It’s been 20 months since a North Carolinian won “American Idol.” Hardly a long drought, as droughts like these go – but still, several wannabe singing stars from in and around Charlotte sure are hoping to take the torch from Garner’s Scotty McCreery in May.
About 5,000 people lined up in June to take a shot at stardom during a casting call at Time Warner Cable Arena; most were told thanks but no thanks. Only 100 or so were invited to Charlotte Motor Speedway in October, when judges Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban squabbled (occasionally quite fiercely, you may have heard) over which of them to keep in the running.
Ultimately, 37 who auditioned here were handed “golden tickets,” given the opportunity to share a celebratory hug with host Ryan Seacrest, and invited to try to survive a gauntlet of auditions and ubiquitous camera operators in the upcoming Hollywood rounds.
For an in-depth look at three locals who got camera time when the Charlotte auditions aired Wednesday on Fox, read on.
Current city: Charlotte. Born here, raised in Maryland, came back in 2005, graduated from Garinger High School, then North Carolina A&T in Greensboro (she majored in theater).
Current jobs: Hostess at O’Charley’s in University City, retail worker at the US Foods Chef’Store√ on Eastway Drive, independent hairdresser.
What we saw on TV: A kooky extrovert with a blonde wig and a penchant for high-fives. Judge Nicki Minaj nicknamed her “Blondie” on sight; after her soulful (but still very country) rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova,” she flirted with judge Keith Urban and was called “very effervescent” by judge Mariah Carey.
What we didn’t see: Her son, who turned 2 on Dec. 4 and is being raised by Smith. “My son wasn’t able to be there with me, and I thought I wasn’t gonna do good because he’s normally my good-luck charm,” she says, adding that the crew was so focused on capturing her silliness, they never bothered to ask about her back story. “I’m very theatrical, animated and charismatic, and they were busy laughing at me for just being myself – not laughing at me, but with me,” she assures us. Her son’s father accompanied her when she met with producers in Pinehurst (between the first-round audition and the celebrity-judged audition), but since then “hasn’t been part of the process.”
More on that big personality: “I’ll have blonde hair one week, maybe pink hair the next week, maybe blue hair the week after that. My nails always are mismatched. I like long nails, and they’re maybe pink on one side, black on the other side – whatever I’m feeling. … I like a lot of colors. I like to be happy.” She says her life’s had some very dark days, but “when I’m bright … I forget about it all, because bright just makes me really, really happy.”
Is she truly a country girl? “I really have to clear this up. I’ve always pursued R&B and pop music, but I’m in love with music so much that I will sing country, rock, anything – I will sing everything. Give me a song to learn, and I’m gonna learn it and I’m gonna do my absolute best.”
Current city: Concord, since age 10. Graduated from Jay M. Robinson High School.
Current job: Lead singer for the alternative-rock band Carson ( www.carsonrock.com) for the past four years. She’s the group’s only female member; the others are guitarists Peter Stipicevic and Shaun Couture, bassist/vocalist Robert Lee, and drummer Ben Laun. Carson has performed at Tremont Music Hall, Amos’ Southend, and several other well-known local music clubs.
What we saw on TV: A loose, naturally cool rocker-chick who seems more at ease around her band mates than on her own, and who split the judges after confusing them with Johnny Cash’s more-country “Folsom Prison Blues” (she retorted with a spot-on cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughtta Know”). Carey and judge Randy Jackson said no, but Minaj and Urban said yes, with Minaj noting, “Your voice is unique – especially because you’re a black girl, you’re not doing the typical R&B type of runs. I really, really enjoyed it.” Urban had final say, so his vote put her through to Hollywood.
What we didn’t see: How nervous Bethea was while waiting to be seen by the judges. “Oh my gosh, I remember having really bad anxiety. You’re gonna be on TV, and they could either say yes or no, and it’s just really tense, like it’s super-intense. There’re cameras everywhere, checking to see if you’re gonna cry; they’re just everywhere. I remember drinking a bunch of water. I had to pee a lot; I was really nervous. But it was rad.”
She worried about how trying out for “Idol” might change things between her and her band mates: “Because some bands are like, ‘It’s over!’ Or like, ‘Why are you doing this to us? You’re breaking us up!’” Thing is, it was her band mates that had been encouraging her to try out for “Idol” in the first place – for as long as they’d been together.
She worried about being branded a sellout: “I was afraid of what our followers and our fans would think about it, if they would think I was taking the easy way out.”
In the end, though: “I think it’s cool … and Daughtry did it.”
Current city: Salisbury, where she attends Livingstone College as a religious studies student. Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., she moved to Charlotte during her junior year of high school, enrolling at Northwest School of the Arts.
Current singing projects: Current singing projects: She performs with a religious group called PFPT (“Preparing For Perilous Times”) – “we read scriptures … (it’s not) solely traditional gospel, but it’s urban gospel, so kids can be on fire for the Lord, but at the same time not have to be so bored about the traditional way of worshipping God.” She also sings with a group called Tribe, “a collaboration of everything, we dance, we sing.” She says her style is a mix of opera, gospel and jazz.
What we saw on TV: Her screen time was much more limited than Smith’s or Bethea’s. There was a brief clip of Fullins-Lovell doing a Mariah Carey-like run into an ultra-high octave, as the judges gave surprised reactions. When she finished singing, Minaj yelled, “Work! Work! Work! Work! Work!” After the panel issued a unanimous “YES,” she celebrated by jumping up and down with host Ryan Seacrest and several family members.
What we didn’t see: It wasn’t clear during the episode what song she was singing, but Fullins-Lovell explains she sang two: “Summertime” (from “Porgy and Bess”) and Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You.” Also: She came down with a bad cold the day before the audition. “In front of the camera I’m laughing, but inside I’m like, ‘Lord God, please let me hit the right notes.’”
What she has in common with one of the judges: “Me and Mariah Carey basically have the same range – a five-octave range. So (when I was auditioning), it was kind of like, ‘Yeah, high notes are about to happen in front of the queen of high notes.’”
If she doesn’t win “Idol”: “I’m planning on starting a little ministry. What I really want to do is just sing for the Lord – that’s my main goal. Because I’m not an idol. An idol is a god, and my voice is used to glorify God. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m sticking to.”