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updated: 2/17/2014 5:05 AM

Aurora teen's passion shines in Super Bowl ad

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  • Sushmitha Suresh, a sophomore at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, practices her singing not long after her voice was featured as part of a Super Bowl commercial for Coca-Cola. Sushmitha, 15, sung part of "America the Beautiful" in Hindi for the commercial, which promoted the theme "America is Beautiful."

       Sushmitha Suresh, a sophomore at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, practices her singing not long after her voice was featured as part of a Super Bowl commercial for Coca-Cola. Sushmitha, 15, sung part of "America the Beautiful" in Hindi for the commercial, which promoted the theme "America is Beautiful."
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Sushmitha Suresh, a sophomore at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, now is jokingly known as the "Super Bowl Singer" because her voice was featured singing part of "America the Beautiful" in Hindi for a Coca-Cola commercial shown during the big game.

       Sushmitha Suresh, a sophomore at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, now is jokingly known as the "Super Bowl Singer" because her voice was featured singing part of "America the Beautiful" in Hindi for a Coca-Cola commercial shown during the big game.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Sushmitha Suresh, a sophomore at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, practices with the chamber singers, one of several vocal groups at the school to which she belongs. Sushmitha, 15, got to sing part of "America the Beautiful" in Hindi for a Coca-Cola commercial shown during the second quarter of the Super Bowl.

       Sushmitha Suresh, a sophomore at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, practices with the chamber singers, one of several vocal groups at the school to which she belongs. Sushmitha, 15, got to sing part of "America the Beautiful" in Hindi for a Coca-Cola commercial shown during the second quarter of the Super Bowl.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Super Bowl singer

 
 

Silence is rare in the life of Sushmitha Suresh of Aurora.

If the 15-year-old isn't harmonizing with the chamber singers at Metea Valley High School, she's likely practicing with the vocal jazz ensemble, being a leader in a girls' a cappella group, singing for musical theater productions, playing piano or honing her public speaking skills with the school's speech team.

When she's not at school, Sushmitha enjoys recording videos of popular song covers with her 22-year-old sister, Shwetha, keeping music ever-present in her life.

But silence was all Sushmitha could hear during the second quarter of the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

"Every time a commercial would come, it would be dead silent," Sushmitha said.

The group of friends gathered to watch the game knew it was Sushmitha's voice they were listening for -- recorded in a Coca-Cola commercial promoting the theme "America is Beautiful."

The 60-second spot melded young female voices singing in different languages to complete the first verse of "America the Beautiful." Sushmitha's singing came about halfway through, first in English, then in Hindi, singing words that translate to "And crown thy good with brotherhood."

The opportunity to record a voice-over for a Coca-Cola ad came to Sushmitha through a cousin who lives in New York City, and she took it without realizing it could lead to an audience as vast as millions of Super Bowl viewers.

"I didn't even know it was going to be on the Super Bowl until like two days before, so that was really cool," she said.

Sushmitha flew with her sister to the Big Apple for a recording session that "wasn't even long" -- only four hours. And after rerecording a few lines, her work was done.

Her appearance in the commercial hasn't made the phone ring with other singing opportunities just yet. But Sushmitha says this is only the beginning of her musical pursuit, which she hopes to blend with some type of engineering degree into a future career.

"I'm definitely going to continue with music. I plan to double-major in vocal performance and audio engineering or some type of engineering," said Sushmitha, a sophomore who goes by the nickname "Sushi," although as a vegetarian, she doesn't eat the fish rolls by that name.

"I don't want to let it (music) go because it's become such a big part of my life."

Musical beginnings

Sushmitha's life began in India, but her family moved to New Jersey when she was 6 months old.

She says she was just 5 years old when she first remembers hearing the Indian classical music lessons her mother would teach to older children and began mimicking the sounds they would make.

Shobana Suresh says her daughter also would imitate everything she heard in TV shows and movies, and soon Sushmitha was able to carry a tune in both English and Hindi, despite vastly different tonalities of the languages and musical styles.

"All my Indian friends used to be amazed at that quality of hers. 'How can she not get confused between the Indian music and the English music like that? It is way too different,'" Suresh said. "I would say it's God's blessing."

Everyone in Sushmitha's family has some formal musical training; her mother says it's traditional for girls to learn to sing and dance. Suresh said singing has been the more valued skill in her lineage, so she and her husband made sure to pass it along to both of their daughters.

Nathan Bramstedt, choir director at Metea Valley High School, said Sushmitha's training in Indian classical music gives her the ability to hit notes American singers don't even recognize as separate tones.

"Her voice is able to sing in the flexibility a lot of Westerners don't have," Bramstedt said. "She is able to transfer that flexibility over to all styles of singing."

As Sushmitha puts it, Indian classical music adds quarter-tones between the 12 notes, flats and sharps of Western music. The music videos she records with her sister, at the YouTube channel TheFireflies2, showcase the quickly changing tones of Indian singing mashed up with Western pop songs like Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" or the Leonard Cohen tune "Hallelujah."

"My passion for music has grown greatly," she said. "Now I'm interested in so many different genres."

Advertising diversity

Reactions have varied to the commercial in which Sushmitha's voice was featured.

"I think it's really beautiful," Sushmitha said. "I think it definitely delivers the message we're all culturally different but we all have the same nationalism, the same amount of nationalism, and we all care for our country."

At Metea, students are showering Sushmitha with a bit of celebrity status and the new nickname "Super Bowl Singer" -- adoration Bramstedt said she is handling with humble kindness. He also praised her mature handling of criticism to the commercial.

Some have questioned Coca-Cola's move to include different languages in the song, saying "America the Beautiful" only should be sung in English.

"They're entitled to their own opinion; that's all I can really say about it," Sushmitha said.

Bramstedt said it's obvious she's "really proud of the work she has done to promote her culture and our country," but she isn't taking her Super Bowl success for granted.

"The thing that sets Sushi apart is not only the flexibility in her voice, but she really is fearless," Bramstedt said. "If she really wants something, she works really hard in preparation for it and she comes in and gives it her all."

Pursuing passion

Dedication is one of Sushmitha's best traits, her mother says.

"Whatever she does, she puts in all her effort," Suresh said.

Next on the list are several performances with school musical groups, continued training in Indian classical music and two more years of everything high school has to offer before choosing a college with a strong musical performance department and engineering opportunities.

As she pursues singing, Sushmitha says her family's lessons about the importance of commitment will help her carry through, whether the audience is dozens at her father's work party, hundreds at a high school talent show or millions tuned into the nation's most-watched sporting event.

"If there's one thing they've taught me, it's that dedication is key in music, especially," Sushmitha said. "Because if you have a passion for it, you can't let it go."

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