Brittany Kerr can stroll through the Charlotte Athletic Club and have grown men practically falling off their StairMasters as they try to steal a glance.
She can don a bikini and earn the cover of the 2011-12 calendar for the Lady Cats, the dance team of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.
She can walk into a Savannah hotel to audition for "American Idol" – as she did in August – and have judge Steven Tyler blurting "I say ‘yes’" before she even sings a note.
She is, to use the technical term, hot. And if things go well for her during her run on the Fox hit reality show, she’s going to get even hotter.
Kerr, 24, of south Charlotte works as a dancer for the Bobcats, and has emerged as one of "American Idol’s" early-season breakout stars after a Jan. 18 airing of her audition. It was notable partly because she appears to be a talented singer but mainly because fans find her drop-dead gorgeous.
Since Kerr’s appearance, YouTube views of her rendition of Joss Stone’s "Spoiled" have soared into the hundreds of thousands, while media outlets from Sports Illustrated to celebrity news website TMZ have weighed in with stories. The latter’s was a report that a huge surge in web traffic crashed the site of Charlotte photographer Jim Merrill, who has featured her as a model.
It’s a big adjustment for a woman who still lives with her parents in Ballantyne, for a woman who has Mom prepare many of her meals, and for a woman who eight months ago couldn’t muster the nerve to sing in front of a handful of people.
"I got a karaoke machine for my birthday, which was in June," says Kerr. "I had a cord to the microphone, and I would stick the speaker in the other room and sing in another room, so that I didn’t have to be in front of everybody who wanted to hear me sing. I was that shy about it."
'Always a tomboy'
Unlike many of the people she will compete against during "American Idol’s" Hollywood round – which begin Feb. 9 – Kerr has never sung professionally.
She did some singing as a teen in the choir at Calvary Church and in the women’s ensemble at South Mecklenburg High School, but she was involved in all sorts of extracurricular activities while growing up: basketball, softball, tae kwon do (black belt), Mecklenburg County Miss Teen USA pageant (third runner-up), homecoming queen.
Kerr had so much going on that even though she kept asking for voice lessons, her parents repeatedly talked her out of it.
"She was always a tomboy," says her mother, Debbie Kerr, "so when she asked for voice lessons, we didn’t give them to her. We just thought she was better at sports so (kept telling her), ‘Don’t worry about it.’"
Brittany’s affinity for athletics was so great that she decided to go to the University of Alabama mainly because of its football program. "Growing up, I gained this love for football that was just unreal," Kerr says. "I ended up visiting Alabama and completely fell in love with it. Everybody was completely gung-ho Crimson Tide, and I just wanted to be a part of it."
She transferred for her junior year to UNC Charlotte, where her brother, Hunter, was a freshman – "He’s actually the best friend that I think I’ve ever had" – and worked part-time at a pub near campus called Bad Dog. In 2008, she returned to Tuscaloosa and graduated with a degree in human environmental science.
Although she was a cheerleader at South Meck, she was too tall (5 feet 8) and thin for the Alabama squad, which she says favored shorter and stockier girls. But her look turned out to be perfect for the Lady Cats, who recruited her in the summer of 2010.
You can see Kerr showing off both her team spirit and her abs at every Bobcats game. Which leads us to ask: How can she be so comfortable shaking her body under the arena lights, yet be "extremely nervous" when she has to sing in public?
"A lot of people say, ‘You dance in front of thousands of people at each game!’ Well, I’m one of 18 girls," Kerr says, "so I’m surrounded by all these beautiful ladies who are just as talented, if not more. When I’m on stage, it’s just me. The spotlight’s on me. It’s such a sense of vulnerability, because you are leaving everybody with the ability to criticize you alone."
Kerr became more serious about singing around her birthday last June, when she got that karaoke machine and also – finally – received the gift of voice lessons. But the decision to try out for "American Idol" was a huge leap.
Says her best friend, Rhema Helm (a fellow Lady Cat): "We would say, ‘Try out!’ And she was like, ‘I’m too nervous.’ I’m like, ‘No, you really need to.’ Then her dad saw ‘Idol’ was coming to Savannah, and we said, ‘You have to go.’ She was like, ‘I could never do it.’ Me and her mom had to drag her into the back of her Jeep to get her to go."
If you saw Kerr’s audition, there are some things you’d probably remember about it, beyond the song: 1) She’s an NBA dancer. 2) She wore ripped white jeans and sky-high heels. 3) Judge Steven Tyler’s presumptuous "I say ‘yes.’" 4) She adjusts her bra.
She wants to set the record straight about the last thing.
When she walked into the audition, a producer said: "‘We see that you are an NBA dancer. Well, show us a little something.’
"My mind’s going a million miles a minute. I’m like, What do I do? I have no music, it’s completely awkward. So I say, ‘OK, everyone, feel free to sing with me.’ Absolute crickets. Nobody says anything. And I’m singing by myself, I’m dancing by myself and everyone’s just laughing – hopefully not at me. But it was fun, and it really broke the ice for me."
On TV, it looks like she was fixing her bra while listening to Tyler’s feedback. Kerr says she actually did it right after the dance.
"I had danced around for a good two minutes, then I adjusted myself, and of course they throw that in completely out of sequence. It just was kind of a platform for everybody to talk about."
Kerr says she plans to downplay her sex appeal if she continues to advance. “I did really, really want this to be about my voice more than anything.”
The Hollywood rounds were held in December. So only she knows whether she’s still in or already out. What does Kerr say to those who argue she skated through Round 1 because of her looks?
“Just wait for the weeks to come – ’cause it gets better. It just gets better.”