Just a few lines from “America the Beautiful” turned a Metea Valley High School student into a star at her school and across the world.
The voice of Sushmitha Suresh, a students at the District 204 high school, can be heard in the 60-second Coca-Cola commercial presented during Super Bowl XLVIII, the most-watched television event in U.S. history. And if having a Super Bowl commercial under her belt wasn’t enough, a longer, 90-second version of the Coca-Cola ad debuted during the opening ceremony Friday of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
The Coke ad depicts America’s multicultural melting pot through a series of images and scenes as the voices of girls singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages plays in background. If you listen closely, you can hear the Metea sophomore belt out the lyrics “America, America” in English and “And crown thy good with brotherhood” in Hindi.
Last Sunday was Sushmitha’s first time to see the commercial itself. In fact, she wasn’t 100 percent sure if the ad was going to air during the Super Bowl until a couple of days before the big game. Even then, she had no idea in which quarter the ad would appear.
Sushmitha, who is known around Metea as Sushi, said she was with friends when the Coca-Cola ad came on the television. “It was really unreal,” she said. “It’s so crazy.”
A record 111.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the football game, though some people like her family were more interested in the commercials.
“The moment the commercial came on, my husband started shouting,” said Shobana Suresh, Sushmitha’s mother. “It was a really great feeling. I am so happy for her.”
Shobana said though her daughter has a gifted voice, “she works very hard to achieve her goals.”
In addition to seven years of piano lessons, Sushmitha performs with Metea Valley’s Vocal Jazz and Off the Record ensembles, the Chamber Singers and the female a cappella group the Muses. She also has several videos and songs on YouTube and SoundCloud.
“I am very proud of her. Music is her passion, music is her life,” Shobana added.
Sushmitha got involved with the commercial through a friend in New York. Apparently an advertising agency was looking for a girl between the ages of 12 and 16 who could sing Indian music and contacted the friend for possible names, according to Shobana.
The Aurora teen was asked to submit videos and a recording of her singing as an audition. “I was on the fence at first,” she said, but decided it could not hurt if she tried.
To her surprise, she was invited to New York in early December to record her voice for the Cola-Cola commercial. The teen would re-record another version of the song a month later at Kimberly Steele Studio at 625 E. Ogden Ave. in Naperville.
The trouble was, Sushmitha could tell no one. She was sworn to secrecy by the contract she signed, and it was no easy task for the effervescent teen.
Only a handful of people, including teachers, administrators and friends, knew in very general terms what she was up to in New York. Sushmitha said she had to explain her absence from school for a couple of days the week before finals. “I only told a few of my closest friends,” she said.
“It was really tough for her,” Shobana said.
Sushmitha said the money she earned from the commercial is going to fund her college education. The experience solidified her decision to pursue a career in the field of audio engineering.
“When I was in New York, I told my mom this is what I want to do,” she said. “Music is such a big part of me. I can’t give it up.”
As word of her accomplishment spreads, the reaction from classmates at school has been overwhelming. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re famous,’” she said.
Her teachers, needless to say, are thrilled.
“All of us music teachers in District 204 are so proud of Sushmitha Suresh. Hearing her sing during a Super Bowl commercial was certainly the most exciting part of the game,” said Nathan Bramstedt, choral music director at Metea Valley.
“Many of our music teachers and other classroom teachers have shown the video to their students, inspiring so many young people to share their own voices. Sushmitha is talented, humble and kind, and this experience was such a beautiful way for her to help the world celebrate her culture and country,” he said.
While the local reaction has been positive, some folks on social media objected to the idea of hearing “America the Beautiful” sung in languages that were not English (many thought it was the national anthem) or the inclusion of two gay dads in the ad.
Sushmitha said she supports the advertisement’s efforts to show how America is made up of different cultures and honors internationalism.
“I completely respect their opinions. But I am proud of what I’ve done to promote diversity,” she said. “I am still an American.”
As far as parlaying her fame into other musical ventures, Sushmitha is open to the challenge. “I hope there are more opportunities in the future,” she said.
“I always joke with my friends that I am going to be a YouTube star,” she said. With 111.5 million views on Sunday alone, she might have her YouTube dream beat.