LINDEN, NJ — Making his way from classroom to classroom in Linden School No. 8 on on Monday, Nov. 16, was Elizabeth-raised rock singer Manny Cabo, fresh off an electrifying performance on NBC’s “The Voice” and ready to spread his message of inspiration and love.
“I went on ‘The Voice’ because I love to sing, and it’s one of those things I do to take in the moment. I don’t worry about winning. I don’t worry about beating everyone else. I worry about doing the best job that I can,” Cabo told a class of second graders. Many of them had raised their hands when asked if they’d seen Cabo on the show.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s singing, it doesn’t matter if it’s basketball. Whatever it is, you want to make sure that you live in the moment and enjoy the entire journey.”
During the classroom appearances, Cabo, whose 10-month odyssey in Los Angeles ended in mid-October, answered numerous questions from the students. Yes, he met Taylor Swift, who’s a very nice person; he was nervous walking on-stage for his blind audition, when he heard nothing but the sound of his own footsteps; and while it was hard being away from his wife and daughter for so long, he tried to make the most of every moment.
After all, the 45-year-old rock-and-roll singer went on “The Voice” because he wanted to prove something, to himself and the 14 million people who would later see Cabo’s rendition of Whitesnake’s classic “Here I Go Again.”
“As an artist, you want to be creative, you want to be inspired. That’s one of the things I did on the show. I was there to sing but I was also there to inspire the world because people my age aren’t the ones who are normally on the show,” said Cabo. “I got so many emails from around the world that I have to have a translator so I could respond to people. That because of me, parents that hadn’t played their piano in 10, 15 years, are now supporting their children with their musical career. They’ve picked up their career and started playing again.”
In many ways, Cabo doesn’t look like a typical “The Voice” contestant, and his age is only one factor. A lot of people have asked Cabo why he paints his nails, he said, or questioned the many elaborate rings he wears on his fingers. But Cabo uses that as motivation for his work, he said, and it ultimately helps him with his goal of affecting people around the globe.
“Yea, I was on ‘The Voice,’ that’s nice, and it’s a conduit to be able to speak. I’m using that to my advantage. Kids listen to me, I love kids, and they see the tattoos, they see the nail polish and that it’s OK to be different, it’s OK to be eccentric, it’s OK to be yourself,” said Cabo. “This is about inspiring people to be who they are.”
By the end of each classroom interview, the rock-and-roll musician had the students singing along in performances of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted.” Each time Cabo gave them the signal, the kids shouted the titular chorus, as Linden art teacher and Cabo’s longtime bandmate Mark Kohut played guitar.
“Linden is a leader in the arts,” said Kohut, after one classroom appearance. “We’re known for our music and our art department, and for them to be open-minded and bring in a contemporary rock-and-roll singer, to do an event like this today, really speaks for the department.”
Various other professionals visited the elementary-level students at Linden School No. 8 this week, in celebration of Career Day and American Education Week, dispensing advice much like Cabo. Achieving your goals requires hard work that “all starts here in the classroom,” Cabo told one class, emphasizing that his 30-year career in music has been a roller coaster of a ride.
There are positive developments on the horizon for Cabo. His upcoming album “North of Nash” is being worked on by a grammy-winning producer, he said, and its debut will come at an upcoming concert at Old Mogul Theatre in Montclair. His love of many genres — reggae, rap, rock, new age, disco and more — has led Cabo to settle on southern contemporary rock for the album.
But this success “didn’t happen overnight,” said Cabo. To the contrary, it was entirely by accident: He’d only started singing long into his drumming career, when his band’s lead singer got sick on the night of a performance.
“Guess who knew the lyrics to all the songs?” said Cabo, to a class of fifth graders. “I got up onstage and started singing. Nobody laughed. Actually, people clapped. That’s where it all started, I realized ‘this could be a lot of fun.’ You never know where it might start. If you don’t play guitar or you don’t sing, take a stab at it.”