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America’s got chet

Fun guy Richard Luster earns a spot on the NBC TV show America’s Got Talent with his wonderful big voice and his larger-than-life costumed character, Chet.

We could all use an encouraging pal to gently lift our spirits, especially in today’s rather uncomfortable times.

Thankfully, Richard “Rich” Luster offers just that type of soothing comfort with Chet, his costumed character and emotional support friend.

When he’s not working his day job as a bridge structural engineer at Hawai‘i Department of Transportation, the 63-year-old Luster dons the homemade costume to bring laughter and smiles to friends and strangers.

“I have fun with life,” says the Kunia resident.

Richard Luster (as Chet) spends time with his sons Kyle (left) and Sean (right), and wife Ricki.

And Chet — who comes complete with bulging eyes, a huge pear-shaped nose, shaggy fur, pineapple-print pants and hat, and massive fingers — is an unmistakable sight to behold.

But just as important as Chet’s larger-than-life look is Luster’s powerful singing voice, which is what really caught the attention of producers of NBC’s America’s Got Talent (AGT). Now, he and Chet are a part of season 16 of the show, which premieres June 1.

Surprisingly, Luster didn’t have to submit an audition tape to land a spot on the show. Last December, he received a call from an AGT producer, who had visited Luster’s social media page and was impressed with his performance of Josh Groban’s version of Broken Vow. After determining the call was not a prank, Luster agreed to work with the show’s production staff to help bring Chet to the big stage.

Luster admits that the process of taping his AGT segment was challenging. For one thing, there were grueling 12- to 14-hour days of taping that had to be completed over 72 hours. For another, Chet’s costume weighs a hefty 50 pounds. That required Luster to lug around the extra pounds from tape site to tape site, and forced him to drink more water than a camel on set, he jokes.

“It was like wearing a sauna suit while still wearing a mask,” Luster recalls. “Each night, while exhausted, my wife and I stood with a blow dryer, drying out every inch of Chet.”

Chet wows audiences while in full performance mode. PHOTOS COURTESY RICHARD LUSTER

And while Luster was busy sweating profusely in costume, his wife, Ricki, was handing out aloha-themed items to AGT cast and crew-members, sharing as much island spirit as she could. In addition, Luster says he constantly had an executive producer by his side overseeing what was needed to ensure that Chet’s performance was magical.

“She was fantastic,” notes Luster, adding that the producer told him, “I love (your) message and am glad that the people in your area do as well. I know Chet and his message will go far.”

It already has. According to Luster, organizations have already reached out to him about wanting to further promote Chet’s compassionate philosophy of emotional support.

“Hopefully, organizations (continue reaching) out, so Chet could be of some comforting use to everyone,” he says.

Richard Luster works as a bridge structural engineer in the state Department of Transportation Highways Division.

In many ways, Luster has his family to thank for the genesis and development of Chet. For the past 15 years, the Lusters and their two sons, Sean and Kyle, have been showing up at airports dressed as Santa Claus, gameplay characters Mario and Luigi, and a host of other iconic characters, ready to entertain recent arrivals.

“It has become a bit of a competition between our sons and us to see who can out-do each other. We always tease each other, saying, ‘It’s on!” Luster explains.

But what ultimately convinced Luster that he needed to create a friendly character was witnessing travelers carry their emotional support pets onto planes. Before long, the idea for Chet was born — a perfect alter ego to the equally colorful Luster.

He decided to name him Chet after a goofy reindeer-in-training from The Santa Clause movie series.

“Really, Chet’s a more colorful version of our dad,” explains Kyle, “and that means his heart is even bigger, and he’s super funny and he’s going to bring a smile to your face.

Coworkers Ryan Nakata, Lester Molina, Chris Tomooka-Saito, Kathy Yoda and Stan Louis of the state Department of Transportation Highways Division in Honolulu take the time to visit with their pal, Chet.

“That’s a powerful thing that not everybody’s able to do.”

Growing up in Los Angeles as the oldest of three children, Luster was raised in humble circumstances by a single parent. In such an environment, all he had to keep him happy was music, and record stores became his home.

“From soul to early rock, disco to the ’80s, my diaphragm exuded every single melody, lyric, song I could belt out,” Luster says.

He moved extensively in his youth, attending several schools and eventually wound up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. There, he joined the U.S. Army and later completed several degrees in structural engineering, along with a master’s degree and Ph.D. in management use of technology.

“In my job as a bridge engineer for the HDOT, I have prided myself on saving the state money while trying to maintain, repair and replace bridges throughout O‘ahu,” he explains.

Luster has always been a multitalented individual. Not only does he speak Italian and Swedish, but he’s also written several novels, which include his 2007 release, Christmas House: Love for A Child.

And based on his ability to craft colorful costumed characters, it probably comes as no surprise that he’s gifted with his hands. In fact, his sons once asked him to make them custom electric guitars, so Luster took on the challenge and produced several axes. Today, he continues to take custom-crafted guitar orders at his website, mongocustomguitar.com.

His sons, who have their own dance-rock band called Red Light Challenge, remain his biggest fans.

“It was definitely inspiring growing up in a household with him being our dad, just getting to see what was possible — the potential that we had to accomplish anything that we set our minds to,” explains Kyle. “One of his major phrases that he always taught us is, ‘What can I do next?’”

“It’s exciting for us to see this happening for our dad,” adds Sean. “We just think it’s cool.”

Their father says Chet’s goal is to spread a bit of happiness around the globe.

“So, if you need a hug, just a shoulder to lean on, or a good lift to get you off the ground, my name is Chet and I am here for the whole world. So, remember when you need it, Chet’s here to be your emotional support friend.”

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