For Leslie Hunt, making it to the final rounds of American Idol would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
A couple of years ago, however, Hunt would not have had the physical stamina to go through the grueling American Idol audition process.
Diagnosed with lupus when she was 7, Hunt says she had a difficult childhood that was spent largely indoors.
â€œIt was really tough,â€ Hunt said in phone call from Los Angeles, where sheâ€™s sharing a room with fellow Chicago-area contestant Gina Glocksen. â€œWhen I was a kid, there were a lot of limitations. Just a couple of years ago, a miracle medication made be able to do something like this.â€
One side effect of lupus was that it was dangerous for Hunt to be in the sun, but thanks to her new medicine, sheâ€™s been able to work as a dog walker for the past couple of years. And she credits the medicine with allowing her to have the stamina to wait in line for six hours at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where she tried out for Idol.
â€œNow Iâ€™m outside all the time,â€ said Hunt, who grew up in St. Charles, studied composition and piano at Roosevelt University and has played around Chicago with cover bands and with a group called Mark Twang.
Sheâ€™d never thought about trying out for American Idol, but a near-death experience while traveling left Hunt with a new passion for life.
â€œI got a vaccination for yellow fever, and I got deathly ill. I almost died when I was in Rio,â€ said Hunt, who is engaged and lives on the North Side of Chicago. â€œEver since then, itâ€™s this new mentality for me. Iâ€™m not going to just rest on my laurels and wait for things to happen to me. I have to take a proactive approach.â€
Part of her strategy this Idol season is to pick a genre she shines in, without being too predictable.
â€œIâ€™m going to be varied within reason. I do feel like I have a niche â€” Iâ€™m not going to be doing the Isley Brothers one minute and Celine Dion the next,â€ Hunt said. â€œIâ€™m going to be doing a lot of classic soul, basically.â€â€œIâ€™ll see what my criticisms are this first week and also see what they praise,â€ she added. â€œInitially with the judges, I sang both Aretha Franklin and Bjork and they really kind of came down on me for that. They said if I didnâ€™t pick a genre, a producer or other people would pick one for me, and thatâ€™s not the ideal way to go.â€
For Glocksen, 22, producers actually used editing sleight-of-hand to change the song that the TV audience saw her sing in front of the Idol judges.
In the Memphis audition round, TV viewers saw Glocksen sing â€œBlack Velvet,â€ apparently for judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.
â€œYou never know what theyâ€™re going to do,â€ said Glocksen. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of editing. I donâ€™t mind.â€
Glocksen, who lives in Naperville with her boyfriend, is a veteran of the Idol process. She auditioned in the showâ€™s second season but didnâ€™t make the cut. Last season she made it as far as Day Four of the Hollywood round.
This time around, she actually auditioned twice. She didnâ€™t make the cuts in the Los Angeles auditions, but she traveled to Memphis for another tryout. At that audition, she got the nod to come to Hollywood.
â€œIt was really cool seeing everyone again, and seeing all the producers â€” some of them remembered me from last time,â€ Glocksen said.
When she did get picked to go to Hollywood, Glocksen, who works as a dental assistant, asked to hug the judges, especially her â€œcrush,â€ Simon Cowell.
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