By Suzee Belles
Last Tuesday (March 11), I had dinner downtown at Octane InterLounge. I walked in right after my former Rockford Auburn High School art teacher. As I sat down, an old classmate of mine was having dinner with her family. And then, my old classmate and good friend, Alonzo Russell, met me for dinner.
Of course, both of us had to greet these old friends and teachers, tell them about our lives, and chase down the other few teachers who arrived later in the evening. However, while we were doing this, as I listened to Alonzo telling his story, I learned something. While I know Alonzo as an ambitious, goal-oriented dance partner and classmate, many in Rockford know Alonzo by his stage name — Prince Alonzo — and know him for his trademark split jump and for putting Rockford on the map with his hip-hop dance group Fatally Unique, finalists on season six of America’s Got Talent. What people do not seem to know about him is that his real passion, his goals and his reason for a recently-ended second tour in China are not dancing, but his voice. Alonzo Russell is a singer!
When I saw him, he had just returned from his second three-month tour in China, where he performed 75 shows in 50 cities. Although somewhat jet lagged and undoubtedly still exhausted from all of his shows, I couldn’t help but sense a little guilt when he explained to me why nobody here in Rockford knew he was singing. He said, “It’s hard because dancing is what has made me so successful, and people in Rockford have really backed me up, supported that and helped me get really far.”
Aside from his success in China, Alonzo was clearly refreshed to be back and out of China’s perpetual culture shock.
“You imagine how cheap ‘Made in China’ things are here in the States; over there, even cheaper … although on my way home,” he laughs, “I had to pay quite the duty ’cause my suitcase just got heavier and heavier with the shoes … and more shoes. …”
But it wasn’t all this glamorous, as he recalls a sign reading “Must Eat Duck Neck.”
“They literally eat EVERYTHING,” he said.
Additionally, the behavioral and cultural differences posed a challenge for this young African-American man from the west side of Rockford. One huge culture shock is one I recall hearing about from his first tour through China when he found out many Chinese people had never seen a black person in the flesh. He explained to me one thing that really hit him hard was walking into a restaurant.
“The place is packed from the counter to the door because of this overpopulated country and everyone, the cooks all the way in the back, the management, the customers, I mean EVERYONE turns around to look at you,” he said.
When I ask him how that feels, he said: “Imagine a butt-naked person walking into a restaurant in America and how people would react. That’s just kind of how it feels.”
At the end of his tour, Alonzo got to take a vacation to Bangkok, Thailand, and fulfill his (and every other child’s) dreams while playing with dolphins and riding an elephant. He is grateful to have the opportunities to share his passion of singing and to have traveled to the other side of the world.
Alonzo is excited to see what the future holds for him, especially knowing that his forever home of Rockford will always be behind him 120 percent.
From the March 19-25, 2014, issue