A Valiant Verismo’s Impossible Dream
Haiti earthquake survivor is discovered in Miami as the next rising-star opera singer
By Elliott Stares
A 28-year-old Haitian earthquake survivor has defied all odds, after starting a new life in South Florida and revealing his remarkable talent as an aspiring opera singer to an inconspicuous Uber passenger who is now helping him fulfill his dream.
It was an ordinary summer evening in Miami, when long-time Miami resident, Rich Santelises, was journeying home via his normal method of Uber transportation. His driver – 28 year-old Jean Vaillant, an earthquake survivor from Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, who relocated to South Florida with his family shortly after the disaster in 2010.
A friendly conversation ensued between the two, and Jean revealed his love for opera singing from childhood. A curious Santelises couldn’t let the journey end without hearing a rendition from the young islander. Jean took a deep breath and began singing lines from the Italian classic “‘O sole mio.” Santelises recounts the car vibrating with the bellowing base from the Haitian’s voice, resulting in a breathtaking interpretation of the chorus – perfect in both tone and pitch – as if it were from Pavarotti himself.
The speechless passenger fortunately recorded the moment on his cell phone and proceeded to take down Jean’s phone number, after informing him of his decades-long profession in business development and brand management within the entertainment industry.
A Journey Begins
The two gentlemen agreed to remain in contact. In subsequent months, a performance protégé was born. With video evidence of his newfound talent, Santelises made calls to his personal network of contacts in the music business, including Gloria and Emilio Estefan, who Jean was lucky enough to meet.
Over the summer of 2017, Jean sang for guests within the duo’s new restaurant, Estefan Kitchen. “Jean has a genuinely natural forte for singing opera – a diamond in the rough – and has waited too long for the break he deserves. Not only does he have a tremendous gift, but his story of displacement from his home country is a heartbreaking one that many Haitians in South Florida can relate to. Jean has the potential and personality to become the next multi platinum artist,” Santelises said.
Two months after their fateful initial Uber encounter, Jean was introduced to a wider audience during Miami Fashion Week at Ice Palace Studios. Jean took to the stage to sing a full rendition of “‘O sole mio” in front of astonished attendees that included Miami Fashion Week’s honorary ambassador Antonio Banderas.
The front row leapt to their feet with applause upon hearing Jean’s vocal splendor. “To have the privilege and honor of meeting Gloria and Emilio Estefan was a dream come true,” said Jean. “To then become a featured artist at Miami Fashion Week and perform in front of Hollywood royalty was an equally unforgettable experience. My friendship with Rich has not only demonstrated the kindness and generosity the people of Miami are willing to extend, but has opened my eyes toward understanding how professional guidance can unleash one’s true potential. I aim to inspire and encourage other Haitians who may also have an undiscovered talent to be patient and work hard toward living their dream.”
Jean’s Early Life
Jean was born in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, with a younger sister. His father was a diplomat for Haiti, and his mother was an architect by trade, who raised the family at home.
At 9 years old, Jean realized he had a voice that was unlike anyone else his age. He became increasingly mesmerized watching concerts by his favorite performers in America, while dreaming of becoming a professional singer one day. By age 12, the operatic classic, La Donna è Mobile, became Jean’s favorite song to practice. In high school, his voice matured and he distinguished himself as a talented tenor.
When Tragedy Strikes
Jean remembers rehearsing for a school performance in the family’s wooden house in Port-au-Prince, when an earthquake pummeled the country in 2010. He felt traumatized at the suffering of his family’s hometown and deaths of his fellow residents in the capital.
Two days after the earthquake shook the city to its core, Jean managed to drive with his sister from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic, where they would fly to Miami for safety. Like many Haitians following the earthquake, Jean’s family gained temporary protective asylum status in the U.S., while his mom worked as a nursing assistant to generate a minimal income.In the summer of 2012, Jean moved to Sunrise and attended Broward College. His self-taught vocal instruction continued at home and Jean remained optimistic about his future performance aspirations.
The Silver Lining
After his talent was discovered at college, Jean was referred to a voice teacher. He enrolled in the music program, becoming an avid member of the college choir. In doing so, Jean had the opportunity to sing for all of his teachers, after which his fellow students and professors compared him to members of the group Il Divo. He began using his talents for the greater good by singing in fundraisers for Haiti, which he continues today, together with his love for bartending at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Vaillant, along with Santelises (now his personal manager), is taking strides to gain additional exposure, with the next project being sessions in the recording studio and additional introductions to influential names within the music business for a potential label contract. An approach was made to the management team of the renowned tenor, Andrea Bocelli, who launched “Voices of Haiti” through the Andrea Bocelli Foundation – providing music education to children in Catholic schools throughout Haiti. The approach was well received by Bocelli’s management team with a view to a meeting being arranged between the opera legend and the aspiring Haitian artist.
To see Jean Vaillant’s performance at Miami Fashion Week 2017, go to youtu.be/3ZZHFoHQ1Sw.