned down several boy-band offers.
“I liked the choreography, but I do my own thing. I know that there are people that come to multiple shows, and I don’t want to make it boring,” Cyr said.
He made another trip to LA in April to collaborate with producer Paul Fox, who's worked with Phish, The Sugarcubes, 10,000 Maniacs and Edwin McCain. Cyr and Fox teamed up to write songs with other seasoned songwriters, recording in EastWest Studios where performers like Madonna, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley have also recorded.
Fox described Cyr as a rarity: a level-headed kid who wants to learn. When he first received a tape of Cyr's music, he had to request another to make sure that he wasn’t lip-synching. Fox said once he knew the performance was real, he was blown away.
“I honestly feel that there is something there. The music world will be hearing of him,” said Fox, who added that he has a knack for discovering new artists. Fox discovered Terra Naomi, the YouTube sensation whose song “Say It’s Possible,” exploded in 2006 and has had more than 4 million views. Naomi moved to LA to work with Fox before broadcasting her virtual summer tour and releasing “Say It’s Possible” on YouTube. That video helped her to receive national attention and score appearances on the NBC and CBS morning news programs.
Once the songwriting stage is over, Fox will produce three songs with Cyr as he performs with seasoned musicians, including drummer Josh Freese, who's played with A Perfect Circle, Nine Inch Nails and Sublime with Rome.
Cyr’s management team in LA includes Irene Dreayer, a long-time Disney Channel executive producer, and Beth Broday, CEO of The Dray Way, an entertainment career-coaching company. Broday has managed performers including Alanis Morissette and Sting. They found Cyr through the Dray Way Facebook page that holds weekly contests where the winners get a chance to Skype directly with Dreayer. Cyr won one of the contests.
“As soon as I saw his video, I was completely taken. I was blown away,” said Broday. “Dalton is incredibly disciplined and talented. He takes his craft very seriously.”
Cyr spends at least two hours a day practicing. He writes songs, does vocal exercises, meets with vocal coaches and guitar instructors, and rehearses in front of a wall of mirrors that his parents set up in his garage. He spent the month of March focusing on songwriting and preparing for the trip to Los Angeles. Cyr said that he has written more than 50 songs.
Even when he's just practicing, his goal is to sweat by the end of the first song. Learning to adjust his body language was a challenge when he switched from using a microphone to wearing a headset. The change from sitting on a stool before a microphone to standing on stage with a headset required a lot more energy.
“I search artists and watch them perform live and try to find inspiration and different things to incorporate as I'm performing,“ Cyr said.
He explained that by watching other artists’ performances and studying their body language, he can mimic their sound when doing covers. Cyr has performed covers of songs by One Republic, Sublime and Maroon 5.
‘It Was Torture’
Three years ago, the budding performer had a serious case of stage fright. His music teacher at Jacksonville Beach Elementary, Tracy Morris, pushed him to overcome his fears. Wearing headphones, he listened to himself perform, to get more comfortable with hearing himself. He rehearsed over and over again to overcome it.
“In the beginning, it was torture. I cried,” Cyr recalled of getting in front of his classmates and performing to conquer his anxiety.
Morris recalls Cyr almost having an anxiety attack before his first performance in front of the class as part of “Take The Stage,” an in-class exercise Morris uses to help students control stage fright. Morris said Cyr calmed down after a few minutes and “took the stage.”
“Dalton wowed me and the class with his performance,” said Morris, who is president of the Beaches Fine Arts Series.
Morris described Cyr as having undeniable raw talent as well as a good attitude and a positive personality.
Cyr said he's quite comfortable on stage now, and he enjoys it. When asked about the screaming girls in the audience, he grinned and said he doesn’t mind the attention.
“He is a crowd-pleaser. I have seen him develop over the past three years. He has a good stage presence without giving up his cute kid persona,” said Wayne Wood, founder of the Riverside Arts Market (RAM) where Cyr often performs.
Cyr’s father Frank originally performed classical guitar at RAM, and he used to travel the country playing in rock bands. When he asked Wood to give his son a chance to play music, Wood was a little hesitant at first. Eventually, he said, Cyr proved himself by delivering a terrific show. He describes Cyr as a wonderful combination of showmanship, talent and personality.
Parents Frank and Cindy Cyr help steer their son in the right direction, without being pushy. He accomplishes a great deal throughout his day by focusing on smart work over hard work. The more efficiently he gets his work done, the more he can accomplish.
He doesn’t mind the attention he gets in public, but Cyr said he appreciates the normalcy his parents provide, such as expecting him to do chores.
“I could never come home and hear my parents say, ‘OMG, It’s Dalton Cyr!’ Instead it’s, ‘Take the trash out’ or ‘Did you do your laundry?’ ” Cyr joked.
“He always has short-term goals, long-term goals and steps to achieve those goals. He is learning business and life skills. He's experiencing and learning a lot,” Frank Cyr said. “If he decides down the road that he wants to do something different, all of this experience is going to benefit him.”
‘He Really Does Care’
Cyr performs at benefits for Wolfson Children’s Hospital and turns some of his shows into fundraising opportunities. His relationship with Wolfson began three years ago when he performed at the Wolfson 55 One to Grow On Ultra Marathon. The event honors children at the hospital and celebrates the patients’ birthdays while raising funds to keep the not-for-profit hospital in operation. The Ultra Marathon is a 55-mile run, comprising 11 five-mile laps around Jacksonville.
“He is so genuine. He really does care; he talks to patients and non-patients. He can go up to patients, and he isn’t put off or embarrassed,” said Karen Wolfson, who's a volunteer, trustee and former chairperson of Wolfson Children’s Hospital Women's Board. “Whether it’s giving money directly, inspiring others to give, creating greater awareness about the hospital or, most important, helping young patients forget, for a little while, about the pain and medical challenges they face, Dalton is an amazing young man.”
In addition to performing at the marathon and in a Wolfson telethon, he's performed at a Wolfson fashion show and done fundraising at his own shows. Wolfson noted that when he appeared on the telethon this year, they received calls and donations from Cyr fans as far away as Canada and New York. She described him as an inspiration to other young people.
At his recent free show at The Players Championship, he asked those in the audience to either make a donation to Wolfson or buy raffle tickets. Former Jacksonville Jaguars safety Donovin Darius was the emcee for the event, which raised $1,222, donated to Wolfson in honor of patient Mark Charipar, who died in 2011 at age 12 after a long battle with cancer.
Cyr has also performed for other charities, including the Jacksonville Humane Society and the 26.2 With Donna, benefiting breast cancer research.
“It is always a great, inspiring experience. I want to do more to help them because it's so much fun and great to be with the kids,” Cyr said of working with Wolfson.
At the fashion show, the dreams of some of the patients were read aloud. One young girl’s dream was to be able to speak. He said that he almost cried.
“I think that I struggle and work hard,” Cyr said, “but I see these kids, it’s, like, ‘Whoa!’ ”
Though not yet a teenager — he turns 13 on July 21 — Cyr has written two songs, “Whisper” and “You’re Not Alone,” powerful enough to have made big impacts on listeners.
“I want my music to help people,” Cyr said.
Fans have written about how “You’re Not Alone” has helped them. He has received Facebook comments and tweets thanking him for the song.
In the song, Cyr sings, “Hold on, or life will pass you by. Stay strong, don’t be left behind. Be yourself. Don’t give up your dreams.”
“It’s crazy to think, ‘What would have happened, what if I didn’t do music?’ That is one thing that makes me want to do this more. Who knows what else I can do with my music?”
Cyr has more than 13,000 likes on Facebook and more than a million views on YouTube, but he still maintains his own social media. He responds to comments and messages. His mom helps with posting updates, press releases and new photos. He has an iPhone strictly for keeping up with his Facebook and Twitter accounts, though his parents keep a close eye on it. He cares about his fans and takes the time to acknowledge them for their support, posting fans' artwork and thanking them for their comments and tweets.
“I try my best to get back to everyone. I have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram — I try to give everyone an opportunity to reach me,” said Cyr, who keeps up with social media while riding the bus to and from school.
When asked what he thought about having more than a million YouTube likes, he said that it was great but that he was more excited that at 5 feet, 2 inches tall, he was about to surpass his mom in height.
“I will declare myself a man!” he said.
After his shows, he sticks around to sign autographs and talk to fans. He has a table set up to sell T-shirts and other merchandise.
“If I spell someone’s name wrong autographing a CD, I’m, like, ‘Oh, no!’” Cyr said.
‘Like Flies to Flypaper’
This summer, Cyr will head out on the Teen Nation summer tour, making stops in Delaware and Virginia, as well as playing a show in New York City. His tour will include eight stops along the East Coast. On Aug. 14, Cyr will perform at the Henderson Haven celebrity dinner at Alhambra Theatre & Dining. Henderson Haven offers assistance for developmentally disabled people.
“When he performs, it's like flies to flypaper,” Cindy Cyr said. “People are drawn to watch him perform.”
He sang the national anthem at the Jaguars' game against the Detroit Lions game last year in front of 50,000 people — his largest audience so far. He admitted to being a little nervous at first. He practiced for weeks to make the song his own, keeping it down to two minutes, but an hour before the show, he found out he had to get it down to a minute-and-a-half. When it was time to sing, the Blue Angels were late for their fly-by, and Cyr had to insert pauses and hold the last notes of the song to make the timing perfect. It was nerve-racking, but he managed.
At LaVilla School of the Arts, he was one of only a few sixth-graders to enter the vocal major at the advanced level. He enjoys books and described reading books as seeing movies in his head. He's read about 20 books about The Beatles, but he doesn’t like reading about things he already knows.
Cyr doesn’t talk to his friends much about his performing life. He said he doesn’t want to brag; he just wants to hang out — to escape from the music business. He doesn’t want to be “different” in the eyes of his friends.
Orion Tighe and Cyr spend every other weekend together playing music or video games. Tighe plays the piano, and Cyr plays guitar. The two met in elementary school when Tighe gave Cyr, a new student, a tour of the school.
“He is always very nice and polite to people who approach him. He is gracious,” Tighe said, recalling times when Cyr has been recognized in public and asked for autographs or photos.
In what he calls his “man cave” or “bachelor pad,” his bedroom walls are hung with guitars and a ukulele. He has a drum set, keyboards and a Beatles poster. Listening to him play Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” on his keyboard while belting out the lyrics, it's hard not to get goosebumps. His vocal range and quality is astounding for a 12-year-old. It seems effortless, but it’s something he has perfected through practice.
Now, Cyr has an experienced team working with to take him to the next level.
“I have gotten people signed to major labels. I know a lot of people in the industry,” producer Paul Fox said. “I know who to speak with once we have it completely mastered.”
The plan is to get Cyr a record deal when he's ready. Broday and Fox both said that popular music is swaying away from auto-tuned pop songs and back to true singer-songwriters. They're putting the best people they can around him, and watching him grow.
“LA is where you end up, not where you begin,” Broday said.