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At age 11 and with no strings attached, Aidan James is taking the world by storm one strum at a time. Regarded as an ukulele virtuoso and “the Led Zeppelin of ukulele,” this hapa-haole superstar was born with an innate ability to string pleasing notes together. At the age of 4, he began taking ukulele lessons at Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios in Honolulu. Four years later, little Aidan was already a YouTube sensation, as a video of him performing Train’s Hey, Soul Sister went viral, earning more than 20 million views to date. You can say the rest is history.
Currently, Aidan is enjoying his summer like most kids his age, although he’s also spending time learning from other local musical talents and mentors such as Jeremy Cheng and Johnny Helm, practicing ukulele and performing at numerous gigs across the state and abroad with drummer and friend Ian Wacksman. Lucky for us, this rising star most recently joined us for lunch and brought his appetite to Wolfgang’s Steakhouse for this week’s Dining with the Stars.
Famous for its superb steaks, this fine-dining establishment on the third level of Waikiki’s Royal Hawaiian Center in Building C, appeals to keiki, too. Just ask Aidan, whose Wolfgang favorites include Lobster Macaroni and Cheese ($15.95, dinner; available as a side with the purchase of an entree for lunch) sans lobster, Steamed Broccoli ($10.95) and Sizzling Canadian Bacon ($4.95).
“We come to Wolfgang’s Steakhouse for special occasions like Mother’s Day,” says Aidan as he automatically takes a bite of sizzling bacon — all prepared extra thick. “This is really good! I like bacon a lot!” he says.
Soon, a bowl full of hearty macaroni and cheese is placed before him. Aidan doesn’t waste any time digging in.
The macaroni is prepared al dente and soaks up the flavors of the five cheeses — Gruyere, Fontina, White Vermont Cheddar, Parmesan and mozzarella — to create ooey-gooey goodness that is very much Aidan-approved.
“I like to eat a lot, and I love macaroni and cheese. It’s so cheesy,” he confirms, before biting into a piece of broccoli, his vegetable of choice.
Thoroughly enjoying his meal, this soon-to-be heartbreaker, who’s sporting hipster Ray Ban spectacles and a glorified faux-hawk, has a legitimate sense of style that can’t go unnoticed. It might help that he’s also sponsored by 88 Tees.
Aidan recently performed at Kakaako Night Market’s Music Fest and the 43rd annual Ukulele Festival.
“Aidan learns by hearing. He has a unique strumming style that can’t be taught and his rhythm is on point for someone his age. Also, it’s very rare for a kid to sing and play ukulele at the same time,” says Aidan’s mother, Angela Laprete, associate producer for Hawaii Five-0.
“I like to play pop and folk music,” Aidan adds, noting that Hawaii-born Bruno Mars is his inspiration. “I don’t get nervous when I perform. It’s pretty exciting!”
Throughout his blooming career, Aidan has opened up the Keiki Stage at Jack Johnson’s 2010 Kokua Festival and has performed with HAPA, Jake Shimabukuro, Mick Fleetwood and Train’s lead singer Pat Monahan, to name a few. Aidan has also travelled to California, Oregon, New York and Japan, and plays every so often at Hard Rock Cafe in Waikiki.
“I hope to one day go on tour and write more music,” he says. “I also love performing for the kids at Kapiolani Medical Center. It’s awesome because I get to put a smile on their faces.”
When he’s not wooing audiences with his musical abilities and charismatic charm, Aidan is a technology and social media enthusiast, connecting with his fans via Twitter, Insta-gram, Facebook and YouTube. He also enjoys producing and starring in his own films.
“Since he was a baby, he’s acted in TV shows and commercials, and modeled for print campaigns, including Italy’s Elle magazine. It comes naturally for him,” Laprete explains. “He’s appeared on Hawaii Five-0 and Train’s music video, Mermaid.”
Yet, despite his fleeting success, Aidan continues to be a kid at heart, who has an infinite love for sweets. No matter how stuffed he is with macaroni and cheese, bacon and broccoli, there’s always room for dessert! Enter Chocolate Mousse Cake ($9.95), which Aidan describes as “amazing.” And it wouldn’t be complete without a tall glass of milk. We all know that a milk mustache is the ultimate stamp of approval.
“I love dessert and ice cream,” he says with a dimple-filled smile.
To keep up with this ukulele genius, visit aidanjamesmusic808.com.
Royal Hawaiian Center
2301 Kalakaua Ave.
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.