Ferras with reps from Philly School District via VH1
In the hit song "Hollywood is Not America," singer Ferras laments: “Everyone here is from somewhere else/You can make a million dollars/But you might lose yourself.” Yet somehow the 25 year-old from Gillespie, Ill., has kept his newfound fame from going to his head, redirecting it to his heart instead.
Last Tuesday, Ferras was in Philly on behalf of VH1’s Save the Music to present the city’s school music programs with $300,000. More than 200 students from throughout the district showed their appreciation with a special performance of Ferras’ breakout single. “It was a whole orchestra of kids playing 'Hollywood’s Not America'!” he proudly told CGG the next day. “It was really special. Every time I connect with kids it’s an amazing thing.”
And he remembers very well what it was like to be one of those kids. “Growing up in a small town, music was the only thing that kept me going,” he said, explaining that most of his Gillespie’s 3000 residents were very supportive of sports programs, though not as enthusiastic about the arts and theater. Still, the self-described “outsider” followed his own path; as soon as he’d come home from school, he’d hole himself up in his room for the next six hours, playing piano and writing music. “It was the place I went to deal with what was going on in my life. I didn’t care about anything else.”
via Capitol Music Group
Ferras’ foray into music began when he was five, thanks to a mini keyboard that his dad bought him while the two were en route to an airport, purportedly to fly to Disneyland. But the plane touched down half a world away in Jordan instead, where his dad then illegally hid him from his mother. It was months before his mom – who was newly-divorced from his dad at the time – was able to track down her kidnapped son.
The musician credits the toy instrument for getting him through the lonely time. “For me, emotions were connecting to music, and it was like therapy for me. It was like an innate ability to write and play,” says Ferras, who, while being raised by his mother, never had a music lesson and, to this day, is unable to read music. “I use my memory as a cathartic process,” he says, “whether it’s from a breakup or if I’m meeting someone, I always use music to channel what I’m going through. Music is a vehicle that works in unison with my body.
“Music was my best friend,” he continues. “A lot of kids feel that way. It’s the one thing that can speak to everybody. It’s greater than all of us. It allows us to become a part of something bigger than each individual person.”
Ferras has some advice for you, especially if you’re troubled by the What am I going to do when I grow up? question – and perhaps the bigger one: How am I going to get there?!
“I’d say that the one thing I’ve done in my life that I am really proud of is that I have always followed my passion. We’re talking about music here, but it could apply to anything. [Growing up], I would never let anyone judge me or belittle me. When you feel strongly about something, when you believe in something, it is worth every cent of your being to follow that. Believe in yourself. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been able to make a record. Music is the most important thing; it has helped me in so many ways.”
Music fans in the New York area can catch Ferras on stage this Saturday at Z100 radio’s Zootopia. (Do Something is proud to be the charity sponsor for this year’s concert event.)
Check out Save the Music for more info, which has provided $40 million dollars worth of instruments to schools nationwide since 1997.