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Young 'Motown' Star Dreams Big

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    CJ Wright, an 11-year-old musical prodigy from Upland, is playing a young Michael Jackson in the Broadway hit "Motown the Musical." John Cádiz Klemack reports for the Life Connected Special: In Celebration of Black History Month on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017.

    (Published Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017)

    As an old soul with a young voice who is showing theatergoers that equality and dreams are still worth fighting for, Upland native C.J. Wright is making a connection with his inner soul and sharing his gift with the world.

    "I get it from God. God has sent me a gift and I can’t believe he sent me so, ‘thank you, God,’" the 11-year-old Wright says.

    Wright says his biggest passion lies in the music of Motown.

    "The way it makes me feel, like Marvin Gaye, the way he sings, the way it makes me feel, the way his lyrics are, it’s just an awesome thing," he said.

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    This year, Motown has become an even bigger part of his world.

    "Motown: The Musical" is on tour across the country and was recently at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood with Wright in an iconic role. Wright plays three parts: a young Barry Gordy, a young Stevie Wonder and the crowd pleaser himself, a young Michael Jackson.

    "Michael Jackson is Michael Jackson -- the King of Pop -- and to come out impersonating him is a dream come true," Wright says.

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    When he makes his first entrance as Michael Jackson with the Jackson 5, the audience erupts.

    "That’s what boosts me -- the audience. The audience feedback is what boosts me and causes me to do what I do," he says.

    He says his interest in music started when he was just 4 years old.

    "I was outgoing, I just loved to do stuff and I loved music and my mom wanted something that would challenge me, so she put me in piano lessons," he said.

    After his piano teacher moved away, Wright credits the Rockstars of Tomorrow Music School in Norco for what came next.

    "They’re the ones that caused me to open up more, caused me to just expand my world," he says.

    Salesha Alaniz, Wright's mother, is his biggest fan.

    "He has a passion for it, so for him, it comes natural, thank God,” she said. “I’m just so proud of him. He’s a hard worker, this little guy, he’s been doing so well not only with what he does but in school and everything else. To see he has this passion at such a young age, he loves what he does."

    Wright said Michael Jackson is a role he's perfected, performing similar tunes even before Broadway called. Only this time, Wright said he sees the connection the past is making to our present.

    "We’re putting on this show for a reason. We’re putting it on to show that we can be one, to show that it doesn’t matter, to show that we’re all equal," he says. "And I’m so blessed to be a part of it."

    It's a message that resonates beyond the history of the music of Motown.

    "It sends such a powerful message because of what’s going on in the world today," his mother says. "It shows that no matter what, it’s about the love and the people and it’s not about everything going on, it’s about each other."

    It's also a show that's made this dreamer see possibilities for the future.

    "Any role that opens up will make me so blessed and so happy."

    Wright says he hopes to one day sing the national anthem for his hometown LA Dodgers and write his own songs.

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