Tulsans audition for 'American Idol'
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Friday, February 01, 2013
2/01/13 at 6:58 AM
Keep up to date on how locals are faring on ‘American Idol’ World Scene Writer Jason Ashley Wright gives you a rundown of every episode of the TV singing competition.
Zoanette Johnson is ready to meet President Barack Obama.
She wants him to hear her sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" so he'll invite her to the White House.
That's not outside the realm of possibility - not if you assume he's a fan of "American Idol," which aired last summer's auditions in Oklahoma City on Thursday night on Fox.
"We just had fun," said the 20-year-old Johnson of her "Idol" audition during a phone interview from Minnesota, where she's visiting family. She's lived in Tulsa for about three years.
Her rendition of the national anthem - coupled, perhaps, with a larger-than-life personality - garnered her a "golden ticket" to go to Hollywood for the next round of auditions.
And she's not the only one from the Tulsa area who's doing so. In fact, Thursday night's Oklahoma City auditions weren't even the first to air Tulsa talent, as local Matt Farmer appeared on Wednesday night's auditions taped in Long Beach, Calif. He sang Sam Cook's "A Change Is Gonna Come."
Farmer did not, however, earn a nickname from celebrity judge Nicki Minaj like Johnson did.
"I'm Big Crazy Barbie," Johnson said, laughing. Now, her mom even uses the nickname. "I'm just an energy ball."
Another Tulsan on Thursday's show was Lexi Schmidt, 16, a student at Union High School.
"To get that chance was just so amazing," said Schmidt, who remembered judge Randy Jackson telling her she was "really commercial" - in a totally good way. Minaj said her voice was "mature," particularly for a teen singer.
Other than the last-minute surprise visit from former celebrity judge Steven Tyler (in drag, no less - dude didn't look at all like a lady), the show ended on a typically inspirational note courtesy of 16-year-old Kayden Stephenson.
"Keith Urban said I had the full package and that I looked like a natural," said Stephenson, who's a student at Rejoice Christian Schools in Owasso - and currently battling cystic fibrosis.
Judge Mariah Carey, who said she was "beyond inspired" by him, added she wants to record a song with Stephenson.
"Girls will fall on the floor when you walk in," Carey told him, and Minaj compared him to "a baby Michael (Jackson)."
After all judges gave him a "yes" to go to Hollywood, Stephenson went outside and told show host Ryan Seacrest that "God put me in this position to do this."
Stephenson has been watching "Idol" since he was a little kid, and Oklahoma's own Carrie Underwood is his favorite "Idol" winner.
Ditto for Schmidt, although her song choices lean toward jazzy numbers from artists like Norah Jones or more recent stuff by Taylor Swift.
She's been studying such stars, as well as Justin Bieber, who have helped her break out of her "bubble" - to not be nervous in front of an audience.
"They had to be bold and courageous to pursue the dreams they wanted," Schmidt said. And if she wants her dreams realized, she has to follow suit.
Not surprisingly, all of these contestants have big dreams.
"It's never going to stop," Stephenson said. "That's what I'm going to be striving for, no matter what."
Such goals go back to young childhood, just as Johnson's did.
She remembers being 8 years old and in church, having just moved to America from Africa with her family. The pastor asked if anyone had prayer requests, and little Johnson spoke up, saying, "Pray for me to win 'American Idol'!"
"America needs to know this crazy little African girl that they brought to America," she said.
And, thanks to a panel of celebrity judges, America does.
Next week starts the Hollywood rounds, where a few hundred contestants - including 44 golden ticket-holders from Oklahoma City - will be whittled down to 40.
For more, visit tulsaworld.com/idol
Jason Ashley Wright 918-581-8483
Kayden Stephenson and Zoanette Johnson, both of the Tulsa area, appeared on "American Idol" on Thursday night as part of the show's Oklahoma City auditions. Fox/Courtesy
Josh Woods of Sapulpa appeared on Thursday night’s “American Idol.” MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World file
Matt Farmer holds his daughter, Katie, during his audition on "American Idol," which was shown Wednesday. Farmer advanced to the Hollywood rounds after singing Sam Cooke's "Change is Gonna Come." MICHAEL BECKER/FOX