Wilmington Musical Brother & Sister Try Out for American Idol
Local siblings Jenny Pearson and Chris Pearson were one step away from the big-time TV show.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Jason Hudson
In 2013, while vacationing in New Orleans, Jenny Lynn Pearson heard that American Idol was taping auditions in town. Even though she hadn’t watched the show in about six years, on a whim the 20-year-old singer decided to audition.
She didn’t make it through the first round.
So last summer when she got the formal invitation to audition for the show’s 14th season in Myrtle Beach, she wasn’t too excited.
“My dad dragged me out of bed,” she says.
A little over an hour later, she and her older brother Chris were each standing in front of the judges and singing their hearts out.
The Pearson siblings are both singers and songwriters. Jenny considers herself an eclectic artist. She performs classic rock songs up to six nights per week at restaurants and pubs around Wilmington and Southport as a means to put herself through college. By day, she is a student at Cape Fear Community College and plans to transfer to UNCW to prepare for a career in occupational therapy.
“But I will always sing,” she says. “It’s a part of me.”
Her favorite artists include the Beatles, Styx and Queen. “But people always request Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin songs when I play,” she says “I sound a bit like them.”
Twenty-five-year-old Chris, who lives in Wilmington, is a surveyor for Paramounte Engineering. Nights and weekends, he plays for two separate bands with two completely different sounds.
“Stereotype is strictly a dance band,” he says. “We play everything from CCR to Tupac and every song will get you on the dance floor”
His other gig is with a ’90s-style band called Just Yesterday. “We play original songs with a ’90s sound similar to bands like Nirvana,” he says.
The talented artist has been playing keyboard since he was nine and guitar since he was 15. Now he sings and plays keyboard and guitar for his bands. He also helps to write the songs for Just Yesterday.
Last year’s trip to Myrtle Beach to audition for American Idol was not on Chris’ radar.
“When my dad said we were going to Myrtle Beach, I was ready to go just to support my little sister,” Chris says. That support turned into the experience of a lifetime.
“We auditioned separately, but we each got the golden ticket!” Jenny says.
And then their whirlwind American Idol adventure began. Three weeks later, the entire family was on the road to Kansas City and one step away from “the big show.”
Kansas City was one of six audition venues for the final, live televised auditions. To pass through all four Kansas auditions would mean a ticket to Hollywood. More than 5,000 contestants made it to Kansas, where Jenny and Chris made it through the first three rounds. As two of the remaining 35 contestants, the siblings were very humble.
“There was so much talent in that place,” Chris says. So much talent, in fact, that Chris sometimes wonders how some of the artists made it to Hollywood this season — some really strong singers were left behind. Jenny agrees: “We saw some really impressive artists who should have made it, but didn’t.”
The week of auditions was long and sometimes frustrating for the Pearsons.
“What most people don’t know is that if you want to sing on camera, you have to sing from a list of approved songs,” Chris says. Luckily the siblings were very familiar with many of those songs.
The 12-hour days included hours and hours of waiting. Both Jenny and Chris sang and played their guitars for each round, and both made it through the first three rounds. Chris sang Nirvana for his first two and then a Jack Johnson song for his third.
Jenny Lynn stuck with one song for all three rounds. “I had been singing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” all week, so for the fourth round I decided to change things up a little bit,” she says.
She worked feverishly preparing an old Styx favorite, “Come Sail Away.” Chris was prepared to sing “Got Me Wrong” by Alice in Chains. But after a week of seeing the Pearson siblings perform separately, the producers decided to change things up a bit, too.
“At the last minute Ryan Seacrest came and told us we were performing together for the final round,” Jenny says.
“We have completely different styles so we were really shocked,” Chris adds.
The final audition didn’t go as planned. In front of the judges, they had to quickly find a song that they both knew well; they chose the Beatles “All My Loving.” Jenny sang too fast and Chris sang too flat. Then they only had a few seconds to sing the songs they had each prepared to play solo.
“Keith Urban cut me off at about 12 seconds,” Jenny says. “That’s not enough time to even begin the song.” She laughs it off because her favorite judge was Harry Connick, Jr. anyway.
Chris’ favorite judge was Jennifer Lopez. “She gave me a yes,” Chris says, “but Keith Urban didn’t want only one of us to get the golden ticket — so neither of us got to go to Hollywood.” This time.
The Pearsons’ Idol adventure has come to a close for now. Will they do it again? Jenny says no and Chris says yes. In fact, Chris just got an invitation to go to Atlanta to audition for “The Voice.” He is keeping the list of approved songs from his Kansas City experience as well.
“I am going to be really prepared next time,” he says.
If you want to check out their talent for yourself, keep a lookout for Jenny Pearson playing around Wilmington and Southport and for Chris Pearson playing with Just Yesterday and Stereotype in Wilmington and beyond. You can also find both Stereotype and Just Yesterday on Facebook and on Reverbnation, where you can hear some original songs.