2 Charlotte natives advance on ‘America’s Got Talent’

Serendipity may have put Kendall Ramseur’s family a block from Cordaro Rodriguez’s family in West Charlotte’s Forest Pawtuckett neighborhood more than two decades ago.

Serendipity also may have helped reconnect the two childhood friends, former classmates at Pawtuckett Elementary, Coulwood Middle and West Mecklenburg High, four years ago at Boston University, where – unbeknownst to each other – they were both pursuing postgraduate degrees.

And serendipity may have introduced Ramseur, a cellist, and Rodriguez, a pianist, to singer Micah Christian of Massachusetts and harpist Mason Morton of Atlanta.

But a happy accident is not what’s been responsible for the musical quartet’s success on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” It’s talent, and these four clearly have got plenty.

Now in its ninth season, “America’s Got Talent” continues to attract more than 9 million viewers every Tuesday and Wednesday night, making it one of the most-watched programs of the summer. Over the past three months, it has narrowed the field of acts vying for the $1 million grand prize to 24 semifinalists – one of which is Sons of Serendip, featuring Ramseur and Rodriguez.

The group’s name, they said, is a play on a Persian fairy tale titled “The Three Princes of Serendip.”

“These three princes, they go on a journey and they make discoveries all by accident,” said Rodriguez, 28, who currently shares an apartment in Cambridge, Mass., with Ramseur and Morton. “We felt that our coming together was similar: It was all accidental. It was nothing that we all planned or sought out to do. It just happened.”

Rodriguez began playing piano in fourth grade. He performed as a youth in school bands and at Harvest Church on Tuckaseegee Road, then in Christian groups while studying psychology at Princeton University.

Ramseur was introduced to the cello at 10 and eventually played with the Charlotte Symphony Junior Youth Orchestra and the Symphony’s Youth Orchestra. After two years at UNC Greensboro, he transferred to UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem to study cello, graduating in 2009.

After reconnecting at Boston University (where Ramseur was starting a master’s program in music and Rodriguez was working toward a law degree), the pair spent almost a year performing at subway stations “to make a little money on the side,” Rodriguez said.

Their big break came when, on a lark, Micah Christian recruited his three fellow BU students to create the quartet specifically for the “America’s Got Talent” audition, which took place in April at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

“The group was very new,” said Ramseur, 27. “We had only done one performance before the audition, and there were 20 people in the audience. When we got to Madison Square Garden, (the crowd) was much, much larger, of course – and it was going to be aired on TV, seen by millions. So it was a little intense.”

Wedged between auditions by acrobats, magicians, comedians and dancers, their classical/neo-soul/R&B-infused rendition of English rock band Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” wowed the crowd and celebrity judges Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel.

Since then, two more Sons of Serendip performances have aired on NBC.

The first – a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – was done before just the judges, who sent the group on to the quarterfinals.

The second was a rendition of “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak performed at Radio City Music Hall and broadcast live on NBC. Stern said the quartet “knocked it out of the park,” Mel B called it her favorite performance of the night, and Mandel raved, “You made me feel so GOOD.” Based on viewer voting that took place the same night, Sons of Serendip was among four out of 12 acts to advance to the Top 24.

Making the cut this week would get Ramseur and Rodriguez’s group to the Top 12, which will air Sept. 9; a winner will be crowned at the finale on Sept. 17.

Sons of Serendip would love the top prize, but in some respects, Ramseur said, he feels as though they’ve already won.

“I think the goal is just to connect with people,” he said. “We’ve been getting really good feedback from people all over the country, and it’s amazing to hear all the different stories of how people are being touched and moved by our music.”