Penn’s class Of 2016 features one student all the a cappella groups would love to have.
Kalan Porter, a Wharton freshman, was the “Canadian Idol” winner in 2004 and has an eight-year music career to his name, all before starting at Penn.
However, his music career is taking a breath as he pursues his undergraduate degree here.
“I was running my own small business essentially with my music,” Porter said, explaining his decision to come to Penn. “I have something to learn about the business end of things [and] this is sort of one of the best business schools in the world.”
Porter is older than the typical freshman at age 26, and he comes with much more life experience than many of his peers having had a successful music career in Canada with two albums, both making the top 10 in Canada.
“He is the highest selling Canadian idol ever. He’s also the highest-selling Canadian debut album to date,” said Nicole Hughes, a professional songwriter who’s worked with Porter in the past. “He’s pretty gigantic.”
His music career was spurred when he won “Canadian Idol” at 18.
“It was all kind of a whirlwind. I still look back and it’s almost like a traumatic experience — I’ve blocked it out in my mind — when your life is changing that fast, it’s a process,” he said of his time on “Idol.”
He is grateful for his time on “Idol,” citing “the opportunities it gave me, the doors it opened.”
Porter had grown up playing music all his life. He took classical violin and viola lessons prior to the show. He also played in several bands in high school with both friends and family. However, he was never formally trained in voice.
It was a big leap for 18-year-old Porter coming from Medicine Hat, Alberta — a rural area where his neighbors were a good 10 minutes away. He then moved 1,800 miles away to Toronto. “I moved there for the TV show and then never left,” he said. “It was a real whirlwind.”
However, Porter revealed that he did not initially want to even try out for “Idol.”
“My mom really pushed me into doing it,” Porter said. “I thought I was too cool. I was in an indie band … but then I went to an audition and saw that really I could make a career of it and so I changed my view.”
Despite lacking a formal background in voice, Porter won, with good reason.
“When he opened his mouth, I was blown away,” Hughes said, referring to the first time they worked together on a song. “He’s such an incredible singer.”
Fighting for his mom
After his stint on “Canadian Idol,” Porter produced two albums and toured the country giving concerts. As he was starting work on his second album in 2006, he received bad news.
“I was at a high point and then I found out my mom had breast cancer,” he said.
Porter put his music career on hiatus to go back home to Medicine Hat for a few months. But he was anything but idle, channeling his energy into a partnership with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. With the help of his fans, Kalan helped raise over half a million dollars for the foundation.
“I think I’m quite proud of that, what me and a group of fans did to [raise the money],” he said.
Life at Penn
Porter currently lives in the Quad with other freshmen. Despite his difference in life experience and age, he has made friends.
“It was kind of weird at first because he’s so much older,” said College freshman Meredith Margulies, who lives in the same hall. “But he definitely went into it with the right mindset — that he wasn’t above us or anything like that. It’s not really weird at this point.”
Many of his hallmates and friends here did not even know about Porter’s past as a Canadian pop star. “Someone decided to just Google him and that’s how it came out,” Margulies said.
Porter is keeping his mind open as he goes through his first year. “I’m excited to be here. Penn seems like a great place with a lot of opportunity. Especially if you’re willing to be open to it.”
However, he currently has no plans to join an a cappella group and is considering getting involved in some philanthropic groups on campus.
“I’m just sort of in this transition. I look at my life in the last ten years and where it is today. I could’ve never predicted that trajectory.”