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Walter Russell III, 14, on becoming one of the youngest Grammy winners

The opera singer reveals the first thing he did after accepting the award.
/ Source: TODAY

Walter Russell III, 14, won a Grammy last Sunday night.

Alongside music icons like Beyoncé and Harry Styles, Russell's performance as a principal soloist in the opera "Blanchard: Fire Shut Up In My Bones," earned him a statue at the 65th annual Grammy Awards held on Feb. 5. "Fire Shut Up in my Bones" won best opera recording.

In his speech, he thanked God, his family and his mom: "All the sacrifices you made for me," he said, "I can’t thank you enough.”

With that, Russell joins the ranks of a few young Grammy winners. At 14, Russell is the same age LeAnn Rimes was when she won two Grammy awards, including best new artist. 8-year-old Leah Peasall, who won in 2002 after being featured on the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, holds the record as the youngest-ever Grammy winner. Blue Ivy Carter, at 9, became the second-youngest in 2021.

On the heels of his big win, the young artist shares what it felt like to take home the award.

"It feels so amazing, I'm so honored to just have this opportunity," Russell tells TODAY.com in an interview. "The fact that I did it at such a young age is just so surreal to me."

And, naturally, the first thing he did after winning the Grammy falls in step with what most anyone else would do: "I bragged about it to all my friends."

Born and raised in Harlem, New York, the 14-year-old is already a veteran of the stage having performed as Young Simba in the national tour of "The Lion King," as well as in the hit Broadway show "MJ: The Musical," where he originated the role of young Michael Jackson and now stars in the current Broadway production as Jackson's brother Marlon.

However, it's his role as Char’es Baby in last year's "Fire Shut Up My Bones," the first opera by a Black composer performed on the Metropolitan Opera stage, that earned him a statue at this year's Grammys. The young star says it's a "pinch-me" kind of moment.

"Winning a Grammy is such a huge thing on my bucket list and the fact that I got to check it off this early was just honor," he says.

While his opera appearance last year is what put him in the spotlight, it's his performance in "MJ: The Musical" that he says has been the most defining career experience so far, citing Michael Jackson as one of his biggest idols.

It's not surprising given that the pair have a variety of mutual talents, not the least of which include singing and dancing. They also share something else in common – their birthday. Both were born on Aug. 29.

As far as being to compared to the King of Pop, Russell doesn't mind. He says, "(I've loved) Michael Jackson since I was a little kid. So, I felt that every time someone mentioned me in the same conversation and the same sentence as him, it just warms my heart."

Of Jackson's many hit records, the actor says if he had to choose just one, "Man in the Mirror" is his favorite.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dk8aQVVbgEs

([It's about) not just leaving change to the world, but also making a change to yourself and I feel like that's such a good message," Russell says.

Beyond his admiration of the late Jackson, Russell says he's a fan of Bruno Mars. Although he hasn't met the 12-time Grammy winner yet, he'd love to follow in the musician's footsteps.

"He started his career at 2 years old and he's won God knows how many Grammys," Russell explains. "I've always loved his music and his style."

It's quite possible Russell took a page from Mars' stylebook for his Grammy attire, wearing a bright yellow suit, teal shirt and bright blue shoes for his red carpet appearance.

The dapper outfit was designed by Grayscale Image Consulting, he says, and gives designer Brandon BJ Gray "props" for doing such "an amazing job" on his outfit.

When it comes to wearing the suit again, however, Russell laughs that he probably won't put it on anytime soon for practical reasons. "It's too tight for me right now, so I probably can't wear it anymore."