Norwich native Kaitlyn Jackson won her place on American Idol with a heart-wrenching story she told in a song.
The audition was in Boston, and Jackson went out on a limb singing a highly personal piece she had written herself.
The judges of the Fox primetime reality show — Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. — were visibly touched when Jackson told the story of her song, “Another Angel.”
Jackson’s voice cracked with emotion as she explained how, at 11 years old, she was the opening act at the Chenango County Fair when her grandfather suffered a heart attack in the stands as she was performing.
Her country/pop song told how her grandfather fell into the arms of a stranger, who saved him, and how she supposed heaven didn’t need another angel just then. Her grandfather died before he ever heard the song that landed Jackson on American Idol.
Now the 16-year-old is in the running for a place in musical history alongside former contestants such as Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson.
“It is really an amazing experience,” Jackson said on Saturday as she signed autographs at The Vinyl Music Vault in Oneonta. “Everyone has been awesome. ... But you fend for yourself — you do your own make-up and costume. You meet with a vocal coach for about a five-minute session just to see what key you are in and that is like at 2 o’clock in the morning.”
A frantic segment of the competition for Jackson was the ‘Group Round,’ where the individuals had to form a musical group with other competitors.
“At first I thought I’d sing with Ethan Harris, because he is from here too,” Jackson said. “But he wanted to sing a song that I didn’t know so well. Then I heard some girls asking if anybody knew ‘Momma’s Broken Heart’ by Miranda Lambert. I thought that would be a better song for me, so I went with that group.”
Harris, 20, of Garrattsville, is also competing on this season of “American Idol.” The two knew each other before the show ever started; both competed in the local Junior Idol competition, and they sang “You’re the One That I Want” at the Oneonta Theatre during a sock hop put on by Townsquare Media.
Jackson was well received in Oneonta Saturday as she greeted fans and autographed copies of her CD, “Crush.”
“I just love her,” said Joan Lawton of Morris. “I came out to support her today. She is really talented.”
With Jackson on Saturday were her parents, Terri and John Jackson, and her best friend from Norwich, Nicole Little, who helps Jackson manage her social media.
“I love being here with her,” Little said. “She is really talented.”
“One thing I noticed when we were in Hollywood is that many of the competitors come from performing arts schools,” Terri Jackson said. “They will be afforded the time off of school for tryouts. There were only a handful of kids like Kaitlyn who come from the public school system.”
The Jacksons described their daughter has having an honest and wholesome spirit and a good work ethic. She makes top grades and takes her schoolwork seriously, they said, even when studying under tutors in Hollywood. As a 10th-grader, she is taking advanced-placement courses and expects to graduate with honors.
Jackson’s first performance was at age 5, when she competed in a school talent show.
“She was nervous,” John Jackson recalled. “She dropped the microphone, and then she ran off stage. I talked to her and helped her come back onstage. And she has been singing ever since.”
The next two segments of American Idol will be aired Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fox Television.