Frenship grad heads for “American Idol”

Once upon a buzzer, a Frenship High School coach was proud enough of his young basketball player that if the Tigers were playing at another school and no one was there to sing the anthem, he would volunteer the player to sing it.

Now that same player has a chance on “American Idol.”

Jerome Bell, a 2001 graduate of Frenship High School, has been in New York City for about five years, making his living singing at bar mitzvahs and weddings, as he told Randy Jackson during his audition last week for “American Idol.” But the bass singer said Monday that he’s also been doing session work in the Big Apple, and did a Broadway tour of “Hairspray” that took him to Florida and then across the pond to South Hampton, England, Norway and Finland.

“I’ve been really lucky to make a career singing for the past eight years,” said Bell during the phone interview.

This isn’t the first time he’s made it onto “American Idol”; he tried out during the second season, but didn’t make it past the first trip to Hollywood.

He said at that time, he thought he was ready for the program.

“Before when I did it, I definitely thought I had a shot, but when I look back, I know all the ways I wasn’t ready,” he said. Now, he feels he is prepared for his shot.

“I feel like I am ready to be the artist that I want to be,” he said, noting that he would like to be Cee Lo Green meets Bruno Mars, or fun, alternative soul.

Work on “Hairspray” in the past few years prepared him for “American Idol”, too, since it helped him work on his dance skills.

“That really made me want to be a better dancer, as well as a singer,” said Bell.

The aspiring star is not allowed to talk about his progress on “American Idol” — not even to his mother, Thelma Davis, who works at Texas Tech.

But he was willing to talk about his years as a student in Frenship, where he started out at North Ridge Elementary School and went on to attend Bennett Intermediate School, Frenship Junior High School and FHS.

Bell said after his graduation, he attended Tech briefly, then transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma. Later, he left to pursue his singing career, he said, and he didn’t get back to Frenship for five years.

“Every time I go back, Frenship is bigger!” he said enthusiastically. “They’re adding on schools, which is cool.”

During his education, he said biology and chemistry were his favorite classes, and Candy Sisson, currently the choir teacher at Terra Vista Middle School, was his favorite teacher.

Bell said he got a lot of support for his musical aspirations from what some might think would be an unlikely source: basketball coaches Grady Newton and Jason Dear.

“They were really supportive,” he said, noting that since his “American Idol” audition last week, Dear sent him an encouraging e-mail.

Many times, he said he was asked to sing the national anthem before games and he had to worry about switching gears from concern about singing to concern about shooting hoops.

He said he remembers auditioning for All-State Choir, and how stressful it was. But auditioning for “American Idol” was about 100 times more stressful, he said, due to the presence of the cameras.

“It is a high-stress-level situation, going in front of a camera and knowing that millions of people are going to be watching you and judging you, as well as the three people you’re in front of.”

But Bell said nerves are a good thing, when he can channel them into adrenaline to energize a performance.

Sisson, who was his junior high choir teacher, said she had almost decided to not watch “American Idol” for the first year, but she is now enthusiastically back for season 10.

“He is such a wonderful young man. I looked at his audition, and it just brought back wonderful memories,” said Sisson. “I’m so excited for him.”

Sisson said Bell has a lot of talent, but more importantly, he is a hard worker, has a good personality and is a nice guy.

“He’s a good, clean American boy, and we need more of that,” said Sisson. “He really has a passion for music, and I want to see him successful. The music world needs some good, clean music, and I want to see Jerome give it to us.”

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