With a performance style he describes as “Kander & Ebb meets Katy Perry”, Michael Solonoski has found the keen ability to take two of his passions (ice skating and live singing) and sometimes fuse them together, crafting himself into a truly one in a kind performer. Whirling into triple jumps while singing an Elton John classic is not something every live performer can do, but Solonoski performs these feats and more in many of his live performances, making attendance at one of his shows, almost always an “event”! I sat down with this dazzling performer to talk about his path to both the ice and the mic, his latest residency at the equally dazzling new spot The Pines in Rehoboth Beach, DE, and what artists he would love to share the stage with...Liza can you hear me?
Michael Cook: Right off the bat, when did you fall in love with skating and singing; which was first?
Michael Solonoski: I fell in love with music at a very young age. All of my favorite childhood movies had strong musical soundtracks—Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, etc. My love of skating came a bit later though, and was no doubt due to the fact that it’s a musical sport. When I was a kid, I would pretend to be a figure skater in my garage on roller skates, playing cassette tapes ranging from Tchaikovsky to Celine Dion to The Lion King. That strangely wide spectrum of musical taste hasn’t diminished by the way. I didn’t actually work up the courage to try ice skating until I was about fifteen years old. I was pretty content doing it ever so inconspicuously on wheels in my garage. That is, as inconspicuous as an eight year-old boy in short-shorts flailing around a street-facing garage to Mozart and Mariah Carey can be.
MC: What do you think it is that held you back from getting on the ice specifically?
MS: I’m not entirely sure what held me back from going on the ice, (likely a fear of being picked on), but similarly I was late to the game when it came to my singing career. My first time singing in front of people was in college on a well-hydrated night at Philadelphia’s Tavern on Camac. After several notoriously strong Sunny-crafted cocktails, I worked up the nerve to get up and belt out a very modest Whitney Houston ballad with John Flynn. I loved that feeling of singing and was hooked ever since. At the time I was still a competitive ice skater, but a few years later I found myself as a pro on tour in Europe, singing and skating in ice shows. It was a dream come true in many ways and I loved the challenge of combining the two.
MC: For those that have never seen you perform, how would you describe your performance style? What should the audience be ready for?
MS: Mozart meets Mariah Carey. Okay maybe not quite that disparate, but my performance style is a bit eclectic. My musical references are pretty wide and somewhat disconnected, but I’d like to think that’s what makes for an interesting evening. I have many different interests and the music I enjoy singing comes from those diverse reference points— anything that moves me I want to sing. I love nothing more than to combine Kander and Ebb with Willie Nelson and Katy Perry. I like to tell stories and to make an audience laugh, which is important because many of my favorite songs to perform can be rather sad. After a good wrist-slitting-ballad, one needs a little pick-me-up.
MC: Who are your musical and skating inspirations?
MS: The one who jumps to the top of my mind is Liza Minnelli. When I watch Liza I am transfixed. She has a way of just grabbing you by the neck with every note, gesture and expression. Liza described herself as a storyteller and I’d like to think of myself that way too. I also loved Whitney Houston and listened to her voice endlessly, admiring her live performances even more than her album recordings. Her voice was so effortlessly powerful and pure, I don’t think there’s a better one in modern music. I also love George Michael and Judy Garland, who both had such warm voices and vulnerability to their sound that was endearing. As for skating, I was really drawn into the sport during the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding saga and of course I was Team Nancy. I thought she was so beautifully packaged and I loved the drama of her comeback at the Olympics.
MC: Has your career allowed you to perform with any of your true idols? Are there any performers out there who inspire you and you would love to share a stage with?
MS: I’ve been very lucky to share the ice with so many amazing skaters, many of whom I admired on TV as a kid. Nancy even commentated a few of my competitions which was pretty surreal at the time. The first time I got to sing in a professional capacity was actually in an ice show, created by Olympic champion and skating legend Robin Cousins. Robin staged a theater production on ice which toured some of the most beautiful Victorian theaters in the UK. I had the honor of singing in his show nightly and his faith in me to do so propelled my singing career forward. It will always be a favorite and defining show for me. As for sharing the stage with other singers, I haven’t yet gotten to sing with my musical idols, and sadly a lot of them are no longer alive. Of the ones still performing, perhaps Michael Buble, or Celine Dion— two good Canadians who I admire very much. Of course Liza would be on that list, but I’d be too much in awe to open my mouth and sing.
MC: You have been performing at The Pines in Rehoboth Beach this summer to packed crowds. What has it been like bringing your talents to a new space in town?
MS: It’s been really thrilling for me and I absolutely love what they’ve brought to the town. I haven’t been on the road performing in several years and this has really helped to fill that performing void. I still miss touring with the ice show and the challenge of singing and skating, but I’ve realized that I just love entertaining an audience. I think that’s why so much of my set is not just belting out notes, but it’s also talking to the crowd and trying to make them smile. It has also been very fun and very “full-circle” to perform with John Flynn who has been accompanying me. We’ve been singing together for over a decade, and he’s a big part of why I gained the confidence to ever sing in public. The audiences there have been fantastic and there is no greater feeling than when you sense that you’ve got them in the palm of your hand. Plus, my feet are much warmer than they were in skates.
MC: People like Adam Rippon are making out skaters be something that is truly moving to the forefront now. How do you feel about him bringing visibility to the sport that for so long, skaters felt they had to stay in the closet to compete in?
MS: The moment was right for Adam to come out and I’m so glad that he seized it. I think he’s been a really great ambassador for our sport and he seems to have a sense of how important it is to have role models for young gay athletes. I’ve known Adam for a long time as he, Johnny Weir and I are all eastern Pennsylvania boys.
MC: What next steps do you want to take with your career? Where do you see yourself in five years?
MS: I would like to sing and skate while I can, because I think it’s a really unique combination of talents that not many people have seen. Having successfully skated on synthetic ice, I proved to myself that I can do this just about anywhere and I hope to bring that to new venues around the Philadelphia, NYC and DC area where people least expect it. As a professional skater, I always wanted to push the boundaries of what I could bring to my “one man show” adding singing, doing aerials, playing piano and even an attempt to paint the ice while skating. I hope to be as creative in my singing performances and continue to expand my musical repertoire. My dream would be to perform with a live orchestra and create a beautiful experience for the audience. And as much fun as it is to glide, I hope I continue to make my mark as a singer, on solid ground, in shoes.
MC: What would you tell the Michael Solonoski that first stepped onto the ice or in front of the microphone?
MS: The audience is rooting for you! Relax and enjoy the moment because that’s exactly what your crowd is trying to do. And if that doesn’t work, have a drink. That’s also probably what your audience is trying to do.
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