Fans of American Idol have been checking-in on a fabulous youtube featuring 16-year-old Jesaiah Baer. Produced by American Idol, it is a slick video capturing the adventure of her final round with the Celebrity Judges. Including her initial tryout last June at Dodger Stadium – by now, it's her sixth audition. The panel consists of Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson, Keith Urban, and Mariah Carey. The audition is taking place in Long Beach, aboard the Queen Mary. Jesaiah is going to stick with a song that gets the point across in a heartbeat – "Settle Down" by New Zealand recording artist, Kimbra.
"A couple of the judges said that I took a really big risk," said Jesaiah during our recent conversation, "that it was not an ordinary song, and something they'd never seen before. That's exactly what I was going for. It's a very unique song. It has a certain element to it I really like. It brings something new to the table."
Nick Minaj gets it right off. This girl has something going on. Eighteen seconds into her song comes the penetrating siren of the Queen Mary's fire alarm.
"I think we might have to get going," observes Mariah Carey. What follows is some minor mayhem as everyone realizes the Fire Alarm is real and, yes, that translates to everybody on board. Mariah was right. "That's what I've been trying to tell you."
For Jesaiah Baer – it may be curtains. It's 2:00 in the afternoon before whatever smoke there was is no longer a problem. "You get to keep going," says Ryan Seacrest.
It only takes a moment. It's Jesaiah who's on fire. "I loved it in seconds," says Keith Urban.
Viewers agree she's done a knock-out job on the song. She's got all the components in place about being a musician: she's pitch perfect, the rhythms are clear and sensual, the song is alluring and laced with a bewitching scat. Jesaiah is sensational looking and brings a deep sense of sophistication to the song. "Won't you settle down with me"—go the lyrics. She has fascinated the panel. She is fascinating her viewers on-line.
I asked Jesiah to walk me through the first trial – The Audition. Day One. Dodger Stadium. Are there assigned slots? Did she know when she would be singing?
"There were ten thousand people there. It was interesting watching and analyzing every person. They're all different—everyone searching, everyone trying to get through to the next level. In a way, you felt like it was a kind-of community. The night before, they gave you a ticket. The following day you have a group you stay with. There were twenty-five people in my group. I auditioned five times before I got to the celebrity judges. We were sent off to these tarp-looking areas where some of the producers of the show would be judging us. After that, if you make it through that first round, you have your picture taken and then you're sent home. It's a really long process. From just watching the show, most people don't realize how much time you have to commit to it. I don't understand how some of the people who were really bad make it all the way through those levels. Obviously, it's about the ratings."
I asked her how she happened to choose the song that would prove to be so compatible and so appealing to the judges.
"I love listening to music that not everyone knows about – like, the music played on the radio all the time. I really don't like listening to a lot of the songs that are popular right now. I want to listen to music that's produced in other areas, such as the UK and New Zealand. People in the audience may already know some of the songs the contestants are using. For example, a song by Jason Mraz. Everyone knows how he sings and what the song sounds like. So, your audience is going to judge you based on that. What I wanted was to pick a song that no one really knew about. They will be able to judge it based on my voice, not someone else's. I added a scatting part to the song that wasn't there originally. For Kimbra fans, I may get a little bit of a lecture about that. I just wanted to make the song my own."
"I thought you had a very mature confidence," said Nicki Menage at the end of Jesaiah's performance. And giving her the eye, "The voice is really defined. It was very shocking for me."
Jesaiah makes it to Hollywood.
"They had us pick from a list of songs that were approved for the show. I chose the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yours" by Jason Mraz. You sing the song a cappella and in whatever key you want. I was in Group 17. With the exception of us and Group 16, they didn't say anything except "yes" or "no" to the other fifteen groups. Some of the people who made it to the next round were very good.
You go on stage in a group of ten. You sing, talk for a bit, and then go back. The judges talked among themselves and with the producers, including Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller. They picked who they wanted to stay and sent the rest home. My group was really good. It was a tight competition. The judges were really trying to pick out something wrong with each one. What I realized is that they needed to get that feeling in about the "hell" part of the week. They were trying to get people to cry. It was amazing. I was kind of pissed-off at the ending, how they made the very last groups—those who had waited longer than anyone—get the crappy criticism. It was ridiculous. Obviously they'll edit it so it will look like the criticism followed the whole scene. After I sang, they kept avoiding trying to find something wrong. They kept asking me about my band and what kind of music I was into, if I write music, if I like the show. They couldn't find anything to criticize me for, because I did it perfectly."
Nevertheless, Jesaiah did not make it to the next round. It's that thing about being sweet sixteen and the realities of this particular show. "In a way, I'm glad I got eliminated at this point. Otherwise, I'd be owned by American Idol for a year. And I am so grateful for the other opportunities that have been opening up to me. My band is working and I'm getting a lot of attention about my acting."
But Andy Tsagaris, acclaimed photographer and creator of the Be The Link Campaign—which celebrates with a red-carpet variety gala tonight in Los Angeles—believes Jesaiah is totally amazing. He has invited her to open the entertainment portion of the star-studded event.
"Be The Link Campaign is all about finding a cure for AIDS and HIV. They contacted me right after the Queen Mary episode on American Idol. They e-mailed me a long description about the event. I was on the verge of tears thinking, "Omigod, they want me to sing!" They even want me on the Red Carpet for the photo-ops around 7:30. I'm going to be singing "Who Will Comfort Me?" by Melody Gardot. She is a very big inspiration for me. She trained to be a fashion artist. She was riding her bike one day and got hit by a car. She had never sung before, but while she was in the hospital she started singing – probably for therapy – to get her strength and verbal ability back. And she became a singer. Great story, huh? "
It is a great story. Jesaiah will have more to tell along the way. Especially after tonight's Be-the-Link affair. Besides being incredibly photogenic, she's inherited the need-to-perform gene. It's in her blood. Turns out, major Silent Film star Ramon Novarro—the original "Ben-Hur"—is her great-great uncle. The Turner Classic Movie Channel has resurrected his career and rekindled interest in the Latin matinee idol who transitioned into the Talkies and had appeared opposite such beauties as Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, and Myrna Loy. In 1934 he proved his singing chops with soprano Jeanette MacDonald in the MGM musical The Cat and The Fiddle. "The Night Was Made for Love" was their big number.
"Tonight's event is really huge," said Jesaiah. "I'm so proud to be a part of it and so grateful that Mr. Tsagaris is giving me this opportunity."
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