Drew Jones went to Roosevelt University in Performing Arts on a full scholarship. He has sang in thirteen countries, representing the military might of the United States Air Force before international delegations of tremendous importance. He has performed alongside Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson. And he even braves the daily wrath of high-school music students.
So going before American Idol judges Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban, Jones wasn’t star-struck—but he was focused.
“It wasn’t so much being nervous being around them, but knowing this was the only year I could audition put a lot of pressure on me,” Jones said. “I was a bit on edge, but I also knew that I had to bring it.”
It was the last year because La Grange Park resident Jones is 28, the age cutoff for Idol. But bring it he did, with renditions of “Home” (Daughtry), “Knock on Wood” (Eddie Wood) and “This is My Now” (Jordin Sparks), enough to win him that ever-coveted golden ticket to the competition’s second stage in Hollywood.
All that actually aired was a clip of “Knock on Wood,” mashed with another contestant’s audition (you can see it in the videos above). But according to Jones, he spent nearly ten nerve-wracking minutes trying to win over the skeptical Jackson and Minaj. (Jackson finally caved; Minaj thought Jackson wasn't "superstar" material, which he refuted in his contestant interview, also above.)
“I threw my hands up in the air—and that’s the part they showed on television,” Jones laughed.
Jones' promising musical career seemed to derail in 2005, when he was forced to drop out of Roosevelt as a senior and join the Air Force to support his family. But he’d barely started basic training before someone noticed he could sing, and recruited him for the Air Force band, in which he would perform for the next five years.
Trying out for a show like Idol or The X Factor was always a dream, but it had to wait until he was released from active service (and from his musical contract with the Air Force.) In 2010, he didn’t make the cut; in 2011, he couldn’t get the time off from his job as a high-school music teacher with at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
That left 2012’s Chicago auditions—and this time, Jones nailed it
“I was really super excited about this,” he said. “And when I got my golden ticket, it was more so for my family and all my students than it was just for me.”
Today, Jones has lived in La Grange Park with his partner Sean and his daughter Anmarie for six months (and “we love it.”) He teaches freshman and sophomore music and directs band and choir at Christ the King, and is also a musical director at The Church of Living Faith in Chicago’s South Shore. He’s always looking for protégé students.
Jones’ Idol journey continues in next week’s Hollywood round.
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