‘Igniting Imagination:’ Q&A with Michael Odokara-Okigbo ‘12
By Luke Katler
Published on Thursday, October 11, 2012
Editor’s Note: This week, five members of The Dartmouth Arts and Entertainment Staff sat down with the featured guests in this Friday’s “Igniting Imagination,” who will be returning to campus to celebrate the Hopkins Center’s 50th Anniversary. Actor and comedian Aisha Tyler ’92 will host the multimedia show, which will include special appearances by actor and singer Jennifer Leigh Warren ’77, singer Michael Odokara-Okigbo ’12, actor and comedian Rachel Dratch ’88 and filmmaker Ken Burns, an honorary member of the Class of 1993. The spectacle, produced by College Gospel Choir director Walt Cunningham and the Hopkins Center’s Director of Student Performances Joshua Kol ’93, will assemble a cast of more than 250 Dartmouth students, faculty and alumni performers this weekend in Spaulding Auditorium.
Q: How does it feel to be asked to speak at “Igniting Imagination” at such a young age, when the other guests are farther along in their careers?
A: I’m incredibly humbled to be there — just in awe of these people. I mean, I just graduated this past June, so it’s honestly crazy to have my picture next to four incredible people. It’s an honor. It’s going to be a great performance that highlights all aspects of the Hopkins Center. I think as an audience member, you’ll experience a lot of different things and it’ll be a whole journey, which I’m excited to be involved with.
Q: When did you first become involved with the arts?
A: I started with the arts before I was even born. My mom used to play four artists while she was pregnant with me — Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury from Queen and Dolly Parton, [who are] my greatest inspirations. So music has always been a part of my life. I can remember important moments — whether it was singing my first solo in elementary school, which was “Bring Back Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder,” to doing boy’s choir in middle school to doing a cappella in high school to joining the Aires and doing “Dartmouth Idol” to doing “The Sing-Off.”
Q: Do you remember your fist time performing in front of an audience?
A: I remember it really, really well. I think I was six. My mom was in the audience, and it just felt so comfortable. I was nervous, but then after I started singing I just felt like I was at home. It just felt really natural. I’m a really shy person, and I don’t talk much and I get really nervous in crowds, but whenever I perform I’m just a different person. [Now] I’ll actively look to feel the way that I felt when I was six.
Q: Did you always want to be a performer?
A: Yeah, I mean I think my “aha” moment was when the Aires did a mash-up of Queen songs. It felt like at that moment I woke up. Like I knew that was what I was meant to do. I’ve just never had that feeling. And I feel like after that moment I just knew what I wanted to devote my time to. I knew what I was meant for. I knew what I was placed on this earth to do.
Q: Did you ever have any career ideas other than being a performer?
A: Oh, gosh yes! I mean, when I was growing up I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. Before I came to Dartmouth — before I took Bio 11 — I wanted to be a doctor. I thought quickly about possibly being a lawyer. And I also worked at a real estate investment firm my junior spring. But I always, in the back of my mind, wanted to be a singer. The problem was I wasn’t confident in my abilities.
Q: What aspect of performing do you like better — singing or being in front of an audience?
A: I love all aspects. Whether it’s performing for my eight-year-old dog, because he sits and listens, or whether it’s performing for a lot of people, for me it really doesn’t matter. When I perform, it’s just like a release of what I’m feeling. It’s a release of what I hold back or what I have pent up. So, I always feel honored if someone wants to listen to the notes or the sounds that come out of my mouth. It’s always a humbling experience. For me it doesn’t really matter — just give me an ear and I’ll sing to you.
Q: What made you choose Dartmouth?
A: Dartmouth came up because I wanted a small to medium-sized school. I wanted a school that was rural and placed a lot of focus on its students. I wanted a school that had the arts and athletics available. And also the Dartmouth Aires. I remember seeing videos of the Aires and I really, really liked them. It would’ve stunk if I didn’t get in the group.
Q: How did Dartmouth help you decide to pursue a career in the arts?
A: Without Dartmouth, I wouldn’t be pursuing music, really. Without Dartmouth I wouldn’t have been in the Aires, and without the Aires I wouldn’t have been given such a blessing of finding out what I’m meant to do on this earth. They gave me a platform and a way to express myself and find out what I love so much, which is music. I also think, most importantly, they’ve given me incredible best friends. There were five of us in my class, and those four guys are the four best friends I’ve ever had. So Dartmouth definitely played a pivotal role for me. For the rest of my life I will always be grateful and humbled by Dartmouth College, and I’ll always give back to the College and be involved because the College has given me so much.
Q: What have you been up to since graduation, and what are your career goals?
A: Since graduation, I’ve moved to Los Angeles. I’m pursuing music there, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m singing all over the country. I’ve been writing a lot of songs, acting and I’ve been having a lot of meetings with people. I’m busy a lot, which is really, really great. My immediate goal in terms of music and acting, I think, is just to work my butt off. And my long-term goals — I guess that’s to have a few albums out, be touring — we’ll see. Anything’s possible. I’m just excited to share my music with the whole world.