For many, college is a transformative journey to discover yourself and what you truly love. Elvio Fernandes '94 embodies this journey of self-discovery and passion.
Fernandes, a successful musician, songwriter, and entrepreneur who tours the world with American rock band Daughtry, entered college as a stand-out soccer player, intent on becoming a teacher, but something changed during his time at Geneseo.
"I was a musician [in high school], but unfortunately, times were different back then," says Fernandes. "I also played soccer, baseball, and basketball, so I was labeled as a jock; it wasn't cool to be into music, so I hid my talents from people."
At Geneseo, Fernandes found a community that embraced him. "I came out of my shell in college," he says, describing those years as some of the best in his life. Here, he started to share his love for music more openly, and he reminisced about the times he spent playing music with friends, which helped him grow more confident in his musical talents.
Fernandes joined a band during senior year, which marked a significant shift in his life's trajectory, steering him away from becoming a teacher. "Joining a band in college gave me a glimpse into what I wanted to do," Fernandes reflects. "It was the first time I seriously considered making music not just a hobby but a career."
After graduation, Fernandes became a notable figure in the Rochester music scene as lead singer and songwriter with the band Uncle Plum. His performances at festivals and events around Western New York became opportunities to collaborate with the community, particularly with young, aspiring musicians. Through a series of connections—and some good timing— Fernandes became close with Chris Daughtry, an American rock band singer who gained national recognition after placing fourth on American Idol.
"Shortly after American Idol, I was able to establish some credibility with Chris Daughtry as a songwriter, and I asked him if he had any unfinished songs he wanted me to look at," Fernandes recalls. "And he's like, 'You know what? I do,' and he sent me this song called "Crazy." I finished that song for him, and he loved it."
Audiences around the world also loved it. "Crazy" became part of Daughtry's widely popular third album, "Break the Spell," selling over a half million copies and reaching Gold status. Following the album release's success, Daughtry invited Fernandes to join the band as a keyboardist, background vocalist, and guitarist as they toured the world to promote their new music.
"It was amazing," says Fernandes. "We did a European tour, sold out arenas, performed on American Idol, and suddenly I'm hanging out with Steven Tyler. That was 12 years ago, and I've been with them ever since."
As successful as Fernandes' musical career has been, he'll tell you that what's most meaningful to him is not performing to large audiences across the world but fostering a sense of belonging and confidence in young kids close to home in Rochester, NY.
In 2009, Fernandes founded ROC Star Academy, a music school that offers young musicians mentorship from professional artists and opportunities to perform across the region, encouraging their development as musicians and the confidence of feeling like a rock star.
"Before Daughtry, my local band would play these family-friendly festivals, and we'd always see little kids in the front row jumping up and down and really into the music," says Fernandes. “Once, while playing ‘Give It Away’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I invited the kids onto the stage to perform with us, and the crowd went nuts. It was a moment those kids will never forget, and I needed to find a way to have more kids see their inner rock star."
Currently, ROC Star Academy has over 200 students enrolled and nearly 20 bands that perform live shows across the region. Fernandes reflects positively on creating a space where kids can find their voice, figuratively and literally, building confidence that kids can carry with them beyond the stage as they navigate life.
"Outside of being a husband and a father, it's the most important thing I do for sure," says Fernandes. "Don't get me wrong, I love touring the world doing what I love. But our impact on kids is when a father brings his child who has no friends, sits in his room and plays guitar all day long, and asks, 'Can you help me?' And then you see that kid on stage at the Lilac Festival, and the parents are in tears; that's what it's all about."
Fernandes' journey has been as much about finding his path as it has been about guiding others to theirs. When reflecting on all the moments that brought him professional success, attending Geneseo was a defining time.
"College defined me in so many ways, and I feel like the experience I had there prepared me for life and what I do now," recalls Fernandes. "Geneseo will always hold a place in my heart. Some of my greatest memories were at the college, whether playing soccer or the late-night jam sessions. It was a huge catalyst in getting me outside my comfort zone and realizing this is what I want to do."
Fernandes is excited to announce he is bringing his Rochester music school to the village of Geneseo, NY, launching ROC Star Academy South in 2024. Parents in Geneseo and surrounding communities interested in signing up their children or learning more can visit RocStarAcademy.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org