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Hard work paying off for this aspiring opera singer

Keanon Kyles tells The Undefeated about chasing his dream

Keanon Kyles checked his Facebook messages and did a double take. A friend alerted him that his story had gone viral seemingly overnight — and for very good reason.

The 28-year-old singer from Chicago has inspired the masses by proving that hard work — in his case, very hard work — dedication and determination can truly pay off.

The views, likes and shares began to increase on social media. Kyles’ story, which now has more than 3 million views on the ABC News Facebook page, became wildly popular largely because Kyle has four jobs. He’s a janitor and maintenance man at a news station, a vocal coach, an assistant manager and a singer. He works an average of 78-90 work hours a week to fund his dream of becoming an opera singer.

It was as a local human-interest story in Chicago that Kyles became a viral sensation. Though Kyles has been establishing himself around Illinois, the extra attention and gratification from a larger audience were welcoming.

“I feel grateful,” Kyles said. “I feel so much gratitude. Part of me is shocked because I’ve always known myself to sing and perform, but I never thought of myself as being a world-class inspiration to society. I’m just honored. I feel blessed, I feel favored. I feel so many different things because I’ve always wanted to do this, but I never thought it’d come this way.”

Even when he does have down time, it’s quickly cut short. Kyles prefers to push himself and keep going out of fear of missing something — an audition, a show, another opportunity — if he were to sleep.

“It’s a lot of sleepless nights,” Kyles said. “I probably, in total, get about 20 hours of sleep a week. I only sleep about four, if I’m lucky, five hours a night and I just get up and I keep going. Even when I’m tired, I push through, get a little cup of coffee and get going. You’re gonna be tired, that’s to be expected, but if everything that you do is working towards one major goal, it’s all worth it.”

Kyles’ dedication to music started at an early age. The singer, who hails from the Brainerd neighborhood in Chicago, gained a head start at age 8 during his time in the Chicago Children’s Choir. The choir’s grueling schedule instilled in him the discipline he continues to use today. It wasn’t until he was around 13 years old that opera became an interest. Kyles was attracted to opera because of its libretto text and dramatic style, and he also wanted to be a black face in a genre of music that sees very few black singers.

“I sing R&B. I sing gospel. I sing all of those things but nothing stands out to me more than opera,” Kyles said. “Since opera is such a European-driven genre, I wanted to represent for the blacks because we can sing, we can do that. We can sing in Italy. We can sing in France. People will put limits on you based off the color of your skin until you prove them wrong, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to prove everybody wrong and to prove to people that there are African-Americans interested in opera. Put yourself in an arena that nobody would expect you to ever be.”

Staying true to himself and his dream, Kyles searched Google looking for an opportunity to sing opera, preferably somewhere in the United Kingdom — one of his dream destinations. By chance, Kyles stumbled upon a site holding auditions for a stage production of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme in Scotland. Confident that this was a role that suited him, Kyles applied. Not wanting to make a useless trip in case he wasn’t chosen, Kyles opted to audition via video submission. He was surprised when the company contacted him the very next day, saying they’d like for him to join the production.

“I wasn’t really expecting a response, because the audition was worldwide. It was open to everybody,” Kyles said. “I said, ‘They’re probably gonna look right past my video,’ but they invited me to come. I was the only American chosen to go over there. Everyone else from the cast is from overseas.”

Kyles is set to head to Scotland in July, where he’ll also be performing at the Edinburgh International Festival the following month. Until then, Kyles plans to continue to work hard, grateful for every open door and opportunity and reminding himself that not every day will be easy, but the outcome will be worth it.

“Knowing that things are always going to work out allows me to keep going,” Kyles said. “Even if I have a defeat, I know in my head that it’s going to work out because this is my destiny. Knowing who I am and knowing what my purpose on earth is allows me to keep going, no matter what. I could’ve stopped a long time ago, but just knowing every time I look around, I’m always coming back to music. It allowed me to have that energy because this is my purpose.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.