Guilford’s Nick Fradiani is on fire. His gigs are packed with fans. He’s got the voice, the instrumental skills, and the natural bearing of a true entertainer. Oh yeah, and his son is an American Idol finalist. Maybe you’ve heard about that.
Millions have watched the uncanny poise and sheer talent of 29-year-old Nick Fradiani drive him to the 2015 American Idol finals. He’s got major stage presence. His song selections are inspired, from Tom Petty’s “American Girl” to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” He gambles big with nit-picky celebrity judges, and wins. He has the instincts of a performer with decades of musical wisdom.
That’s the influence of his 59-year-old dad, the original Nick Fradiani.
Back in 1984, Nick Sr. had no kids, had been a working musician and songwriter for over a decade, and was within inches of a record deal. Contracts were drawn up, publicity photos were taken, records were pressed and awaiting distribution. The single was his composition “Midnight Lady,” a danceable disco jam.
“This was right before Nicolas was born,” says Nick Sr. “In fact, while I was recording the song my wife came into the studio to tell me she was pregnant with him. I was like, ‘Oh my God, maybe this is all going to work out, and I’m going to have a career as a recording artist.’ Then the whole deal just fell apart.”
That’s show biz.
Supporting a family with music (and without record deal) was extra difficult in the pre-Internet days. Nick Sr. played cruise ships a lot, which took him far from their coastal Connecticut home. He did what he had to do, like any good dad. While he was away, little Nick was growing into a star athlete. It was around then that papa Nick had a Harry Chapin-esque epiphany: he was missing his son’s childhood.
So, he quit touring.
“I came off the road when Nick was 10 or 11,” he says. “He was excelling at sports, and there I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Panama Canal, thinking, ‘I gotta get home. I can’t miss this.’ That’s when I stopped being a full-time musician on the road and went back into teaching. It enabled me to be a more full-time dad.”
He went into hair styling and instruction to pay the bills, and kept on playing music. Within a few years little Nick had a sister named Kristen. Nick Sr. and his wife Elizabeth eventually moved their growing family from East Haven to Guilford.
“It turned out to be the right call,” Nick says, “because the music program in Guilford was really big for him. He got involved with something there called Voices, where he met a lot of other creative kids, and got into writing his own songs. It was just meant to be. The arts are really strong in Guilford, and we’ve always liked that.”
There were always glimpses into Nick, Jr.’s musical gifts, and the tuneful bond between father and son started early. Nicholas listened to his dad’s CDs, and could sing them note for note. “I didn’t push music on him, but as most musicians know, it’s who you are. Music and songwriting are like breathing for Nicholas.”
“He was raised on Stevie Wonder and The Beatles. We had a musical house. When you walked in all you heard was music. But we always kept it as something special. We would jam at the house, or he’d come to my gigs. I don’t think he ever thought it would be a career.”
The father and son duo started doing some studio work together. They perform on Nick Sr.’s song, “In Her Loving Soul” from Nick Sr.’s album Aruba Nights. That was recorded just as young Nick headed off on a full ride to Wheaton College in Massachusetts. His future was supposed to be basketball.
But he got injured, and lost some quickness. The coach stopped putting him in, and the hoop dreams ended. “That’s when he started calling me saying, ‘Dad, you want to come visit this week? I’m playing the coffee house.’ My first reaction was, ‘You have enough songs to play a gig?’” He did. Nick Jr.’s 10-song acoustic set went over huge in college coffee houses. That’s when things really started to click.
Nick Jr. soon formed The Beach Avenue Band with friends Nick Abraham, Ryan Zipp, and Jonah Ferrigno. Nick Sr. was the Fifth Beatle, lending backing vocals and various instrumental tracks in the studio. They got tight performing at Mohegan Sun and other Connecticut venues, made it past the first audition on America’s Got Talent in 2014, but got voted out. That exposure landed Nick Jr. his American Idol audition. Boom. New dreams – better dreams – had suddenly burst into reality.
Now, the Fradiani family is navigating the headwinds of a bi-coastal life. “It’s been hard. We’ve been flying to LA on Tuesday for six weeks in a row, having dinner together, and watching the show taping live at 5pm Pacific Time on Wednesday. As soon as the show’s over I get on the redeye and come home,” says Nick Sr.
It’s also hard on the wallet too. Nick has even considered selling one of his prized guitars to cover airfare. “I’m trying to scrounge the funds together to get back and forth,” he says. “I’ve been tempted to sell one of my guitars. We’re getting down to the wire, and if I’m not there I won’t be able to breathe.”
He might want to try holding his breath. Nick’s collection revolves around coveted Martin acoustic guitars, including a 000-28EC Eric Clapton Signature model (Nicholas wants to play it on the show), and a Gibson J-180 flattop Everly Brothers model. Guitar players will understand the agonizing choice.
How long they maintain this rigorous schedule depends on the judges and the voters. Nick Jr. made the final five on April 22. Where his exploding career goes from here is anyone’s guess. Regardless of how his son’s music career goes, Nick Sr. will keep up with his own.
“I’m still very active as a musician. I’m 59 years old now, but I’m inspired,” he says. “Nicholas is turning me on to a lot of the music he likes, like Rob Thomas, David Gray and Ed Sheeran, and that’s really keeping me relevant. I’m working two to three nights a week. My audiences have gotten huge lately because of my son. They’re asking me to do some of the songs Nick has done on TV, like “Man in the Mirror.” I don’t do that one, but I do “In Your Eyes,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” and others.”
Nick Sr. performs along the Connecticut coast weekly at favorite venues like The Water’s Edge in Westbrook, Asti in Branford, and The Beach House in Milford. He’s still a hairstyling instructor during the day. Music alone doesn’t keep the heat on.
“Playing music in Connecticut is a bit like landscaping,” Nick says. “When the winter comes it gets slim, and there’s just not enough work. But I love it. And the magic of it is that my son’s going to end up living the dreams I once had.”
And who knows? The universe may have more in store for the musical Fradianis. Nick Sr. became aware that his 1984 single Midnight Lady (which he ended up distributing himself) has gained a following in Europe. Online sales of his other material spiked when Nick Jr. made it to America’s Got Talent, and again when he broke on American Idol.
Much of it was available on iTunes until recently. But earlier in April, Nick Sr. took the songs down because music buyers were looking for Nicholas, and finding his music instead. Chalk up one more fatherly sacrifice.
“It’s not like I was selling a lot of records,” Nick says. “And I don’t care, because this time now is about my son’s career.”
That attitude has defined Nick Fradiani Sr. since he came off the cruise ship circuit to be a more dedicated dad. He sees his own musical adventures as having a different purpose than he ever conceived starting out: helping his boy make it big.
“The music business is incredibly demanding,” he says. “You’re only as good as your last performance. I think Nicholas appreciates where he is today more than anyone, because he saw the blood and sweat that I’ve put into music for my entire life.”
Image Credits: Adam Carner