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Video: Beatboxing cellist astounds viewers

By
NBC News producer
updated 2/1/2012 10:18:50 AM ET 2012-02-01T15:18:50
Producer’s Notebook

This morning we profiled an extraordinary young musician named Kevin Olusola. He’s incredibly talented. And sweet. But I want to bop him in the nose.

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Why am I so angry? Well, it could be because I’m jealous: I’m an absolute slacker compared to this kid. If you caught Jenna Bush Hager’s segment this morning (if you didn’t, the video is right above), you already know that Kevin’s a 23-year-old, multitalented, overachieving, “cello-boxing,” Mandarin-speaking, saxophone-playing, pre-med Yale graduate who came in second in a Yo-Yo Ma cello competition and first on NBC’s a cappella show “The Sing-Off.”

But it’s not that.

Video: How 23-year-old prodigy revolutionizes the cello (on this page)

Kevin’s had so much early success that it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s gotten a bit of a swelled head. But he hasn’t. He’s charming and self-effacing and grateful for all he has. And yet I still want to smack him. Why?

Because he gave me this great big bear hug after the interview and affectionately called me “Mom.”

Really? Did he not notice that I’m this hip and cool and cougar-ish producer? Perhaps he was confused by the very trendy shock of gray streaking down the left side of my hair. He might well have mistaken it for a sign of wisdom (my youngest sister sees it as a sign of stupidity; “Dye your hair!” is her mantra to me). He asked me for advice. My advice echoed his manager’s: Stay the same humble and respectful guy you are.

TheGrio’s 100: Kevin Olusola, ‘celloboxer’ extraordinaire

A car for a star
Kevin’s lack of familiarity with the customs of “celebrity” was never more evident than in the panicked phone call he made about 45 minutes before the interview began. As we often do, we’d ordered a car to to bring our guest to our shooting location (Kevin has just moved to L.A. and doesn’t have a car). But he mistakenly thought he would need to come up with his own ride to the car service’s garage, 16 miles from his modest apartment. And when his buddy didn’t show up to take him there, Kevin freaked.

Stephanie Becker
Cellist Kevin Olusola with cameraman Carlos Rigau.

When the car company explained to him that a car was idling outside his apartment waiting to whisk him and his cello to the interview, he seemed both surprised and a bit embarrassed. I found it charming. When I finally met him, all I said was: “We are going to have to teach you how to be a star.” But I’m kind of hoping that never really happens.

Kevin is so refreshingly grateful for all he has, and he couldn’t stop thanking me and Jenna and the crew. I have to tell you, it’s a pleasure to make him happy, even if I’m not doing anything more than my job.

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The highlight for both of us was to come the next day. If you’ve seen this morning’s segment, you know that Kevin became an unexpected YouTube sensation with his inventive rendition of a cello piece called “Julie-O”: 1.3 million hits and counting. It was written by Grammy-winning composer Mark Summer. The two had never met until I tracked down Mark, who was at his mom’s home in the San Fernando Valley.

Mark was performing that night at Theater Raymond Kabbaz, a local place. When I told Kevin we were to meet Mark, I thought he was going to explode in happiness. And when Mark suggested that they jam “Julie-O,” it was probably a 10 on Kevin’s Richter Scale of Joy.

Video: Cello prodigy meets idol, has impromptu jam session (on this page)

Way too often as a TODAY producer I report on young performers who let fame go to their heads, who stray down a path of personal destruction. It gets to you after a while. On the flip side of all that is meeting someone like Kevin: talented, grateful, humble, sweet and charming.    

He’s so genuinely excited about his TODAY show profile, that I have felt, dare I say, a little maternal and nurturing. But, hey, Kevin: Knock off the “mom” stuff, or this producer is likely to claw you like... well, you know, like the cougar I think I am.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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