Carnegie Calling: Antonio's Musical Journey

Vocal arts major has confidence, work ethic to succeed as well as a passion to help artists from diverse backgrounds

By Greg Hardesty

Bay Area native Antonio Richard Lee was in the eighth grade when he first saw Carnegie Hall while on a field trip with drama students from American Canyon Middle School.

“I want to be back here someday,” said Antonio, who prefers the single moniker and has been performing since age 10.

On April 22, 2024, Antonio, a junior vocal arts major in the music department, will make his debut at the iconic concert venue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City as a member of the UCI Chamber Singers, which will perform a new work, “Twilight Mass,” by Norwegian composer and pianist Ola Gjelio.

Antonio and his UCI Choir colleagues, led by Dr. Irene Messoloras, director of choral activities and conductor of the University Chamber Singers and University Concert Choir at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, will perform the West Coast debut of “Twilight Mass” a month before the trip to the Big Apple at the Barclay Theatre.

“It won’t be the last time people see me perform at Carnegie Hall,” Antonio declares — not out of arrogance but from a lifelong confidence that comes from knowing that, with hard work and kindness, he can achieve his goal of making it big as a performing artist.

Image: On Nov. 30, the UC Irvine Chamber Singers, Concert Choir and Voces Chamber Ensemble performed in Sounds of the Season accompanied by members of the UCI Symphony Orchestra.

Caught the Stage Bug

Antonio, who is of Puerto Rican, Black, Chinese and American Indian descent, grew up being exposed to a diversity of music and art.

He recalls his Aunt Edna regularly taking him to an art museum in downtown Fairfield, northeast of Vallejo. It was his introduction to the arts.

“I always had a performance bug,” Antonio says. “I knew I wanted to dance and sing.”

It won’t be the last time people see me perform at Carnegie Hall.

He fulfilled his passion in productions at the Missouri Street Theatre, the Downtown Theatre in Fairfield, and at American Canyon Middle School and American Canyon High School, where he graduated from in 2017.

Although he played the saxophone in fourth grade, Antonio didn’t stick with it. Instead, he focused on singing and dancing, inspired by such performers as Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Michael Jackson.

“I ‘found myself’ on stage,” Antonio says.

At 18, Antonio moved to Los Angeles to launch his career with the unwavering support of his mother, Evette Polanco, and his family. Although Antonio's father, Carlos "Tony" Lee, passed away when Antonio was eight, he is confident that his father would be proud of his achievements.

Image: Antonio flanked by his mother, Evette Polanco, and his best friend, Micaela Schlemmer, after the Sounds of the Season concert with the UCI Choirs.

He Had a Feeling

Antonio earned three associate degrees in music, the arts and humanities, and social behavioral sciences from Los Angeles Harbor College in Wilmington.

He transferred to the CTSA in fall 2022 on UCI Alumni Association and Black Alumni scholarships.

“I always had a feeling about UCI,” he says. “I heard things about it and knew it had a great performing arts program, and I really wanted to study voice. I needed classical training.”

He got it, from his vocal coach, Dr. Darryl Taylor, a professor of vocal arts, and his mentor, Messoloras, associate chair of the Department of Music.

On a recent weekday, during a quick breather between rehearsals before a concert of traditional and modern holiday-themed music and carol arrangements at Bethel Church in Irvine, Messoloras praised Antonio’s work ethic and attitude.

“I really appreciate his focus, drive, passion and positivity — not just toward me but to his peers,” she says. “He’s wonderful, and he’s authentic in who he is as a person.”

I really enjoy UCI. The university has allowed me to gain an appreciation for classical music and has challenged me to pursue a more diverse repertoire.

As part of his undergraduate work at CTSA, from which he is expected to graduate in spring 2025, Antonio has researched songs written by Black and other marginalized composers.

And since August, he’s served as a Umoja Peer Educator with the Student Outreach and Retention Center.

Umoja, which means unity in Kiswahili, assists students of African descent who are transitioning to a four-year university to help them achieve academic, professional and personal success.

Antonio availed himself of the Umoja Program’s services when he arrived at UCI.

“It’s been great to connect with students and share with them what I’ve learned,” he says. “I really enjoy UCI. The university has allowed me to gain an appreciation for classical music and has challenged me to pursue a more diverse repertoire.

“I’m very proud of the growth I’ve experienced here. I’ve grown exponentially.”

Life’s a Stage

Antonio ( says: “I’ve always been a busybody.”

No kidding.

While handling a full load of classes at the CTSA while commuting to UCI daily from his home in downtown L.A., Antonio has kept up a torrid pace of performing in his adopted hometown.

Since 2021, he’s been a producer and performer for Afro Borinquen Productions, which creates artistic and leadership opportunities for people from marginalized communities.

He trains with Richard Jackson, who choreographs for Lady Gaga, and has worked with choreographer Rosero McCoy.

Antonio has performed in actress Keke Palmer’s directorial debut Big Boss, in the Netflix show The UPshaws, and in the pilot episode of All American on the CW Network.

Says Messoloras: “What I love about him is he has this drive; he’s involved in so many things outside the university. He’s a leader and a role model.”

Antonio also is a trailblazer.

Back at the Downtown Theatre in Fairfield, he staged last year the city’s first-ever drag show, Adrienne’s Draguation, Class of 2022, which starred his alter ego, Adrienne LaCielo (The Sky).

And the sky appears to be the limit for Antonio, who, displaying his usual confidence, says: “You’ll be seeing me on billboards soon, trust me.”

Image: Antonio in drag as his alter ego, Adrienne LaCielo.

The UCI Chamber Singers and Concert Choir will perform the West Coast debut of Ola Gjeilo’s “Twilight Mass,” as well as Fauré’s “Requiem,” on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, at 8 p.m. at the Barclay Theatre in Irvine. To learn more or to purchase tickets, go to

To learn more about the UCI Chamber Singers and Concert Choir performance at Carnegie Hall, visit the event page here.

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Posted Date: 
Monday, February 12, 2024