Credit To: Maxim Tamarov The Daily News
Four Eastern North Carolina singers are warming up their vocal chords in preparation for a big day today: American Idol auditions.
After auditioning in front of three North Carolina celebrities on Aug. 10 at Mac Daddy’s in Cape Carteret, contestants from Jacksonville, Kinston, Vanceboro and Newport are traveling to Charlotte in hopes of being awarded a covetted golden ticket.
While their personal journeys differ in approach and paths, all four have an eye on the biggest prize: Becoming the next American Idol.
Here’s a look at how they got where they are today.
Symone Jenkins, 27, of Jacksonville, used to sing in the choir at River of Life Church as a teenager. She also sang at talent shows at her school and has been singing since she was four years old.
Jenkins is a big fan of Fantasia Barrino, a fellow North Carolinian who won American Idol in season 3.
“When she won — and with all the obstacles she faced — she was a big inspiration for me,” Jenkins said. “She sang from her heart and I really could relate to her.”
Jenkins went to Southwest High School and then briefly attended Coastal Community College. She left before earning her associates degree, because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. The school’s music program, according to Jenkins, did not have room for her.
“I was doing a little bit of music recording here and there,” she said. “I was more focused on taking care of my son more than anything … I want to go back to school but I need to figure what I want to do first.”
Her son, 8-year-old Andon Mendes, will be staying with his grandparents while Jenkins is in Charlotte.
“He can’t miss school,” Jenkins said. “I want him to (be there) and he wants to, too.”
Instead, Jenkins will be accompanied by her boyfriend and two other friends. She said she will most likely sing Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing,” which is the song she sang at Mac Daddy’s. She is also considering Patti Labelle’s “If Only You Knew.”
“I like those two artists because I was raised off of them,” Jenkins said. “I like soul and I like funk.”
Jenkins said her personality is what’s going to make her stand out. That, and the fact that she plans to wear flowers in her afro – with glitter to boot.
“There’s a trail of glitter everywhere that I go,” Jenkins said. “I’m just gonna let the unicorn inside me shine.”
Kenyatta Loftin, 23, of Kinston, is celebrating more than just American Idol this week – she recently gave birth to a baby boy, who she named Zayvian.
Simultaneously, Loftin was in the hospital this week recovering from her son’s birth on Aug. 21 and preparing songs for her Charlotte audition.
Loftin grew up in a musically-oriented family. Born and raised in Kinston, she played the piano and sang in church.
Throughout her life, Loftin said she struggled with authority. She grew up with an abusive father and was kicked out of school without a diploma. She got into legal trouble and “got locked up a few times.”
“At that time I was homeless,” Loftin said. “I was sleeping in cars.”
One time she was in her car and it was very cold. It was a turning point for Loftin, who decided to get her high school diploma and try for a degree at Lenoir Community College. She said the experience of sitting in that cold car also made her realize she needed to get back into her passion of singing.
A long-time Idol fan, she – like Jenkins – fell in love with the show after watching Barrino. Loftin said she could relate with the winner.
“Me and her, our background is a lot alike,” Loftin said. “Being a rebel and our fathers being pastors.”
She put off auditioning for a few years, working with juvenile delinquents at the Nova Behavioral Healthcare Corporation. But she finally signed up when she became pregnant.
“Getting pregnant changed my outlook on a lot of things,” she said.
Loftin said her son as well as her son’s father, Zachary Edwards, planned to come with her to Charlotte.
As of Tuesday, she had not yet decided on a song but had narrowed the choice down to Katy Perry’s “Roar” and a lullaby (“You are my Sunshine”) that she likes to sing to Zayvian.
Either way, she said, she was going to put her own twist on it.
Like Loftin, another local Idol auditioner has several things to celebrate this week.
Shelby Thomas, of Vanceboro, turned 17 on Monday and planned to head to Charlotte midday Thursday.
“I’ve always watched American Idol with my family every year and I always wanted to do it,” Thomas said.
Her favorite contestant was the runner-up in Season 10, Lauren Alaina.
When Thomas was a freshman at West Craven High School, two senior boys she knew were killed in a car wreck. A local radio station reached out and put on a free concert at the school, with Alaina headlining. After her performance, Alaina did a meet and greet with the students.
“I asked her if she wanted to sing with me and she said yes,” Thomas said. “That was pretty exciting, singing with someone I’d watched on TV.”
Thomas has been devoted to theater, singing and dance her whole life. She has been taking dance classes at Wanda Kay’s School of Dance for 15 years and performed in theater productions put on by the New Bern Civic Theater (NBCT) and the Masonic Theatre, also in New Bern.
Thomas said one of her favorite performances was in the NBCT production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” which was put on entirely by teenagers.
“I just really liked the songs and the music style of that show,” Thomas said.
Thomas said she will continue with theater and singing after she graduates this year. Her mother, father and older sister being Eastern Carolina University alumni, she plans on attending the school as well.
In Charlotte, Thomas plans to sing the same song she sang in her Cape Carteret audition: “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele. She said she feels like she has a good chance, but is trying to stay humble about the experience.
“Well I don’t want to go out there with a big head or anything,” she added.
Justin Bowen, 20, of Newport, said he thought of himself more as a guitarist than a singer. He honed his skills playing with the worship band at The Intersection, a Baptist church in Morehead City. At the Idol audition, however, he was forced to sing without his guitar.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Bowen said about his win at Mac Daddy’s. “It’s that good feeling that I can actually do this.”
Bowen was born in California and moved to North Carolina when he was 10. About a year later, his sister died.
Her death impacted him and the decisions he makes.
“It has taught me keep your circles with the right people,” Bowen said.
At Cape Carteret, Bowen auditioned with “More Than Words” by Extreme. He was debating early Thursday between singing that song again or trying “Vienna” by Billy Joel.
“The two people I’ve been told that I sound like are Billy Joel and Paul McCartney,” Bowen said. “If I was able to play guitar (while singing), I was going to play ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles.”