The following interview aired on the The Pulse. If you haven't yet had a chance to catch television's hottest newsmagazine, be sure to tune in to the FOX network this Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. Check your local listings.
You won't find Eminem or Britney Spears in Peter Cincotti's record collection. In fact, most of his musical idols topped the charts in the1940s.
Don't look for Peter in Levi's jeans either. Nothing suits him but Armani. And though he may exude the effortless style of a veteran rat-packer, this crooner of classics is only 19 years old.
Don't let his age fool you — his music is timeless… and popular. His self-titled debut album is a best-seller, and he's just finished a sold-out American tour.
With a voice reminiscent of Frank Sinatra and the movie star looks to match, Peter is a throwback to an earlier era whose time has come.
Born and raised in New York City, Peter’s love affair with music began on his third birthday, when his grandmother bought him a toy piano. Peter immediately picked out the song "Happy Birthday," and hasn't stopped playing since.
Peter's mother Cynthia started him with piano lessons at age four, on one condition…
“I wanted him to do whatever he wanted,” explained Cynthia Cincotti. “I asked the teacher, ‘Just let him play whatever he wants to do.’ She was concerned about teaching him reading, and I said, ‘He doesn't even read English yet! Let him do what he wants to do.’”
So while other kids his age were watching Romper Room, Peter wanted to tickle the ivories. Before embracing jazz, the tiny tot took to boogie-woogie.
“When I was about five, my big, my big influence was a lot of big boogie-woogie — piano players like Jerry Lee Lewis (search). I loved that kind of style,” Peter said. “And then as I got older, I kind of discovered people like Nat King Cole (search), and Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington…”
Peter's musical tastes weren't the only thing retro about him. His current flair for formal fashion dates back to pre-school.
“When I was going to pre-school, I'd have to be there at noon and I would get up at six a.m. every day and dress up in a suit and tie. And I didn't have to, I just did,” he said. “My parents would look at me and say, ‘Where the hell did this guy come from?’"
By age seven, Peter was a child prodigy and getting noticed. Harry Connick Jr. (search) — once a child star himself — was so impressed by the pint-sized prodigy, he called him up on stage to perform one day.
“It was very exciting,” Cynthia said. I couldn't believe how comfortable [Peter] was up there. And I started to see that, because the bigger the crowd there was watching him, the better he was. He thrived on an audience.”
Peter was a natural-born performer. While still in junior high, he began attending and appearing in clubs around New York.
“My mother took us to jazz clubs, we went to Broadway shows, we'd go to rock concerts, we were constantly exposed to all these different sounds,” Peter said.
While playing at the Red Blazer, a Manhattan jazz club, Peter experienced the most tragic event of his young life. His father Fred, an attorney, came to see him perform, only to suffer a heart attack on the steps of the club. Peter was only 13 years old.
“It just forces you to grow in some ways. I guess you try and get what you can out of it. You learn what you can out of it… whatever good that terrible thing can bring,” he said. “My father was always like that. He'd always take bad situations and make them good, or get the best out of them.”
In the wake of his father's death, Peter continued his high school studies at Horace Mann in New York. During his senior year, he won the role of one of his idols, the chairman of the board, in the off-Broadway hit Our Sinatra.
“It's really one of the best things I ever did,” Peter said. “I was going to school, and I was doing the show and getting up at 7 a.m., so it was a hectic four weeks. Crazy, but I really learned a lot.”
In the front row one evening was actress Jennifer Love Hewitt (search), who came backstage to meet Peter after the show.
“It was his senior year in high school,” Cynthia Cincotti recalled. “And he said, ‘What the heck, I'm going to ask her to the prom.’”
Jennifer couldn't make the prom, but the two became fast friends. When asked about romance — with Hewitt or anyone else — this heartthrob plays it close to the vest, more likely to blush than boast.
Peter's boyish charm was on hand during a recent engagement at New York's swankiest cabaret at The Algonquin (search) hotel. Only a year ago, he was the youngest artist ever to play this legendary landmark.
“I'm very aware of [my age],” he said. “I try to be very careful about what songs I pick. I don't want to do songs that I feel are beyond my years.”
Music legend Phil Ramone, the producer behind stars like Billy Joel and Elton John, says that though Peter may be young in years, he's an old soul.
“I think he's about a 150 years old,” Ramone said. “There's something about him that is so spiritually aware of everything that he now knows and he's absolutely fascinated to do more. He's not afraid. “
After seeing Peter perform only once, Ramone offered him the chance of a lifetime.
“I went backstage afterwards to say hello and pay my respects,” he said. “And then I did the thing that most people read about when you read a publicity story. I said, ‘Now listen, if you'd like to make a record, I'd be honored to make it with you.’ And that started the whole relationship.”
The result is Peter’s self-titled first album — a critical rave and a best-seller on the jazz charts, including collaborations with his mom.
“It came about accidentally,” Cynthia Cincotti explained. “He started writing music when he was nine, and every time he went for a lesson, the teacher would say, ‘Why don't you write lyrics?’ I knew Peter wasn't into lyrics at the time, and after several lessons… I decided to go home and shut the teacher up and write lyrics.”
The two have written three songs on Peter’s album, including a number called "I Changed the Rules."
So what's next for a kid whose already played Carnegie Hall? College, for one.
Peter wants to continue his education at Columbia University, where he's taken a sabbatical to promote the new CD. And when it comes to his career, Peter is ready to go the distance.
“My main goal is to develop as best I can as a musician for the rest of my life,” he said.