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UCPS student vocalist will take stage on 'American Idol'

Erika Riley, 18, auditioned for American Idol in Charlotte and received a ticket to Hollywood for the next phase of auditions.

Erika Riley, 18, used her voice to get her golden ticket to Hollywood.

Riley, who attended Central Academy of Technology and Arts and Sun Valley High School, auditioned for American Idol in Charlotte and was one of 37 aspiring singers who were invited to Hollywood.

The top 20 males and females will move on from Hollywood to the next phase. Hollywood week begins this week, with episodes airing Wednesday (Feb. 6, 2013) and Thursday (Feb. 7, 2013) nights on Fox.

It was Riley's first time in Hollywood. "The experience was actually pretty fun," she said. "Hollywood week is an awesome time where everyone gets to just show who they really are as an artist, then it's also a test of the will. I think that only the strong survive."

However, she added, at the end the top 40 contestants are up to the producers. They may decide that you are not what they are looking for.

Riley has been singing since she was 18 months old, her mother Gloria Whitley said. "She did her first debut at Smith Opera House," Whitley said. She sang Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All."

Smith Opera House is in Geneva, N.Y. Riley and her family moved to Union County from upstate New York.

"I'm very, very proud of her because it took a while to coax her into doing that," Whitley said. "It's good experience for her and I think it's good for her to get out there....she said she feels like she's at home on stage."

While Riley is used to performing, she is not used to competing, Whitley said.
"It feels very different when the TV cameras are all around," Whitley said. "It feels like in a dream. (I) feel very proud."

Riley sang "Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin at her Charlotte audition. "I actually got all positive feedback," Riley said. "I got four (yes votes) and they all liked me. Mariah Carey, she told me that I had a really, really nice voice and that I could do anything with my voice."

Judge Randy Jackson told her she brought a whole light into the room, she said. "It was surreal," Riley said. "I actually couldn't process what was going on in the moment ... I was in a daze and I was barely even understanding what they were asking me."

Riley plans to continue performing. She hopes to keep putting herself out there. She recently opened a new YouTube channel to show off her musical chops.

She is excited for Hollywood week, but does not know how she will appear to viewers. "I really have no control over what they put on TV," Riley said. "But I'm hoping that they show me as who I am on Hollywood week and they actually put my name on there."

During her audition, Judge Nicki Minaj nicknamed her "Bunny."

"I'll be more than Bunny, hopefully, for Hollywood week," Riley said.

North Carolina has a long history with American Idol, now in its 12th season. Season two runner-up Clay Aiken hails from Raleigh, Season Three winner Fantasia Barrino is from High Point, Season Five contestant Bucky Covington is from Rockingham, Season Five contestant Kellie Pickler is from Albemarle, Season Five contestant Chris Daughtry is from McLeansville, Season Eight contestant Anoop Desai is from Chapel Hill and most recently Season Ten winner Scotty McCreery is from Garner.

Though Riley is credited as being from Geneva, N.Y., perhaps she can bring another American Idol credit to North Carolina.

--Reprinted with permission from The Enquirer-Journal.

Written by: Carolyn Steeves, Enquirer Journal education reporter
Posted: Feb 05, 2013 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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