Justin Gigliello remembers what it was like to be a kid growing up in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. He remembers what it was like to be bullied, to be made fun of, to be teased by other kids in his school every single day.
“Growing up as a kid,” Justin explained. “I was overweight and was teased and bullied every day in school.”
Justin remembers it vividly. But that’s where Justin’s parents, the art of music, and a little Disney magic came in and forever changed his life.
“Every year my parents would take me to Disney World to get me away from everything that was happening in school,” Justin said. “Disney World was my safe place.”
The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida was so magical for Justin, that as a child, he believed for years that it was actually located in the heavens. After all, that plane ride from Massachusetts to Florida could be deceiving, especially for a little boy.
“As a kid, I thought Disney World was in the clouds. When we went on the plane, I didn’t know we actually landed,” he said.
Every time Justin and his parents visited Walt Disney World, they stayed at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort near Magic Kingdom. But in the evenings, they could always be found at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.
“We would go over to the [Grand] Floridian to listen to the music, and it was one of my favorite memories. I think part of that is why I got into music.” Justin said.
You may recognize the name “Justin Gigliello.” That’s because in 2019, he nearly single-handedly shut down operations at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort when he stood in the lobby of the Disney Resort Hotel next to the pianist at the grand piano and sang “Ave Maria” like one of the Three Tenors.
Justin says he and his daughter Lyla were having lunch at Narcoossee’s when he began to share with her his memories of the Grand Floridian as a child.
“I wanted her to have the same love for Disney that I had and wanted her to have amazing memories like I did,” Justin said. “Every year, we would go to Disney, and it became her special place.”
So when Lyla learned about her daddy’s memories with his parents at the Grand Floridian, she wanted to experience that too.
“She asked if we could go,” Justin explained. “After we finished lunch, we headed over and Wes was playing the piano. I didn’t realize that Lyla went over to talk to Wes. I walked over, and she was telling him how I sing opera and asked if I could sing. He asked her what song was her favorite and she said ‘Ave Maria.'”
The pianist began to play Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” as Justin sang along. It was second nature to him.
In addition to the magic of the beautiful sounds of Justin’s voice, there is an undeniable magic in the eyes of Justin’s daughter, Lyla, as she watches her father sing in the video. If that isn’t a picture of wonder in a child’s eyes . . .
Justin and Lyla both became familiar faces instantly–Justin for his voice and Lyla for her adoring doe eyes as she stood beside her Daddy and listened to the melodious sounds of his voice. But Justin had no idea the video taken by his wife would become so popular.
“I think what caught everyone off guard was that I was singing opera in a football jersey,” Justin said. “When we got back home, I put the video on my Facebook because I wanted my friends and old professors to see I was still singing, and then it just blew up and went viral!”
According to FOX News, “the internet couldn’t get enough” of the young Dad singing while his little girl looked on, touting Gigliello as “an overnight internet sensation.”
Justin was invited to appear on programs like Good Morning America and The Steve Harvey Show, and his lungs also netted him news coverage from outlets like Orlando’s FOX 35 and WPTV. People Magazine also featured Justin, as did ABC7 in Chicago, FOX News, Upworthy, Billboard, and other outlets.
When DisneyDining heard about Justin, this writer just had to learn more–like where on earth did Justin get his singing abilities, and what exactly was his backstory? Justin says being bullied at school and the experiences that came along with that are ultimately what led to his learning to sing.
“I was bullied a lot in school so my mother tried finding me an out to get away from everything that was going on [in addition to the family’s getaways to Disney World],” Justin said. “When I was 15, she found a music teacher that taught opera and wanted me to try it.”
But that’s not quite what Justin had in mind.
“I told her I had no interest in opera and did not want to do it, and she kept pushing me to try it. I finally tried it and fell in love with it,” Justin said. “It was where I was first accepted. I had friends in the opera company and loved doing plays. I ended up going to school for music at the Boston Conservatory and have my bachelor’s in music.”
Justin is still a little puzzled by the popularity he’s gained as “that dad that sang ‘Ave Maria’ at the Grand Floridian.”
“Everyone always tells me I do not look like an opera singer, Justin explained. “And I am that regular guy. I’m just a dad who loves sports and will do anything for his family and do anything to put a smile on my daughter’s face!”
But Justin continually takes it a step further: while he’s putting a smile on little Lyla’s face, he’s simultaneously putting smiles on the faces of Disney fans all over the country and the world too. That’s because when he and his daughter Lyla make videos of themselves singing Disney song duets or dancing to Disney tunes, Justin smiles, Lyla smiles, and Disney fans with internet access are smiling as well.
In the time since his impromptu performance at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort went viral, Justin has used his amazing vocal talents, as well as his love for sharing the magic of Disney with his daughter, Lyla, to bring the magic to other fans, wherever they are. Smiles abound.
As some of you know I am the dad who sang Ave Maria at GF. I just wanted to share a magical Disney moment. With everything going on right now we just wanted to put a smile on someone’s face. This is what we need more of. @GMA @TheTodayShow @WaltDisneyWorld @RobertIger pic.twitter.com/yfJoytQuvY
— Justin Gigliello (@JGigliello) September 5, 2021
“With everything going on right now, we just wanted to put a smile on someone’s face,” Justin tweeted in one of his videos. “This is what we need more of.”
Videos like this one of Justin and Lyla dancing to “Ma Belle Evangeline” from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog have fans smiling the whole time they watch.
The Gigliellos even have the older classics down. In this video, Justin and Lyla sing a duet from Disney’s Mary Poppins: “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”
If this isn’t a real-life story of the power of Disney magic to bring about hope, restoration, and joy, then this writer has yet to read one. Justin’s story is all the more impressive when you realize that many in his shoes as a child grow up to be bitter, resentful, angry individuals.
Bullying and teasing are painful experiences that often leave deep emotional scars. But Justin used his uncomfortable experiences to propel him into a talent and an ability that he loves, and he continues to use his talents to bring about feelings of joy and acceptance in others.
On the surface, Justin’s story may seem like one of a talented musician who was in the right place at the right time. But this writer chooses to see Justin’s story as a story of having one’s heart in the right place at all times.