Leslie Odom Jr. encourages young artists to take risks, love their craft at Pittsburgh CAPA
Think of love as a verb, Grammy and Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. told the room of aspiring young artists Saturday in Pittsburgh.
“If you love something hard enough, eventually, it will love you back,” Odom said, encouraging the high schoolers to find their passion and nurture it intensely.
Success won’t come easily, he said. But if you find your goal and live it, talk about it, plan around it — love it “with a pure heart,” Odom said — the hard work will pay off.
Odom stopped by the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school in Downtown Pittsburgh on Saturday to impart advice to the students about launching a career in the arts. He was scheduled to perform at the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund gala that night.
“They want someone to tell them the truth,” Odom said of the students. “I don’t think they expect you to have the ‘right’ answer. But they want you to tell them the truth of your experience, and they want you to have the courage to tell them the truth of your experience. And so, that’s all I tried to give them.”
Odom, who is best known for playing Aaron Burr in the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” is a 2003 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. He delivered the keynote address at his alma mater’s 122nd commencement ceremony in May and received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree.
“It’s like coming home,” Odom said of Pittsburgh. “I have so many fond memories of this place. Those were such formative years of my life at Carnegie, so I come back every chance.”
Odom told the students about those formative years at CMU, including the time he spent studying with Grammy and Tony-winning actor and Pittsburgh native Billy Porter, who has worked as an adjunct professor at the school.
“Billy taught us as seven individuals,” Odom said, referring to his six classmates. “The prescription for me was not the prescription for you.”
This approach pushed Odom to find the skills and talents that make him unique, he said.
But he does have some regrets about his college years.
“I don’t think I took any risks while I was in school,” Odom said, adding that he later had to learn to break out of his comfort zone and get “more dangerous” with his work.
Learning to take those risks are what ultimately made his “Hamilton” performance possible and helped to bring the show’s “bold, brash, rash, lustful, foolish, brilliant” Founding Fathers to life, Odom said.
“I couldn’t have done that if I was just trying to do it right, get an A+ from the teacher,” he said.
These days, the actor and singer — whose new album, “Mr,” will drop Nov. 8 — said he finds inspiration for his creative work everywhere. His focus is sharpest when he’s able to turn his phone off, step away from social media and focus on what he describes as the “actual” and “tangible” world.
“Get out, there’s inspiration everywhere,” he told the students.
He encouraged them to let their talent shine: Every time you have the courage to step on stage, every time you are “excellent, divine, beautiful,” you’re inspiring someone else to be, too.
“Your excellence doesn’t go unnoticed,” he said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .