With “American Idol” ending this year, I looked up a few former local singers who got huge career boosts from Fox’s music competition reality show.
Almost every year we could count on meeting a young talented performer from this area on the show. They became instant celebrities here… and known to the nation.
Here are some updates, and list of a dozen other locals who found a few minutes of fame on “American Idol.”
EBEN FRANKCEWITZ (2012): At 15, the Milford High School freshman was the youngest in the nation to make the Top 24 on “American Idol.” He failed to advance to the next round, when the live competition and weekly viewer voting started.
“Idol” launched Eben’s professional singing career, which has taken him to Orlando and now London, and forged a lasting friendship with 2012 winner Phillip Phillips.
Eben joined the Orlando-based Far Young singing group in 2013. They signed with Global Entertainment, and moved to London, England. They are recording an album in London says his mother, Stephanie Franckewitz, a local attorney. Here's what she says:
“American Idol” was a life-changing experience for Eben. The show/experience was instrumental in clarifying for Eben what he wanted to do in life. When Eben left the show, his desire was to pursue a pop career. We then began to pursue that path with a lot of travels and performances and chasing the dream.
It was a wonderful experience that I would not trade for anything! Wonderful people and lasting relationships were formed. Eben had the opportunity to perform in some of the most amazing venues in LA and Vegas! He made many friends that he still keeps in touch with today, including Phillip Phillips.
JESS LAMB (2015): Harry Connick Jr. jammed on the piano with Jess Lamb, 29, of Lebanon, during her memorable audition in Kansas City. Lamb grew up in Lebanon singing folk, bluegrass and gospel. For years she had performed in Cincinnati area clubs with her brother Kenny, a guitarist, before auditioning in Columbus for “Idol” in her final year of eligibility.
Jess performed last month with The Factory (Warren Harrison and Kasey Williams) at MOTR in Over-the-Rhine.
She’s nominated for multiple 2016 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards – including Singer/Songwriter, Indie Alternative and Music Video (“Memories”) -- presented by CityBeat on Jan. 31. Online voting ends Jan. 21. Here is the link to the ballot.
ROBERT V. HATCHER (2007): The 26-year-old former Metropolitan Sewer District dispatcher and Hartwell church music director was never seen singing during the Hollywood round. Undeterred, he entered “America’s Got Talent,” and became a star six months later on NBC's summer series, joking with then host Jerry Springer, the former Cincinnati mayor, about his Cincinnati sewer job.
The “Idol” exposure keeps paying off for Hatcher, a 1998 Western Hills High School graduate, who will appear in the new Oxygen TV series “Preachers of Atlanta” next month. Here’s his email to me:
“American Idol” definitely changed my life. “Idol” was the first TV show I appeared on in 2007. Since “Idol” I’ve appeared on “America’s Got Talent” on NBC and “Sunday Best” on BET. I’ve made an appearance on the “Wendy Williams” show as well.
In 2010, I opened the Rob Hatcher Agency which was based in New York, NY, then relocated to Atlanta in 2013. My company does artist management, artist consulting, public relations and marketing. My purpose in life is to help other people fulfill their purpose.
On Feb 3, 2016 I will be featured on “Preachers of Atlanta” as my client, Grammy Award winner LeAndria Johnson, stars as a cast member.
My life is forever changed and I thank God every day.”
BRANDY NEELLY (2014): The 19-year-old country singer from Liberty Township – daughter of former WLWT-TV news director Mike Neelly and his wife, former WKRC-TV anchor Cheryl Case – made it to the Hollywood round’s Top 31 in 2014 before being eliminated by judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr.
That was Brandy’s fourth straight year she advanced to the Hollywood round on “Idol.” Until 2014, she was living in Louisville, where her dad was news director before coming to Channel 5. Brandy lived here as a toddler in 1996-98 when Cheryl Case Neelly was a Channel 12 news anchor (1996-98).
Today she’s recording in Nashville while attending college. Here’s an update from her dad, Mike Neelly:
She’s a junior at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and at the same time she’s currently writing and working on her debut EP with Century Music Group in Nashville.
Brandy continues to wow audiences and fans with live performances, opening for country acts such as Love and Theft, the Kentucky Headhunters, Lucy Angel and Mark Wills. You can catch Brandy performing regularly in and around Nashville at various venues featuring up and coming writers and artists. Her website is BrandyNeelly.com. Thanks for inquiring!
Here are others we watched on “American Idol”:
COURTNEY FLEGE (2012): Like Eben Franckewitz, the 16-year old from Florence auditioned in Pittsburgh in 2012 and was given a “golden ticket” to the Hollywood round. But the Walton-Verona High School senior was never seen on the Fox show. The R&B singer-songwriter and pianist made her national TV debut in 2006 singing “Chain of Fools” on “Showtime at the Apollo.”
LENESHE YOUNG (2009): The 18-year-old made headlines when she told the national “Idol” TV audience she grew up in Cincinnati homeless shelters with her mom and four siblings. She was eliminated in the Hollywood round.
BRENT KEITH SMITH (2009): The 29-year-old from Blanchester had competed on cable’s “Nashville Star” in 2004 before appearing on “Idol” five years later.
JUSTIN WILLIAMS (2009): The 26-year-old Lakota East High School graduate was living in Arizona, and identified as an Arizona resident, when he got a golden ticket to Hollywood at the Phoenix auditions.
RYAN PAUL AUGUST JOHNSON (2009): The 27-year-old CSX rail yard worker from Butler County appeared on “Idol” when he was singing for Instero, a Hamilton-based Christian rock band.
TOM AND JENNIFER KORBEE (2009): The 2002 University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music graduates were eliminated in the Hollywood round. He was an Anderson Township native and St. Xavier High School graduate; Jennifer grew up in Madison, Wis.
PHIL STACEY (2007): Viewers told me about Phil’s local connection before he became one of the top 12 finalists in “Idol” in 2007. He was born in Harlan County, KY, and lived here in the early 1980s, from age 3 to 13, before his family moved to Kansas.
MELINDA DOOLITTLE (2007): She never lived here, but the 29-year-old from Brentwood, Tenn., had many aunts, uncles and cousins here who knew her mother, Marguerite Duke Doolittle, a Taft High School grad. She lost out in the final four to eventual winner Jordin Sparks.
ARIEL UNDERWOOD (2005): The 18-year-old School for Creative & Performing Arts senior advanced to the Hollywood round.
NATHAN MABRY (2005): The 27-year-old Taylor Mill resident, and worship director at Mason First Baptist Church in Warren County, also made it to the Hollywood round.
MATTHEW METZGER (2004): The 23-year-old Oxford resident and Miami University student was the area’s first big “Idol” success story. After judges failed to pick him as their “wild card” candidate, the Miami marketing major from Illinois moved to New York and became an actor. His credits include “All My Children,” “One Life To Live” and “Jenny’s Wedding” with Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel.
KENNY MATHIS (2003, 2005): The Forest Park resident made it to the Hollywood round the first season, and again in the third season. But, alas, both times he was never seen singing on “American Idol.”