University of Rochester

Rochester Review
January–February 2012
Vol. 74, No. 3

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Unglaublich! Er ist Pop Star! Incredible!—Chris Aguilar ’10, an alumnus of the a cappella group the Midnight Ramblers, is an Austrian pop sensation. By Karen McCally ’02 (PhD)
aguilarRAMBLE ON: Last fall, Aguilar helped keep an Austrian reality television audience riveted. With his shaky German, would he be able to rise to the top, making it into the final boy band, Kilmokit? As it turned out, “Ja” was the answer. (Photo: Gerry Frank)

“It’s hard enough to get a master’s degree, but to be a pop star on top of that? That’s even harder,” says Chris Aguilar ’10, over Skype, from his apartment in Vienna, Austria.

And one more thing: He’s really, really glad to be doing an interview in English. “You have no idea how frustrating it is to give an interview in a language you’re not so good at,” says Aguilar, who has been in Austria for a year.

An environmental studies major and German minor at Rochester, Aguilar has been a master’s student in international relations at Webster University Vienna (his courses are conducted in “English, thank God”), as well as a bartender, a tutor, and an English teacher’s assistant.

Now he’s a member of the three-man band Kilmokit, hailed as Austria’s “first boy band,” whose debut CD, Atemlos, rose to No. 4 on iTunes Europe during the first week of its release last December.

It all started last fall, when at the suggestion of a friend, he auditioned for Popstars Mission Austria, an Austrian version of American Idol and other reality television series. “I don’t usually go to castings,” says Aguilar. “But I missed singing so much,” he adds, alluding to his years as a member of the River Campus a cappella group the Midnight Ramblers.

Over two months, Popstars judges Fernanda Brandao, a Brazilian-German dancer and pop star, and Detlef D! Soost, a storied German choreographer and street dancer, went on a casting tour, holding auditions in all eight provinces of Austria. Over the course of a television season, 50 callbacks were whittled down to nine women and nine men, shown living, training, and competing against one another at a mountain resort. The object was to make—and then to stay in—either the three-member girl band, BFF, or the boy band counterpart, Kilmokit. Aguilar not only made it into the final Kilmokit, but helped the band prevail over BFF in a season finale contest decided by viewer votes. The victorious trio of “Chris, Flo, and Patrick” came away with a Sony recording contract, a series of promotional gigs on radio and television, and 100,000 Euros.

Each band member had his own challenge. For Aguilar, who was born in Mexico and raised bilingually in the United States, it was singing in his newest language. “Anything with an umlaut is really hard,” says Aguilar, who struggled through his lead vocal role in the band’s single “Keine Träne.” “I sang with a very thick accent, and there was a lot of laughter in the studio.”

Aguilar overcame that challenge in part because he can be a bit of a taskmaster. “They used to call me Mr. Perfect on the show, because I’m very—I want discipline a lot. I want to do a very good job with the choreo, with the voice, with everything.”

The camera-friendly former Rambler is enjoying overnight fame. “When I ride the metro, it’s an adventure. I’ve had people from an older couple to young children recognize me. One little girl was really cute. She didn’t think I was real,” he says, chuckling.

While Kilmokit is a pop group, with a drummer and guitarists, Aguilar says they often sing a cappella. “We’re doing photo shoots, we’re doing autograph signings,” he says. “We always want to perform at these events, so we often do a cappella. Being with the Ramblers, I learned so much about group dynamics, about leading, about a cappella blending, harmony, and melody.”

In fact, says Aguilar, “So many things from Rochester really prepared me. It’s ridiculous. It’s like the best training school for life.”