With his debut album, singer-songwriter DeAndre reveals his soul-searching journey with exquisite lyrics and melodies.
Text by Jade Snow
Images by Izik Moreno
At a time when many artists are searching for the quickest shortcut to success, DeAndre Brackensick has been journeying down a path of self-discovery. Displaying wisdom beyond his 24 years, he has ignored the temptation to chase the trappings of the music industry, focusing instead on honing his craft and finding himself in the process.
Though he rose to fame on American Idol in 2011, DeAndre may be recognized by many in Hawai‘i as a hula dancer and falsetto singer known as “Kamele,” his given Hawaiian name. Now, eight years after Idol, DeAndre has hit his stride with the release of his debut R&B album, Black Denim.
DeAndre’s upbringing included a varied cultural and musical landscape. Born in San Jose, California, he realized his vocal ability at an early age because his family and friends insisted he sing.
The sounds of his youth were diverse: His father exposed him to soul classics like Sam Cooke and Teddy Pendergrass as well as hip-hop favorites like Nate Dogg and Warren G, while his mother introduced him to rock and alternative music like Nirvana and Evanescence.
Through his hānai grandparents, the classic Hawaiian voices of Genoa Keawe and the Ho‘opi‘i Brothers became nostalgic sounds of his childhood.
Because of these grandparents, DeAndre was heavily immersed in Hawaiian music and culture throughout his youth, and he naturally progressed to dancing hula. He began performing at 11 years old in a San Jose-based Polynesian performance group, learning a variety of Polynesian traditions including Samoan, Tongan, and Kapa Haka dance forms.
Ultimately, he fell in love with hula and the captivating stories of Hawaiian culture. Four years after his first kāholo (a foundational hula step), his passion was further ignited when he joined the California branch of Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea under the direction of kumu hula Kapua Dalire-Moe.
DeAndre steeped himself in hula through travel and competitions with the hālau, which culminated in three years of group performance at the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival and, in 2010, the solo title of Master Iā ‘Oe E Ka Lā at the oldest hula competition and festival held outside of Hawai‘i in Pleasanton, California.
I’m bisexual—I like humans. I’m not the norm, I walk around in heels, that’s just me.
Though hula was DeAndre’s main focus as a teenager, he continued to find his singing voice both in and out of the hālau. His naturally high tone was akin to that of Motown legend Smokey Robinson, which lent itself perfectly to leo ki‘eki‘e (Hawaiian falsetto).
“My range was high because all I did was sing leo ki‘eki‘e growing up, so I had no comprehension of how to use my full voice,” he said. When he was 15, he auditioned for American Idol at the insistence of his mother, where he was encouraged by judges to hone his skills and return. DeAndre did just that, earning a spot a year later and awing spectators and judges alike with his unique sound, drawing comparisons to R&B legend Maxwell. However, it didn’t take long for him to feel the tremendous pressure of sudden fame.
The World Stage
“When I got to the big stage on American Idol, I was told to just ‘do you,’ and I wasn’t sure what that was because most of my performance training was in hula,” he explained.
Being thrust into the limelight amid sky-high expectations was overwhelming for a young singer just beginning to discover himself and his sound. Despite the challenges, DeAndre still made it to top eight in the competition.
His time on Idol also garnered him attention and curiosity around his sexual identity.
“There was speculation at the time because I had long hair, I was skinny, singing falsetto, and was low-key effeminate,” he said. “At that point I was still figuring my sexuality out, but it wasn’t cut and dry. I’m bisexual—I like humans. I’m not the norm, I walk around in heels, that’s just me.”
His mother’s acceptance was exemplary of the close-knit bond he shares with his family. “She was like, ‘You’re DeAndre and that’s it. You can like guys, you can like girls, just because you have an interest in one thing doesn’t mean that’s all that you are.’”
When I got to the big stage on American Idol, I was told to just ‘do you,’ and I wasn’t sure what that was because most of my performance training was in hula.
Though navigating identity as a young adult is often a challenge, DeAndre has identified himself as a powerhouse vocalist hitting his stride. He moved to Honolulu in 2014, where he became the first member of his family to graduate college. In 2018, he moved to Melbourne, Australia, where he poured himself into his debut album.
Titled Black Denim, it is an emotional snapshot of his journey and all that he has endured. Its eight original songs showcase his vocal style as well as his poetic songwriting, each referencing moments of challenge or triumph.
Source of Inspiration
The title song, “Black Denim,” was inspired by a time of darkness in his life.
“I went through a period of depression and was anorexic and bulimic,” DeAndre explained. “I wasn’t strong enough to handle my own saboteur. Black Denim is one of the more poetic songs I’ve written—it’s a statement about where I was and a benchmark of where I’ve come.”
Through heartfelt lyrics, he explores personal stories, such as the dissolution of his parents’ marriage in “Love Was The Excuse.” “I.D.n.Y.L,” stands for “I Don’t Need Your Love” and encourages empowerment and self-love.
Black Denim explores the highs and lows of DeAndre’s journey thus far, illustrating his profound emotional depth and lyrical maturity. “Denim is composed of threads of different consistencies,” he said of the album’s name.
“Some are thick, some are worn, and some are really fine. They’ve been woven together to make me strong and to make me into the fabric that I am now.”
A new chapter of his musical journey is beginning with the release of Black Denim, and DeAndre will continue to strengthen the weave of his artistic story.