Jon Michael Ogletree of Hoover, Alabama, couldn’t reach the piano pedals when he began playing at 3 years old and he can’t reach them now, three decades later.
Ogletree calls himself a “little person” and says his dwarfism has come with its share of challenges … and unique blessings.
“The outsider looking into my life might just say, ‘Oh it’s so sad, that little person, he can’t reach the bread on the top of that aisle,'” said Ogletree. “Well, little do they know, that God, yes, he’s withheld a lot from me, but he’s swept in and provided so much in the process.”
Ogletree’s talking, in part, about a rare condition he says God gave him as a gift called Synesthesia — a “perceptual phenomenon” in which people experience stimulation in one of their senses, such as hearing, and that triggers an automatic experience in a different sense, such as sight.
“When I hear a song, I actually see numbers,” Ogletree said, whose day job is serving as the CFO for a government subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.
“What I’m able to do with those numbers is go to the piano and decipher them and arrange them any way that I want.”
WATCH Ogletree tell his incredible story in this 8-minute video:
Ogletree has played piano professionally since he booked his first wedding at age 7. He plays every week at the Country Club of Birmingham, he’s a pianist at Mountain Brook Community Church, and he performs roughly 50 private events every year.
In March, the TV show America’s Got Talent flew him out to Los Angeles to audition for celebrity judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Mel B., Howie Mandel and host Tyra Banks.
He played The Phantom of the Opera and said, “it was an amazing experience” even though he was not selected as a contestant. His parents, two brothers and several friends joined him for the trip.
Ogletree will be a featured performer in the Jan. 19 Rising Star Roadshow at The Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. More info and tickets can be found here.
“Birmingham is such a cool place to live and perform,” he said. “The music scene is growing, and it’s exciting to be a small part of that.”
To watch Ogletree play piano covers from artists such as Billy Joel, Coldplay and Alicia Keys, check out his YouTube channel.
More Q & A with Jon Michael about his America’s Got Talent audition:
— Were you nervous?
Yes, but about ridiculous things like if my pedal extensions might fly off mid-audition. I rarely get nervous while playing, as I’m making up everything I play real time, unrehearsed.
— How did you prepare?
At home I arranged my song, and didn’t play it again until I was on stage.
— Did you face any challenges while you were in L.A.?
Wanting to live out there for the rest of my life! The weather was amazing.
— How did you feel when you weren’t chosen?
I’m a type-A person, so a bit of relief that my life wasn’t going to take a crazy direction. There was certainly a fair share of disappointment, but my gut reaction was relief.
(Love this video? Please share it with others!)