Almost an ‘Idol’

Alcoa teen reflects on ‘American Idol’ experience

Jackie Midkiff of Alcoa relaxes while talking about his American Idol experience.

Photo by Tessa Bright Wildsmith

Jackie Midkiff of Alcoa relaxes while talking about his American Idol experience.

One spot.

Jackie Midkiff says he missed making it to the next level on the popular television reality show “American Idol” by one spot.

America got to see Midkiff’s singing ability briefly as he rose from a cattle call of 11,000 to the Hollywood level. The Alcoa High School junior made it to the Hollywood round. The next round was the live performances when Idol viewers get a chance to vote for their favorites.

“I came in 37th,” Midkiff said. Unfortunately, it’s the top 36 contestants who sing live on the award winning show and go to the next level.

At the encouragement of a friend of his father’s, Midkiff auditioned at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., over the summer along with 11,000 other singers, all vying for a coveted yellow ticket to Hollywood. According to Midkiff, during the auditioning process, contestants sing during a “cattle call,” then they sing for the producers. If you get past them, you move on to sing for the judges who ultimately decide the contestant’s fate.

“You wait for the entire day,” Midkiff said of the auditioning process. “Your nerves are always going.”

For the audition, Midkiff sang “God Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts. Midkiff said Idol judge Paula Abdul said he was a great singer, and he was a cute guy and fresh. Idol judge Randy Jackson said he dressed well. Newcomer Idol judge Kara DioGuardi also said he was a good singer. With three voting ‘yes,’ Midkiff made it to the next round in Hollywood.

Approximately six weeks later, Midkiff arrived for the stress-filled week in Hollywood. For his solo performance before the judges, he chose to sing Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.” Again, the judges’ feedback was encouraging. Simon Cowell, who has a reputation for not mincing words, said Midkiff was likable, and he would go a long way in the competition. Randy Jackson said he never heard a country singer sing Stevie Wonder so well.

The next round of Hollywood week was the grueling group performances. Last season, this dramatic element was removed from the show, so Midkiff said the contestants were stunned when producers announced that they had to find a group, choose a song and choreograph a number to perform the next evening.

The group performance rehearsals brought on a lot of drama, and Midkiff said he witnessed it all, from singers storming off and the constant bickering among group members.

Midkiff, who said he has an easy-going personality, got with a group of three other guys and they all got along well. Midkiff said they chose a Temptations song, and his group stayed up the latest that evening, rehearsing the words and steps to their number. All four members of the group sang the verse and chorus, and the group’s performance went well. However, group member Austin Sisneros was cut that evening. Midkiff said he and Sisneros had become friends, so it was difficult to see him eliminated from the competition.

The next intense Hollywood week round was another solo performance with the option of a band and back-up singers performing with you. Midkiff chose a song that Idol judge DioGuardi wrote, “All or Nothing” by O-Town.

In the final phase of Hollywood week, the remaining contestants are called to walk across a long hallway to appear before the judges to learn if they made it to the top 36.

In a twist, the judges were still undecided on a handful of contestants, and they had to “sing for their lives” as Cowell phrased it. It happens that Midkiff was one of the singers who had to go before the judges and compete against another contestant, Nathaniel Marshall. This was where Midkiff got some airtime, as they showed him singing, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

During this stressful time, Midkiff said he just kept thinking, “I have to prove to them that I can go on.” Idol judge DioGuardi said there was no doubt in her mind that Midkiff was a great singer and should be at the next level.

When the voting came, the judges picked Marshall. However, the good news was that Midkiff was encouraged by Randy Jackson to return next year for the auditioning process.

“Doors will open,” said Midkiff’s father, Jackie Midkiff, who is pastor at High Praises Church in Maryville. The Midkiffs said the Idol experience might just be the spark that ignites the 17-year-old’s career.

The teenager is no stranger to performing. At age 6, Midkiff was already an accomplished singer who traveled the country performing at church revivals and community events. As a 6-year-old, he sang the national anthem in Murfreesboro for the basketball state championship and at minor league baseball games.

“I saw real soon he had special talent,” said Midkiff’s father. High school days at Alcoa brought some time in his freshman and sophomore years as an Tornado football player. Since the American Idol Hollywood week, Midkiff said he has stayed in touch with other contestants he met during the experience. He spoke with fan favorite and blind Idol contestant Scott MacIntyre the day after the final episode of Hollywood week aired. Midkiff said MacIntyre was very encouraging and said Midkiff was in a great place to pursue a country music career especially since Nashville is just down the road.

Midkiff said he and MacIntyre became friends in Hollywood while they visited tourist attractions.

Midkiff won’t pick a favorite contestant, saying “There are so many great singers in there own right,” and he said he made some great friends. He said he expects contestants Danny Gokey, Scott MacIntyre, Matt Giraud and Taylor Vaifanua all will do well during the competition.

Locally, Midkiff says he is staying busy. Midkiff, whose musical influences include Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Maroon 5 and Billy Currington, said he has received several invitations to perform, including for radio station WIVK and for television station WBIR’s “Live at Five at Four” broadcast.

“The whole experience made me grow as a person in the industry,” Midkiff said.

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