Bronx native Kenneth Alston grew up with the bass-thumping beats of rap music resonating throughout his Soundview neighborhood, but he preferred gospel, rhythm and blues, and opera.
"As I kid, I always walked around singing," said Alston, 30. "I'd enter talent contests at school, and while everyone else was rapping, I sang James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Bill Withers. I guess my peers didn't like my song choices, because I'd get beat up after school, and one time I was thrown into a garbage can."
No longer a target for bullies, the countertenor can now be found onstage at the Little Shubert Theatre on 42nd St. in Manhattan as one of the lead singers in "Three Mo Tenors."
The three classically trained operatic tenors sing a musical repertoire of opera, gospel, show tunes, jazz, soul and new school.
In his youth, Alston said, he had no formal training, but the music was just in him. It helped that his parents were in a band - Mom the drummer, Dad a bass player.
"Everyone in my family had some kind of musical or performing arts talent," Alston said.
"There was always music in my life and I got a chance to perform with high-profile performers like Whitney [Houston], Diana [Ross]."
At LaGuardia High School he joined the gospel choir, a natural transition.
And at Morgan State University in Baltimore he became a member of its renowned choir and traveled the world, performing in Germany, Switzerland, Japan, the Czech Republic and Martinique.
In his last semester in 2006, Alston heard there was an audition for "Three Mo Tenors," and he gave it a shot. By that time he had the ability to sing a variety of musical styles.
He nailed the audition by singing opera followed by the show tune "This Is the Moment" from "Jekyll & Hyde."
The "Tenors" show runs through Jan. 26, then travels to cities around the country.
When asked what he'd say to the early bullies and naysayers, Alston said he wouldn't say a word - he'd simply sing, "If they could see me now . . . they'd never believe it!"