As I waited for Mr. Anderson inside of Sucrè, one of New Orleans’ treasure gems of gelato goodness, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect from the thespian. Having only a few clips on YouTube and the content of his Instagram feed to go off of, I couldn’t imagine what type of personality to expect from such a highly commended and skilled artist.
Would I get all the theater terminology right? Should I refer to him as an actor or a singer or a singer who acts or a singing actor? Would he know that I’ve never interviewed a member of musical theater before? The time between my arrival and his left room for these thoughts and more to run rampant as I anxiously shoved Cookies n’ Cream gelato into my mouth to calm nerves.
As soon as he arrived minutes later in his Xavier University hat and camp counselor uniform, coming straight from the kids camp he volunteers at, he greeted me with a hug that let me know the interview would go splendidly. And that it did. With a tranquil demeanor and a speaking voice so even and pleasant it could calm any human within a 10-foot radius, Anderson’s humility has clearly kept the awareness of his unrivaled voice and superb acting ability from going to his head.
25-year-old Anderson makes it a point to introduce himself as Averis I.Anderson. His parents always emphasized the importance of his middle name: Israel, the biblical figure who is considered the start of the 12 Tribes of Israel. It’s clear that when his parents gave him that middle name they assumed he would be destined for greatness…and it appears that they were completely right.
In a city saturated with some of the best talent in the country, only two years into the professional scene, Anderson has figured out how to set himself apart: be himself. Once you encounter Averis I. Anderson, it’s clear pretty quickly that being himself is more than enough.
Raised in the small town of Franklin, LA, Anderson got his musical start in the church as did so many of our greatest singers. A pastor’s kid, who was once so afraid to sing in public that he would sit in a pew and cry to avoid performing for the congregation, Anderson gives “the black church experience” credit for sparking his passion for singing.
“My voice didn’t fit into the typical church sound,” says Anderson who realized early on that he could “connect the spirit to the voice” in a venue where he felt more comfortable: musical theater.
Recently featured on New Orleans’ News With A Twist for his role in Baduizms: A Tribute to Erykah, Anderson’s voice sounds like nothing short of a blessing from God. He believes that his talent is a gift from God and that “gifts are given in order that you can give them away” meaning he truly believes he is meant to share his ability with the world.
It was his voice that landed him the part in the New Orleans production of Baduizms, a musical which has been adapted and performed all over the country, and made him the first male to ever land a vocal role in the production. Since it is a tribute to Mother Badu the production is usually held down vocally by women, leaving the men with minor speaking parts.
Even though the play was a bit out of Anderson’s comfort zone he notes that he enjoyed every bit of the experience. An experience that helped him learn to let his voice hold its own against powerful well-known New Orleans vocalists like Tonya Boyd Cannon, Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Mykia Jovan. There’s no competition here though. In fact, it’s the relationships he’s formed with these women that have helped him better navigate the New Orleans music scene. It’s this same music scene that he didn’t exactly imagine he’d be trying to navigate when he initially discovered his first love of singing. And it wasn’t even until his elementary school years that he tried his hand at acting and realized he loved it too.
He booked his first professional acting job, a month-long production of Hair at La Petit Theatre, in November of 2013. This production was the highlight of his career up to this point because “it was the first time I got paid for acting… It made me [realize] that I could do this for the rest of my life.” The time and energy that he put revealed to him that this was truly what he was called to do.
In 2012, Anderson received his Bachelor’s of Science from the prestigious Xavier University of Louisiana. Up until his junior year at Xavier he was well on his way to becoming a doctor, majoring in biology with a focus on pre-med. Sometime during his junior year her gave into his desires, stepped out on faith and made the final decision to pursue acting and singing as a career instead of the very safe alternative that had outlined his future up to that point.
The decision was pretty much only a surprise to him since most people around him—including his parents—assumed he would become an artist. In fact, there was one person who’d always recognized that he was meant to act and sing professionally. His mentor from his hometown, Mrs. Diane Wiltz, constantly encouraged him to choose his passion even when he was dead set on becoming a doctor. Anderson said it was an extended internal battle between his desire to be the first in his immediate family to have an advanced degree and his hunger to sing and act.
Ultimately, Mrs. Wiltz was right. His heart and his passion won out.
“To be an artist you gotta be courageous,” Anderson asserted and he recognizes that it was not until he was courageous enough to follow his heart that he felt at peace during his college career.
This life-altering decision has brought Anderson so much happiness and fulfillment that he encourages any one who is in a battle over what they are going to do with their life to have courage and go for it, “I’m happy because I’m doing what it is that I love.”
With hair flowing down his back and dimples you could drown in, it is easy to see how people make initial comparisons between he and the father of all things fabulous and musically wonderful, Prince. Being a huge fan of the “musical genius,” Anderson doesn’t mind the comparison even though most people tell him he sounds like John Legend (another compliment he receives wholeheartedly). Still, he looks forward to being known for his own signature sound one day, which might not be too far away with the uniqueness of his voice and presence.
What’s his favorite genre to sing, you ask?
Soul music, and by soul he means that he will sing the soul of any genre: the soul of jazz, the soul of Broadway or the soul of a country song. If he can “find a way to feel” what he’s singing he can sing it for you and sing it impeccably. That is what matters most to Anderson being able to feel the music he performs and the character he is portraying. For him, if he can’t feel it and make the audience feel it then what’s the point?
Watching Anderson speak about his craft and the opportunities his gifts have given him leaves no doubt in my mind that this is what he is meant to do. The calm he exudes when he speaks about the long nights and grueling rehearsals he’s had to endure for various shows is almost tangible.
Even when he talks about the rejections, recalling an encounter where he landed a part and later had the part rescinded because the casting director wanted to go into a different whiter direction, there is a sense of purpose being fulfilled in action that is almost contagious.
“Every morning I wake up, I have to affirm myself,” the singer admits. It is this hope, this promise and possibility and this self-encouragement that Anderson wants to pass on to other hopeful entertainers who are considering pursuing a career in the arts.
Looking to ever improve himself and for a never-ending climb, he notes hoping to never reach a point where he has “made it.” Open to whatever comes his way on whatever journey his gifts take him, Anderson does have one solid aspiration: to walk across the Tony’s stage. Anderson confesses that when other aspiring artists were children and longing to be at the Grammy’s he was envisioning a day when he would be attending the Tony’s.
There’s no telling when Anderson’s dream of receiving a Tony will be realized but with the passion and commitment that radiates from him it doesn’t seem like that dream is far fetched by any stretch of the imagination.
When he’s not singing or acting (or doing some combination of both), he’s fostering his other major passion: helping and teaching others. After a short stint as an educator in the New Orleans Public School System, Anderson realized that he enjoyed helping children recognize their passions and work toward their goals. “It almost got a hold on me,” he joked as he struggled to think of other personal pursuits that rivaled his love for acting and singing.
Although photography and rigorously editing selfies in preparation for Instagram are on the list of things he enjoys in his free time nothing competes with his craft. Anderson is now completely sure that there is nothing else he would rather or should be doing. He always knew that the “happiness of [his] soul” depended on his ability to sing and act.
Above all, Averis Anderson attributes his growing resume to the favor of God and the support of his family. A self-proclaimed “mama’s boy” the singer states that his mother is “his favorite person in the world” and it is her love and encouragement, matched with the endless support from his father and siblings, that fuels him to keep going even when he does not feel like he is adequate enough to pursue his passion.
“I don’t even know that I’m worthy to be featured on your site,” Anderson stated while ironically speaking about working with such well-known artists as The Brass-A-Holics or Tarriona “Tank” Ball. The profuse amount of humility that he shows when speaking about his accomplishments can make you start to second-guess yourself – maybe he isn’t that special. Then you hear his voice and remember that he’s very special.
When he sings you can hear how much he wants this, wants you to feel his voice – not just hear it, and experience the song and his presentation of it – not just witness it. He’s got the voice control of a stage veteran and the unrestrained funk of an artist so green they don’t know better yet that you have to pace yourself on stage.
As he belts out “Purple Rain” with the Brass-A-Holics behind him you nearly forget it’s Prince’s song originally, then contrast that with the smoothness he offers as he croons a duet of “In Love With You” with Mykia Jovan and you have a hard time believing the same person performed both songs.
Anderson’s relatively quick success as a performer and thespian since choosing happiness drives a huge wrecking ball through the myth of what a theater performer is. “I am the norm,” Anderson asserts and lets no one’s definitions of who can and can’t do theater get in the way of chasing his passion.
Whether he is being beckoned on stage to perform with the legendary Brass-A-Holics or commissioned to perform at the New Orleans gallery debut of The Tenth Zine’s art project, Averis Anderson is making a name for himself, quickly and surely. His ability to use acting and singing to direct the narrative about what a black man from a small town in Louisiana can do is astounding and it is clear that his passion and his talent will propel him very far in life and in his career.
We see big things on the horizon for Averis, tune in with us as we watch how far he goes.