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Graduate is YouTube Guitar Hero

Published: December 15, 2010
Eric Calderone ’10 had fourth most-watched music video in the world on YouTube.
Eric Calderone ’10 had fourth most-watched music video in the world on YouTube.
When Eric Calderone ’10 walks across the stage Saturday to get his bachelor’s degree in music, most in the crowd won’t know that he listens to Lady Gaga with his door closed.

But Calderone is a guitarist, a heavy metal fan and now, thanks to Lady Gaga, a YouTube star.

Calderone is one of 422 winter bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates who will participate in The University of Tampa’s 129th commencement Saturday, Dec. 18, at the Bob Martinez Sports Center.

When not studying or working, Calderone takes pop songs, rewrites them with a metal flair and performs them. Calderone posted a video of himself performing Lady Gaga’s song “Bad Romance” in rock form, which has almost half a million page views.

“I posted that one as just another video,” Calderone said, still in shock at the response. He’s been posting videos to his YouTube site for a year now at the requests of friends. “I’m a rocker at heart, so that’s how I hear those songs in my head.”

The comments listeners have posted prove there might be a meeting in the middle for fans of the two kinds of music.

Within four hours of being posted, the Lady Gaga video surpassed the 70,000 views for Calderone’s first video: the theme for the Pirates of the Caribbean . He went from 400 subscribers to 4,800.

“I came home from work and had 1,008 messages waiting for me in my e-mail inbox,” said Calderone, a closet Lady Gaga fan. All were updates from YouTube that someone had commented on his video.

YouTube contacted Calderone to let him know he had the fourth most-watched music video in the world that day and was chosen as a featured video on the site. The local rock station 98ROCK called Calderone and asked him to be the official guitar player for DJ Jesse Kage’s show. His job? To turn songs that Kage’s wife loves into songs he can stand, such as Kesha’s Tik Tok.

“I don’t take it seriously,” Calderone said. He’d even post the videos if no one were watching.

What he loves is time with the guitar, something he used to spend eight hours a day practicing. He has adopted a quality over quantity method now, a tip culled from UT adjunct instructor, John Demas, a man Calderone calls “sensei.” One of Calderone’s friends, who was studying guitar with Demas at Hillsborough Community College, introduced the two.

“He was the reason I came to UT,” said Calderone, 25. “He has influenced my musicality, my ethic and my seriousness. Watching him work inspires me to work harder.”

Calderon grew up in New York and thought he’d be a baseball player for the Yankees. When he stopped growing as a freshman in high school, he decided it was best to look at other career paths. His family moved to Sarasota in 1990, and he enrolled in art programs offered through the Ringling Museum of Art. He is a gifted illustrator and has comic book character tattoos covering his body. While he earned a music degree from UT, he is just one credit shy of an art minor.

Calderone picked up guitar in high school. After graduation, with some years in between, he enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston through a distance-learning option and this summer completed a degree in orchestration for film and television. He has 40 students he teaches guitar to and has written an instruction book called Apply the Shred .

“The bottom line is a degree in music is a credential to open the door for you, but you have to have the chops, respect for other musicians and a way to get out there to separate you from the other million rock star wannabes,” said Demas. “Eric’s done that. He’s found his niche. He’ll be good at whatever he does, because Eric is really industrious.”

Calderone will join 421 winter bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates in Saturday’s commencement which begins at 10 a.m. The top three most popular undergraduate majors in this class are management, exercise science and marketing.

Charu Bahl of India will give the challenge to the graduating class. Britt Shirley, professor of information and technology management, will speak at the ceremony as this year’s recipient of the Louise Loy Hunter Award. The award is given annually by its previous recipients to a UT professor for excellence in teaching and cumulative contributions in service and scholarship.