'American Idol' Top 24: Meet This Week's 12 Finalists
The second half of the season 15 American Idol top 24 compete Wednesday night (Feb. 17) and Thursday night, following the pattern set last week by the first half of the top 24, with the contestants performing solo and then duetting with former Idol contestants.
Billboard returned to Vibiana, a downtown Los Angeles venue, to spend time with the contestants and talk to them about their earliest music memories, major influences and their decisions to audition for Idol.
Like last week, five will go home on Thursday night, leaving a top 14 to face the music on the first live show of the season on Feb. 25. By the end of that episode, the final top 10 in Idol history will be revealed.
And now, the remaining members of the top 24:
Jenn Blosil, 23
Favorite Alums: Kimberley Locke, David Archuleta, Brooke White
Formative Listening: Destiny's Child, TLC, 3LW, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Brandy, Macy Gray, Des'ree
First Idol Experience: Watched season 2 for two weeks until her mother got annoyed with the TV and threw it away
Blosil's siblings warned her she wasn't going to enjoy taking piano lessons. She told them, "Yeah, right! Piano's the best. I really want to take piano." Her mother enrolled her in classes when she was four. "I hated piano. I was the worst. I would see kids playing outside on the reflective piano surface. So for a couple of years, it was my least favorite thing. But now I take a lot of joy in playing piano."
Both of Blosil's parents are musicians. "My mom is classically trained on the clarinet and my dad's a drummer into the rock and roll side of things. I had an eclectic mix of influences in my home. My dad had friends in the industry, including a guy who worked at Columbia Records, and he'd send us CDs. I gravitated toward R&B music and got really heavy into R&B artists and black history."
Blosil's dream was to sing but she kept it to herself. "I'd sing around the house all the time. I'd sing in the bathroom but I wouldn't sing for people. It was just for me. I've been writing songs ever since I can remember and I had a band with my friends in sixth grade. It wasn't until junior high that I realized you could take my hatred for piano and my love for singing and put them together and create a really beautiful thing and that changed my life. And then I started writing songs with more dedication. When I was in high school, my sister invited me to play at an open mic night and that was the first time I sang outside of my house. It was one of my own songs and that was the start of my own little musical adventure and career."
Amelia Eisenhauer, 16
Favorite Alums: Phillip Phillips, David Cook, Joey Cook
Formative Listening: Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek
First Idol Experience: Watching season 11 while visiting her grandmother
"I remember riding in the car with my mom and asking her over and over again to get me a violin. Finally, when I was six, they got me one. I don't know what exactly lured me to the violin, but my mom always played bluegrass around the house, so I heard violin music a lot," says Eisenhauer.
Classically trained on violin, she took up the fiddle when she was eight. She stopped taking lessons when she was 11 and through some musicians she knew in Mississippi, took up jazz and blues. "I did a lot of talent shows when I was younger and started playing in bands when I was nine. I was home schooled from third grade on, so I didn't go to slumber parties or hang out with friends. I was always playing shows and now I play with my family band, which is my mom, my brother and a friend of ours. My brother plays banjo. My mother plays guitar. I play fiddle and our friend Bryan Ward plays the upright bass. We all sing. My brother has a very deep baritone voice, so we all fit together like clockwork. I have more of an alto voice, because I have a lower voice for a female, and my mom has a higher voice."
Being involved with American Idol has already proven to be an education for Eisenhauer. "I've learned to talk to people and to come out of my shell a little bit, especially on stage, and to have fun and be normal and natural in front of the camera. There's a lot of work that goes into it. A big problem for me before this was time management, so it's kind of helped me with those skills, too."
Trent Harmon, 25
Favorite Alums: Joshua Ledet, Jordin Sparks, Chris Daughtry
Formative Listening: Elvis Presley, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
First Idol Experience: "I was in fifth grade and a tornado came through and I remember sitting in school thinking, 'This is not cool because Justin and Kelly are going to be competing tonight on the finale of American Idol'"
Harmon has a vivid first musical memory. "Amazing Grace" was playing on the car radio and Harmon's mother asked him to sing along. "So I sang that part and she said, 'Now sing this part, Trent,' I sang that part. 'Now sing the harmony.' I sang the harmony and she called someone on the phone and said, 'This 5-year-old sang harmony and switched back to lead. What does that mean?' I didn't know what it meant. I was just doing what my mama told me to do, which is what you do in Mississippi."
Despite his musical talent, Harmon had his heart set on playing baseball. "I tried to push music away and it always came back." In high school, Harmon's baseball coach dared him to try out for a part in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. "He said, 'If you make it, you don't have to work out this week.' I got the lead."
Harmon did consider non-musical jobs. His family owns a farm and operates a restaurant on their property, so farming was a possibility, as was a culinary career. "I went to college to be a history teacher and I almost became one but I started getting more and more gigs and I thought I can always teach [when I'm older]."
Harmon was inspired to audition for Idol after being trapped in a snowstorm during a family vacation. They stayed in that night and watched David Archuleta perform "Imagine" on Idol. Harmon was in ninth grade when he tried out but says, "It was such an anemic audition, I wouldn't even count it. I was so unprepared. My dad drove me on no sleep from work and we drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky."
Harmon didn't return to Idol until this season. "I have a friend who lives in Belize and I go there every summer and work." Flying back to the U.S. on a red-eye, Harmon was urged by his friend to change clothes and show up at the Little Rock auditions. He replied, "I've been in Belize for a month. I want to go to sleep." Harmon did take her advice but had no intention of making it through. "I was exhausted. I looked like crap. I had a little bit of a beard and was all disheveled." He sang Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be" and was asked to sing something else. On the spot, he went with Sam Smith's "Lay It Down." "The reason it was the first one that came to my mind is because I sing it so often that I can easily connect it and connect them to it. It worked and I sang it all the way to Hollywood Week."
Lee Jean, 16
Favorite Alums: David Cook, David Archuleta, Chris Daughtry
Formative Listening: Michael Jackson, Bob Marley
First Idol Experience: Watching David Cook and David Archuleta on season 7
Jean will never forget the moment he realized he had musical talent. A self-described introvert whose main interests were Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, he didn't have a lot of friends when he moved back to the military base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where he was born and found himself in a new school. He was walking around the campus singing to himself and bumped into the one girl he knew, because she was assigned to show him around. "I saw her jaw drop to the floor. She said, 'You can sing. I'm going to tell everybody.'" Jean asked her to swear not to do that but she ran over to a large group of students gathered outside. "I remember this because I was so embarrassed, she pointed at me and said, 'That little black boy over there can sing!'"
Next thing he knew, Jean was forced to vocalize for the other students. "I kept my eyes closed for most of that song, but when I opened them everybody was smiling and the girls were tearing up. That's when I realized how much I loved performing, and that this what what I really wanted to do."
Jean knew he wanted to audition for Idol as soon as he started watching the show during the seventh season. "I had the sudden realization that I really wanted to be on the show. While I could imagine being on Idol, I never imagined I would actually be here."
CJ Johnson, 29
Favorite Alums: David Cook, Chris Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson
Formative Listening: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, John Mayer
First Idol Experience: Watching season 4
"My pops used to have this tuner and the record player and the speakers that were taller than me. He played old records by Boston, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. I got a guitar when I was six. I remember trying to play it sitting in the living room. I didn't even know how. Dad picked a little bit. He played three Beatles songs and some Rolling Stones, like 'Jumpin' Jack Flash.' He had a dream but he never followed through because he wanted to provide for us."
In his teen years, Johnson played soccer and baseball. Then, at 14, he competed in a talent show at the Mid-South Fair. "I placed in the top 20 out of 1,200 people. I had a guitar and the ladies liked it, so I figured I'd be in a band. During high school I'd sit in my room and play along to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kenny Wayne Shepherd records and try to imitate them."
In ninth grade, Johnson wrote his first song, "The Man in Me." "To this day my mom will come to my gigs and shout, 'Play "The Man in Me"!' She knows it embarrasses me because it's the cheesiest song. 'Mom, I have more songs than that!'"
Johnson joined his high school choir when he was in 10th grade. "I couldn't read music. I played by ear. My choir teacher would give me tapes of music we were doing and let me go home and learn my part and come back and fake reading. I'm still trying to learn to read to this day, but it's tough for me. My right brain just doesn't want to do it."
Johnson acknowledges the members of his band, American Fiction, for inspiring his musicianship. "They're four or five years older than me. They brought me into the game in Memphis, introduced me to some of the best musicians in town and I'm fortunate enough to have a relationship with all these guys. We still play and they're very supportive of me being out here and I support them. That's my goal – to have other people get discovered and do what they love."
Adam Lasher, 28
Favorite Alums: Haley Reinhart, Casey Abrams, Clark Beckham
Formative Listening: Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Gypsy Kings, the Temptations, Journey, Queen
First Idol Experience: Watching Kelly Clarkson on season 1
Lasher's earliest musical memory is running around backstage at one of his uncle's concerts in the Bay Area and having his mother tell him to sit down. And by the way, his uncle is Carlos Santana. "He'd have us come on stage with the maracas. The first time I was on stage, they gave me the cowbell with the stick and I hit my thumb and started crying."
Lasher was in junior high when his uncle released Supernatural. "I started to play guitar around then. My grandfather was a mariachi musician and he brought his wife and seven kids up to San Francisco from Mexico and supported them playing the violin. So I've always grown up thinking, 'If my grandpa could support seven people, I should be able to pay my rent singing and playing guitar.'"
Lasher continued to take lessons throughout his high school years and played in two of his campus' jazz bands. After graduation, he moved to Boston and enrolled in the Berklee College of Music.
The first talent competition show Lasher tried out for was The Voice, in 2011. "I did a song I didn't really like. It really didn't fit me, but luckily I never got on a team. It takes a lot of failure to get success." Lasher auditioned for season 14 of Idol. "I only made it to Hollywood Week. I went in with an original song and Jimmy Fallon dressed up as me and impersonated me. I thought it was awesome. Soon as I was off, I already knew I was going again the next season. I wasn't discouraged. So I cut my hair and cleaned up my look and here I am."
Tristan McIntosh, 15
Favorite Alums: Kellie Pickler, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood
Formative Listening: Martina McBride, Lonestar, Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks
First Idol Experience: "The furthest back I can remember is Scotty McCreery, so season 10, the year I started singing"
When McIntosh was 9, she took to singing around the house and her mother thought she sounded pretty good. "She took me to a singing studio and told the people there, 'Tell me whether or not my daughter has talent. If not, don't waste my time or my money.' If they had said no, I wouldn't be here today." McIntosh ended up studying at a more performance-edged studio. "But it wasn't for me. Now we have a vocal coach, Jessica Ford. I've been with her since I was 10."
Tristan's mother Amy was winding up a 24-year career in the military, serving in Kuwait, when she telephoned her daughter to tell her Ford had arranged an audition for American Idol. Although Tristan lived closer to the Nashville auditions, she was told by the show to try out in Little Rock. She had no idea a conspiracy was happening behind the scenes.
Idol producers were secretly arranging for Amy to surprise her daughter in the judges' room. "I flew back on a Wednesday, turned in all my gear and my weapon in Texas," Amy recalls. "I hid out at my mom's house. It was very difficult. Imagine being in Kuwait all that time and then you're home and you can't go anywhere. I drove from my house to Little Rock, which took about six hours, after my 20-hour flight. I stayed in a different hotel then they did." Amy kept worrying how her daughter was going to react when they were reunited in front of the cameras but her fears were for naught. "It was an emotional experience. They couldn't have planned it any better."
Tristan wasn't the only one who didn't know Amy was in Little Rock. Tristan's father and brother weren't in on the secret. "My son is a male teenager and he didn't want to cry on national television. That's why he had that stoic look. Before I hugged Tristan, my husband thought I was a hologram, beamed in from Kuwait. That was hilarious."
Dalton Rapattoni, 20
Favorite Alums: Chris Daughtry, Jacob Lusk, Adam Lambert
Formative Listening: Green Day, Weezer
First Idol Experience: Watching season 1
When Rapattoni was 12 years old and in seventh grade, he had to take medication for a bipolar disorder. "The medicine didn't react with me well, so I started having seizures. I missed so many days of school while at the hospital that they had to pull me out. And when I was doing home schooling, my buddy who I used to play hockey with told me he was going to this program called the School of Rock. He said I should check it out. It's an awesome program where you get to play music. I started as a guitarist but I was singing along to one of the songs in one of my lessons and my teacher said, "Put down the guitar. You're a singer. You're not a guitarist."
Eight years later, Rapattoni has taken some sporadic lessons and now plays guitar and bass, as well as piano, tambourine, kazoo and he "dabbles" on the drums. "I'm self-taught at everything except vocals. I have a teacher for vocals in Dallas."
Rapattoni started taking music seriously when he was 15. "I had been in multiple bands at that point." He watched Idol during this period and kept telling himself, "I'll do it next year if I'm not doing anything with my music." When he realized this was the final season and there would be no "next year," he decided to audition. "I've loved the show for my entire life, so I would love to be a part of it. And I am."
Billboard asked Dalton how he developed his unique look and he candidly replied, "My mom puts together most of my outfits. I want people to believe that I'm naturally this cool but that's not true." And the eyeliner? It's not just for Idol. "When I was 14, I was at music camp. I was doing a punk song and these girls held me down and smudged eyeliner on me. I said, 'Stop! Stop!' And then I stood up, looked in the mirror and said, 'This is pretty good.' Since then, I've worn it pretty much every day."
Olivia Rox, 17
Agoura Hills, Calif.
Favorite Alums: Kelly Clarkson, Katharine McPhee, Carrie Underwood
Formative Listening: Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton, Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry
First Idol Experience: "I just turned 17, so I've been watching since I was 2."
Rox (more about that last name in a minute) grew up in a very musical household. "My dad, Warren Hill, is a saxophone player and he's released 13 CDs. My mom, Tamara Van Cleef, used to sing alternative rock. They met in the studio while my dad was playing on her record. I've been on tour with my dad since I was a baby. I've been homeschooled my entire life because my parents didn't want to change their way of life, which was amazing. I absolutely loved it. I've gotten to see the world with them."
When Olivia was a child, her mother traveled to South Africa to work with children who had AIDS. When she returned, she discovered her daughter had written a song, "My Mommy Went to South Africa." Her next song was "Butterfly," and then the family was in Los Angeles when Rox was seven. "My dad was making a record and I saw a homeless person with a shopping cart and everything they owned. I had never seen anything like that because we lived in Boulder, Colorado and it's like a bubble there." So I was really taken aback by that and I said to my mom, 'Can we take her home?'" The youngster went back to the hotel room and wrote a song, "Love in Our Hearts."
A year later, Van Cleef wrote a pilot for a TV series called Olivia Rox. It eventually became a film, produced in Boulder with local talent. Her daughter played the lead, Olivia Roxamillion. "The entire city came to the premiere," says Olivia. "We hired one limo and all the actors lined up and the limo kept going around the block and dropping them off and the driver kept changing his hat, so it seemed like we had [a fleet of] limos. After the premiere, everyone kept calling me Olivia Rox, because that was my character's name and that's who I was in their eyes. I really loved the name so I kept it."
Manny Torres, 21
Favorite Alums: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Joshua Ledet, DeAndre Brackensick, Jessica Sanchez, Clark Beckham
Formative Listening: Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, Gavin DeGraw, John Mayer, Maroon 5, John Legend
First Idol Experience: "I've always watched the show, but I got more into it in season 6 with Jordin, Blake and Melinda."
Torres' father made an album of Christian music in Puerto Rico and had guitars all over the house when Manny was growing up in Michigan. "When I was four he bought me a drum set. I look at the little home videos we made and I had rhythm! I was making beats as a young kid." Torres also sang at church as a child but it wasn't until his last two years of high school that he realized what he wanted to do with his life. "Everyone was going off to college to play sports but what did I want to do?" The answer was music.
He learned guitar from his father, piano from YouTube videos and taught himself to play bass. After high school, he moved to Chicago. "I went to the city to get my foot in the door of the music scene. Playing wherever they would let me play. Coffee shops, restaurants, bars, corporate events, holiday parties, et cetera. When I heard it was the farewell season, I thought you should jump at every opportunity you can. I'm a very go-with-the-flow kind of guy. So I decided to audition in Chicago. I've auditioned for other shows in the past and not much came from it. Before I knew it, I was at Hollywood Week. Then I was in the top 24. It's definitely crazy, but it's been an awesome journey."
Kory Wheeler, 27
Formative Listening: John Prine, Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Eagles
First Idol Experience: "I remember Kelly Clarkson winning. And I remember Adam Lambert doing 'Ring of Fire.' The first season I remember watching all the way through was Haley Reinhart's year."
Wheeler first took an interest in music when he was five and spent time watching MTV and VH-1, back in the day when they played music videos. At eight, he wrote his first song, "Why," but he didn't play any instruments yet. That changed when he was 12. "I wanted to play drums. I ran out of drumsticks so I just hit them with different things I'd find around the house and destroyed them. Then my mom bought me a guitar." Soon, he learned to play keyboard, bass, banjo and mandolin -- "Any stringed instruments." He competed in talent shows when he was younger and when he grew up, became a worship leader in church.
His audition story is different from most. "They were [taping] auditions across the street from where I worked as a barista." He thought it would be fun to try out for season 14 and convinced his supervisors to give him time off. "I saw somebody with an American Idol lanyard and said, 'You should let me audition for the show,' just joking with him, but then it ended up happening the next day. When I auditioned for the producers, I literally clocked out and went on my break. Came back, finished my shift and went back to audition for the judges." Wheeler sang his favorite song, Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," but it wouldn't clear, so he had an hour to find another song and chose Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me."
Wheeler didn't make it into the finals, and when Idol announced its final season, he decided to try one more time. What do his employers think of that? "They're championing me pretty hard. We're inside a hotel, so there are all these different outlets that are in there that know about me and what I'm doing and they've been really supportive."
Shelbie Z, 23
Favorite Alums: Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Constantine Maroulis
Formative Listening: Led Zeppelin, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Martina McBride, Alabama, Lady Gaga
First Idol Experience: "The first episode I watched was the finale of season 1."
The "Z" in "Shelbie Z" comes from her middle name, Zora. That was her great-grandmother's first name. "Everybody used to call me Shelbie Zorro all the time and I would say, 'No, it's not.' And then everybody would say, 'Hey, you're Shelbie Z.' I said OK, let's go with that!"
Shelbie's first musical memory is being in her mother's silver Camaro with her dad. "We were riding to get something to eat and I was so tiny, my feet didn't even hang off the side of the front seat of the car. And dad played 'Do You Feel Like I Do' by Peter Frampton, and said, 'Listen right here, baby girl. This man is so good, he can make his guitar talk.' I was so captivated by it, thinking, 'Really? This is awesome!'"
In her formative years, Shelbie listened to all genres of music. Her grandmother loved '90s country and her grandfather enjoyed the classics, like Conway Twitty. Shelbie's dad loved rock 'n' roll and her mother listened to everything.
"I was always singing through the house. I'd sing on the porch to the trees like they were my audience. But as far as wanting to make a career out of this, that happened when I was 15. I entered a singing competition (performing Sugarland's "Stay") and after I got offstage, I realized this is something that I really want to do. I enjoyed it and I thought it could really lead to something."
Instead of joining choir or performing in musicals, Shelbie spent her high school years cheerleading. "I had a scholarship for fashion design at Savannah College of Art and Design and got injured my senior year of high school. I tore all the ligaments in my foot and lost my scholarship. But everything happens for a reason because I would not be here doing music. I'm very blessed that all that happened."