Rico Relevo has always told his son, Matthew, that he just needs one big break to start off his music career. After that, he says, Matthew’s husky voice and soulful sound will do the rest.
“It’s the originality of his voice,” said Rico Relevo, who runs a church choir. “If someone just finds him, he’s really going to do great.”
This week, Matthew Relevo, 16, of Holbrook, came pretty close to that break.
The singer-songwriter was a contestant in "Z-100" radio station’s Hometown Hero contest, and he made it from the initial pool of hundred of entrants to the top four contestants. The grand prize was a chance to perform at the All Access Lounge at the radio station’s annual concert, Jingle Ball, at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
When the station hid the online voting tallies on Friday, Matthew said he was in second place. On Monday, he said he was preoccupied all day thinking about what he would hear on the radio that night, when the station would announce the final results.
He tuned in at 7 p.m. to hear another name called — Ali Brustofski, of Oakland, N.J., who was 750 votes ahead of him. Matthew ended the competition with 3,410 votes.
“I’m a little disappointed,” he said after the winner had been announced. “But it’s just an honor to have made it that far, so I’m still happy.”
To enter the contest, musicians from the tri-state area, where "Z-100" is broadcast, created a profile on the website Eventful.com and uploaded videos and other clips of themselves performing. The public voted to narrow the pool down to 25. Then a panel of music industry judges — including the president of national programming for Clear Channel Radio and Gabe Saporta, lead singer of Cobra Starship — picked the top five, Matthew included.
Matthew said one group from the top five was disqualified, leaving four in the final running.
“I’m just glad that they saw something in me,” he said. “The lead singer from Cobra Starship — a band that I really like — and he heard my music and liked it. That’s really cool.”
But Matthew said despite coming in third place, the contest has given him something his music career has frequently lacked: confidence.
Matthew, a junior at Sachem North High School, first picked up the guitar when he was in third grade, but quickly quit because he thought he wasn’t very good at it. A little older and a little more confident, he picked it up again in eighth grade and stuck with it.
But he’s been shy to put himself on public display. In eighth grade he was pushed to join an “American Idol” competition at his school, and came in third place. His girlfriend, Jennifer Le Bron, of Ronkonkoma, was the one who pushed him to enter the "Z-100" contest.
He said the response to his music has been the most inspiring part of the experience.
“That has made me motivated to continue,” he said. “If I didn’t get a reaction like that — it’s helped me believe in myself.”