Local ‘American Idol’ contestants move on after show appearances
By JAMI KUNZER firstname.lastname@example.org
There is life after being sent home from "American Idol."
The Fox television show, which premieres its 13th season 7 p.m. Jan. 15, has included a few McHenry County natives through the years. Cut at various stages of the show, they've gone on to pursue dreams both on stage and off.
It's a somewhat bittersweet journey they share.
"I remember feeling completely defeated," said Leah Barrettsmith, who now goes by Leah Scott.
The Spring Grove native made it to Hollywood during the series' fifth season in 2006 alongside her sister Brooke before being cut. Brooke, now Brooke Adams, went on to reach the top 40 before going home.
"I had fake nails on and I started ripping them off on the plane," said Leah, who remembers vividly the trip home from Hollywood. "I decided I'm going to go home and play my guitar every day and get better and better. It ended up being encouraging in that this is exactly what I'm going to do and I'm not going to take 'no' for an answer.
"It opened the driven giant inside of me."
Leah, who now lives in Nashville, has had more lumps since "American Idol," bouncing around with different record labels.
She now works as a vocal coach while pursuing a record deal, and has spent the past year working with Nashville producer Marty Williams. Williams is known for his work with country acts such as Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill and Reba McEntire.
"We're in the process of creating a sound that hasn't been heard yet in the country market," said Leah, who believes an album is inevitable.
"As long as I enjoy it I'm going to pursue it," she said of her musical aspirations. "The minute it just becomes a job to me, I'm going to do something else. I love it and am still passionate about it, and God has opened the door for me in many ways in the past several years."
Home for a couple weeks in Spring Grove, where her father, the Rev. Scott Barrettsmith, heads up Spring Grove Bible Fellowship, she offered up her vocal lesson services, which can be booked at 615-543-5636. Mentored by Nashville vocal coach Brett Manning, she teaches a unique vocal technique called "speech level singing."
After "American Idol," Leah and her sister Brooke won a competition to record a single in Nashville and signed a development deal with Word/Curb/Warner Bros. The deal didn't work out for either of them, and the two eventually parted ways both from the deal and as a duo.
Brooke now works as a vocal coach as well as studio manager and songwriter alongside her husband, Billy Adams, executive producer at Atomic Earth Studios in Portland, Tenn.
She toured and released a self-titled debut album in 2008. A couple of her songs, "Father" and "Paper Tigers," were in the Stephen Baldwin film, "Loving the Bad Man" in 2010.
Also releasing albums after the show were "American Idol" alums and Crystal Lake natives Jim Verraros, a Top 10 finalist in the first season of the series, and David Radford, a Top 24 finalist during the fifth season.
Verraros' mainstream debut, "Rollercoaster" in 2005, garnered several dance floor hits, including the Top 25 Billboard Hot Club/Dance Chart hit "You Turn it On." He also pursued an acting career.
Expanding his creative abilities, Verraros is now the executive vice president of Bridal Expo Chicago, which offers a one-stop shopping experience for brides and bridal parties. His co-contestant, American Idol Season One winner Kelly Clarkson recently credited Verraros, a longtime friend, with helping her find the headpiece she wore for her October wedding.
As for Radford, who became known as "the crooner" during his American Idol days, he's found success with more than one music venture.
Only 17 when he appeared on the show, ending up there after auditioning simply "to support a friend," he went on to earn a degree in music education from the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Alongside Mike Potts, he formed the dueling piano group Felix and Fingers (www.felixandfingers.com) and has created the duo The Gray Havens (www.thegrayhavensmusic.com) with his wife, Licia.
Beginning with just the two of them, Felix and Fingers now has six piano players performing every weekend at weddings and corporate events.
"It's just taken off in the last year," Radford said. "The dueling pianos is not new, but it's new to these kind of events. People are looking for something different nowadays."
Meanwhile, The Gray Havens have released an EP available for free download through the group's website and thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign have recorded a full length album in Nashville. They expect to release "Fire and Stone" in the spring.
"This album is kind of more mature," he said. "The first one was pretty whimsical, adventurous. It was more kind of a putting you in a good mood type of album. This one is like that at times too, but it has some darker elements to it ... It's much more risky."
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