One wouldn’t think that dental work and soul music would go hand in hand, but Thursday night’s “Showtime at the Apollo” performer has found a way to seamlessly mix his two passions.
Matthew Hashimoto is a periodontist with the Manhattan-based Group Health Dental practice on 41st Street, but he’s also a member of Stevie Wonder cover band The Shades who’s graced the city’s famous stages like the shuttered Webster Hall and The Bitter End.
The 35-year-old, originally from Hawaii, has been singing since he was three, and got his first big break in the city in 2009 when he performed karaoke on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”
When he joined the Manhattan practice after completing his periodontics (gum treatments and implants) residency at Columbia University College of Medicine in 2011, he decided it was time to find a way to bridge the gap between his full-time career and part-time band gig.
“These two worlds work great together,” he says, explaining that he uses music in his office to help ease that common fear of visiting the dentist. “I’ve been told my singing helps them focus on something else and is a nice surprise.”
The periodontist — mistakenly called an orthodontist by “Apollo” host Steve Harvey during Thursday’s episode — adds that his medical practice audience is quite different from that of the packed historic Apollo Theater in Harlem.
“They usually can’t talk back so …” he jokes.
The revived talent show-style TV series leaves the judging up to the audience’s reactions. If they cheer, the performer makes it through to the final round for the chance to win a residency at the theater. If they boo, the Sandman Raphael Thomas (originally Howard Sims) removes the act from the stage.
“Luckily, the crowd’s reaction to my performance was very positive. The audience at the Apollo is always brutally honest,” he says.
Describing the response as “very positive” is actually quite modest. Hashimoto got a standing ovation from the crowd not even 10 seconds into his rendition of Etta James’ 1960 hit “At Last.” A stunned Harvey called him “a star” and exclaimed, “that’s how you do it in here.”
The “Apollo” stunner wasn’t actually the first time Hashimoto had graced the famous stage. He participated in the venue’s long-running Amateur Night contest back in 2012 and was crowned the first-place title of “Super Top Dog.”
“I am usually told that my sound is very unique and surprising,” he says, adding that his musical influences are Stevie Wonder and the late Whitney Houston. “[They] definitely influenced my sound and I think that there is always a bit of soul in my music.”
The doctor/performer will return to the Apollo Theater for “Showtime at the Apollo’s” finale talent show, airing later this season on Fox. You can relive his performance now by viewing the “Week 6” episode of the series on Fox.com/shows.