“American Idol” contestant Zach D’Onofrio, a 20-year-old Florida Southern College student, could definitely carry a tune as a kid, even though his family could barely hear him. His parents, Darci and Bryan D’Onofrio of Wesley Chapel, would often catch him singing sotto voce in church or in the car, and they could tell his pitch was perfect. But it wasn’t until 2015 when he surprised the family with his booming voice.
“He came out into the living room, and he said, ‘Listen, you guys, I have to show you something,’” Darci recalls. “He sat on a stool and started belting out Frank Sinatra. It was unbelievable.”
He surprised the judges, too, the first time he was a contestant on American Idol. He was 16 years old, wooing them with, at first, with gifts of patterned socks, something he used to like to collect. But when began singing “The Way You Look Tonight,” Katy Perry was moved to jump out of her seat to dance with him. Zach continued crooning to her as they swayed together, a testament to his confidence. Or maybe wide-eyed novelty.
Life, perhaps, or maybe maturity, has given him a small case of the stage jitters this time around, in which Zach is competing for a chance to sing in Hollywood, the next rung in the contest. Last time around, Zach made it to Hollywood but was eliminated there.
“I feel like I’m more scared in a way,” he said. “I don’t know why. I know what to expect since I did experience it, but I was so young last time. I never really thought about it, what everyone is going to think. I’m overthinking this time.”
While he still has hundreds of pairs of socks, he’s shifted to vintage sweaters now, which he likes to show off on this season’s “American Idol.”
Although exposed to music his whole life, it didn’t hold much sway for D’Onofrio growing up. He was far more interested in soccer.
It wasn’t until he got a record player a few years ago and “a bunch of old vinyl” that he started paying attention. He liked the older artists, like The Beatles and Frank Sinatra. Though he points to his parents as having the most influence on his singing aspirations. “The whole reason I started singing — my main mentors are my parents,” he said.
At the time, his parents ran a community theater company in which Zach was cast as the antagonist of “Shrek,” Lord Farquaad. As a sophomore in high school, the role proved pivotal. It ignited his interest in “the musical side of everything.”
While his flame for music was sparked on old records, he finds himself drawn to the new music on Spotify in the Discover Weekly playlist. “I take inspiration from that,” he said. “I’m trying to make my own music as well.”
His singles can be found on his website.
When he’s not competing for a chance to sing in Hollywood, D’Onofrio studies music management at Florida Southern College, with the goal to someday manage other artists. “That’s my goal at the end of this,” he said, “to help other people do what I’m doing.”
One of his favorite pastimes on campus is to walk around Lake Hollingsworth with his new kitten, Joe. He bought a special see-through carrier for the cat, so they could take in the campus scenery together. “I put him in the backpack, and we just walk around,” he said. “It’s really peaceful.”
D’Onofrio isn’t the first Lakelander to compete on the show. Kimmy Gabriela, who went to George Jenkins High School, was also a recent “American Idol contestant.” She made it to the Top 20 last April, singing Demi Lovato’s “You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore.”
D’Onofrio doesn’t offer any teasers whether or not he’s Hollywood bound with a golden ticket — the nail-biter for contestants on Sunday’s episode. Viewers can find out for themselves Sunday, March 14, on ABC at 8 p.m. ET.