At the age of 14, Gavin Heraldo has already achieved the impossible. 

Over the summer, he created an audition video on YouTube, for a shot at winning a singing competition. And this wasn’t just any singing competition; the winner would have the opportunity to sing in front of a huge audience at the US Tennis Open in New York. 

After viewing 350 submissions, judges picked Gavin as one of the top 50. He and his family flew out to New York in July, so that he could sing during an in-person audition at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

A couple weeks after that audition, he and his family received an email, informing them that Gavin had been chosen! It was the opportunity of a lifetime. 

Yet despite how effortlessly things seemed to unfold, this success wasn’t created overnight…

“I’ve been singing for 11 years,” Gavin told The Milpitas Beat, as he lightly strummed a guitar in the shaded backyard of his family’s Milpitas home. 

He started out singing in the choir at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. He was only 3 at the time. 

“I had no idea what was going on. My mom just pushed me out there…” said Gavin, smiling. 

Red Culaton-Heraldo, Gavin’s mom, recalled how, at such a young age, Gavin was able to pick up songs in Tagalog and sing them so flawlessly, despite the fact that he, her, and her husband didn’t even know how to speak the language. “At St. John’s, they took him at 3 and they would let him sing at the top of his lungs. And he was in tune,” said Red. “So I let them take him. I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn. And they always wanted to show him off, having such a small kid there…they were very proud of him.” 

As Gavin got older, he kept up with choir performances, going out to church festivals and events. At the age of 7, he joined South Bay Kids, a nonprofit organization that works with youth who are keen on performing. During his time there, he has taken lessons, as well as gone out with the group to perform at places like the Alameda County Fair and Disneyland. He has also been doing school talent shows since he was old enough to be involved. 

At Pomeroy, where he attended elementary school, the rule was that you couldn’t be part of the talent show unless you were in 4th grade or above. However, Gavin got a free pass in third grade, as one of the special needs teachers, who knew his vocal teacher, had had the opportunity to hear him sing. 

Year after year, he continued doing talent shows at Pomeroy, and when he got to Thomas Russell Middle School, he continued being involved with the talent shows there, as well.  

Gavin is currently the lead singer of Next Generation, a band under the South Bay Kids Organization. In late July, they were a part of a Battle of the Bands competition at the Milpitas Library. 

And they won first place. 

Even though Gavin has been singing in front of crowds for almost his entire life, the experience of singing at the US Open on August 31 was something entirely different for him. 

“It was really scary. My stomach was churning,” said Gavin. “The anticipation, the fear of failure in front of thousands of people, the weight of that was on my shoulders. My heart was pounding in my chest…Waves of shock and excitement passed through me as I stepped onto the court…I hardly remember what happened.” 

Gavin sang “America the Beautiful,” just as he had during his audition. And his parents and younger brother Cole (10) were there with him. It was an exciting time for everyone. 

Gavin’s dad, Ray Heraldo, who is a huge tennis fan, was actually the one who had discovered the opportunity for Gavin to audition in the first place.   

“I was randomly searching online about the US Open, because I’m a huge fan and I actually wanted to go. And for whatever reason, a link came up and this audition popped up. So I looked into it…” said Ray, who played varsity tennis during high school. During his freshman year at Overfelt High School, he was the #2 singles player in the school, and during sophomore year, he became #1. So having the opportunity to fly out to the US Open to see his son perform was a meaningful experience for him. 

Gavin, who admitted he’s not really into the music that’s popular today, loves to listen to soul, funk, and even a little 90s rap. He also writes his own songs. And even though he says he’s not an expert at it, he enjoys playing the guitar too. 

When asked what was the biggest thing that he learned from his experience singing at the US Open, Gavin said, “It was a whole learning experience. I never experienced a crowd that big before. It taught me how to deal with stuff under pressure.” 

Gavin started his freshman year at Milpitas High last month. In terms of his future plans, he mentioned that he’s hoping to get (at least) a 4.0 in school. For later on, he has his sights set on Stanford University or a UC school, and he’d like to major in Law and minor in Music. 

“I want to be a singer. That’s my ultimate goal. But law is my back-up,” said Gavin, flashing a grin. “My mom says I like to argue.” 

Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works with nonprofit organizations to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also an author; her first book will be published by Llewellyn Worldwide in mid-2019. Her YouTube channel, which features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment, has amassed thousands of subscribers. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s founder.

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