John Ondrasik has certainly soared in every aspect of the music industry. From songwriting, producing, to performing, this Los Angeles native known better as Five for Fighting – a hockey penalty moniker he chose to pay homage to his beloved L.A. Kings – has been a one-man team unto himself, constantly shooting and scoring while setting the bar higher each time.
Ondrasik’s collection of heartfelt songs have found their place in The Great American Songbook and continue to stand the test of time. Selling over 2.5 million albums, including the platinum America Town and The Battle For Everything. “Superman”, the worldwide hit single, went Platinum, was #1 on Adult Top 40, #2 on Hot AC, and in the Top 40 Top 10 while becoming an anthem for the heroes of 9-11. His standard “100 Years” went 2X Platinum, and continues to give every age group a lifetime’s moment of reflection and nostalgia. Other notable tracks include the certified gold “Chances,” the certified awesome “What If,” Triple A radio’s #1 hit “Easy Tonight,” the call to action “World”, and mega-hit treaty on existence, “The Riddle.”
Ondrasik likes to say he was, “a twenty-year overnight success” who faced the rejection and struggles not uncommon to aspiring singer-songwriters. Born and raised in Los Angeles, his mother was a piano teacher and father an astrophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Growing up between the two worlds of music and science, he began piano lessons with his mother at only two years old on his way to a summa cum laude Applied Mathematics degree at UCLA.
After mastering the keys (the first album he bought, by the way, was Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life”), Ondrasik’s focus turned to songwriting and playing guitar. “At 15, my sister received a guitar for her birthday, which I quickly commandeered as I was beginning to realize the true purpose of musicianship was girls, girls, girls, and the piano was tough to haul around,” he quips.
Ondrasik’s love for music grew concurrently as he did. The musician, who considers Freddie Mercury and Steve Perry among his vocal influences, studied opera and classical voice (because the rock stars did) and while he continued to make music, ever the realist, he earned that math degree should he need a stable profession to fall back on. All the while working at the family business Precision Wire Products. Precision Wire, he proclaims, “makes the best shopping carts in the world!”
His career and life would take quite an interesting turn between dive bars and low to non- paying shows. One fateful evening, a superstar music publisher, Carla Berkowitz, discovered the struggling songwriter in a loud coffee house on, (yes the cliche is true), Melrose and Vine. She immediately offered him a publishing deal and he signed on the dotted line. She eventually married him, and together John and Carla have two children and the perfect dog. Recently celebrating 20 years of marriage they are sending their first child off to college this year.
Ondrasik signed his first record deal in 1997 with “Message For Albert.” His follow-up was the breakthrough “American Town”. “The first song of mine I heard on the radio was a tune called ‘The Last Great American.’ I cried like a baby on the 405 freeway as I’d been working 20 years for that moment. Subsequently when ‘Easy Tonight’ became a number 1 AAA song I got a bit used to pinching myself,” he says.
“Superman (It’s Not Easy)” changed everything. The song hit the airwaves, and reached #1 the same week Ondrasik’s daughter Olivia was born. Not a bad week! The song was a deeply-felt, world wide mega-hit, which served as a unofficial anthem of healing following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil. The song, which Ondrasik performed at The Concert For New York City, continues to inspire and bring solace to listeners as well being used in a variety of charitable efforts.
The song scored a Grammy nod, and put him on the map. “’Superman’ was a gift as we barely had enough success to have a second single. I do remember hearing it in the car and thinking, ‘it’s so different than what’s on the radio these days, if it connects, it could be a big song…never imagined it would be what it was,” he explains.
If “Superman” put Ondrasik on the map, “100 Years” kept him there. Whether it be graduations, weddings, funerals, or birthdays, “100 Years” has likely set the record for the “most used home movie song”, while remaining as relevant and poignant today as when it debuted in 2004.
Many other hits followed, and six studio albums have since been released. He’s had songs featured in 350 films, TV shows and advertisements. His tunes have been included in the 2009 Academy Award-winning film “The Blind Side” (“Chances”), “Hawaii Five-O” (“All for One”), and “The Sopranos” (“World”) to name a few. You’ve heard his voice in the WWE, Disney, and much to his fanboy dreams, the L.A. Kings Stanley Cup Championship video.
Most recently, Ondrasik has shared his talents on the CBS series “Code Black,” appearing on the show’s third season premiere, and serving as the “musical voice”, covering five songs on various episodes. His talents have extended beyond himself as he’s penned tunes for artists ranging from Josh Groban, Tim McGraw, to The Backstreet Boys.
Ondrasik is a road warrior, performing often and in all different shapes and sizes. He currently performs with a string quartet (expect a live album soon), symphony concerts, rock shows with his band, and simply solo -just the man and his keys. He’s performed at Lincoln Center as a featured artist for their American Songbook Series, The Kennedy Center for the Troops, for past presidents and fancy world leaders, and gave a special performance for NASA to commemorate the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Mission. (His JPL dad loved that one!) Richard Branson recently selected “What If” as the theme to his Virgin Unite charity.
“The symphony and string quartet shows have been fantastic,” he says. “I’ve had the honor of working with some world class musicians and arrangers in my career. To present the more ambitious songs, as well as the popular tunes, in this format has refueled my passion for performing.”
Yet, there’s more to him than the music. His off-the-ice endeavors are equally, if not more, impressive. He performs for the USO, and has found a new hat in inspirational keynote speaking engagements across the globe. So yes, in addition to making music, Ondrasik is making a difference. He’s pulled a hat trick of sorts – not just being an accomplished singer and songwriter, but an advocate for causes that are important to us all.
A great supporter of the U.S. Military, Ondrasik has given away five volumes of compilation “CD for the Troops” albums to our United States Armed Forces. He features not just himself, but includes fellow recording artists ranging from Billy Joel to Melissa Etheridge and their biggest hits . Over one million of CD’s for the Troops have been distributed to soldiers worldwide. Additionally, the charity site, www.whatkindofworlddoyouwant.com, inspired by his song, “World,” saw fans uploading videos showing their respective interpretations of a better world. That initiative raised more than $250,000 for five designated charities — Augie’s Quest, Autism Speaks, Fisher House Foundation, Save the Children and Operation Homefront.
In the Fall of 2017, Ondrasik teamed with Jim Brickman to write a Christmas single, “Christmas Where You Are,” which supports our nations troops. No political agenda here. The song is simply about and dedicated to those who serve to protect our freedom and their families. A percentage of the proceeds are donated to the Gary Sinise Foundation which builds homes for severely wounded veterans. The song inspired a holiday special on BYU TV, which will air each Christmas season and resulted in a live album which features his daughter Olivia on a holiday classic or two!.
“Personally, giving back through charity work has been the most selfish exercise of my life, as I meet such wonderful and inspiring people,” he explains. “I am continually in awe at the courage and strength of the human spirit.”
Never one to let any grass grow under his feet, Ondrasik is currently developing a musical series for ABC with Broadway iconic composer Stephen Schwartz, as well on working on various Television and Musical Theater projects that he has sold. All the while still holding down the fort with his father at Precision Wire.
As alluded above, it’s well documented what a sports fanatic Ondrasik has been, but he’s also been able to put that passion to some good use. An avid hockey fan, this devout Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings fan, has served as a sports commentator for SI.com and the L.A. Kings themselves. He’s also appeared on various programs from The Jim Rome Show to ESPN’s SportsCenter, where he became the first “band” to appear and perform.
Ondrasik has performed at the Outdoor Hockey Game between the Kings and the Ducks at Dodger Stadium (“greatest day ever”), Landon Donovan’s last Galaxy game, the 10-Year anniversary of 9-11 at Jets Stadium, NHL All-Star Games, Daytona 500’s, Monday Night Football and more. “I recognize the immature shallowness of the adult sports fan obsession, but I’ve always had it. Lakers as a kid, UCLA, Kings etc…Many folks use music as their escape, I imagine sports as mine.”
Throughout his musical journey, he’s kept an extremely level head, likely due to the fact that he had to pay his dues long before finding success. He thanks his supportive family for keeping him grounded. “The fact that my wife and I were married and had kids before I had commercial success was important. Also, it didn’t hurt that I was in my late 20’s to early 30’s before having hits,” he explains, “I am a grateful man.”
“I have been blessed to have loving and supportive parents, an amazing wife and partner, and two great kids. Family is crucial to any career, keeps the ups and downs, down and up,” he says.
Adding to that self-reflection, Five For Fighting pointed out one stat he’s arguably most proud of: he drank out of not one, but two Stanley Cups, proving that “if you spend enough time in the penalty box…all of your dreams can come true.”