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Ole Miss Student Competes for American Idol Title

“You’re going to Hollywood!” This short phrase can change someone’s life. In the case of three Oxford locals, it did just that.
Ole Miss sophomore Michael Smith, junior Julie Offill, and Keith Sanders, 26-year-old bartender at the Rib Cage, each heard those four magic words.

Michael Smith is a sophomore at the University of Mississippi and received a 'Golden Ticket' when American Idol hosted auditions in Oxford.
Michael Smith is a sophomore at the University of Mississippi and received a ‘Golden Ticket’ when American Idol hosted auditions in Oxford.

Last August, the American Idol bus tour rolled through Oxford for auditions. Encouraged by his Chi Psi fraternity brothers, Smith joined the more than 1,000 aspiring vocalists and auditioned. He was one of 12 people that made the cut and was flown to Salt Lake City in October to perform for the celebrity judges.
Channeling his inner John Mayer, Smith chose “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” as his audition song. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr., and Keith Urban all voted yes.
“It’s an unreal feeling to receive a golden ticket on American Idol when you’ve been watching the show since season one,” he said. “I always wanted to be part of the show and now that I am, it’s just incredible.”
For music promoting purposes, Smith uses his middle name on the show and goes by Michael Simeon.
“It’s just much more unique and easier to find on social media and the Internet. It’s more memorable,” he said.
After receiving his golden ticket, Smith finished the fall semester at Ole Miss and learned as many new songs as possible. After final exams, he flew to Hollywood to continue competing.
“I got to Hollywood having barely slept on the plane and immediately had to be enthusiastic and excited for the cameras when I got to the airport,” he said.
The contestants were taken into an airplane hangar and were told by the judges that that some would sing, and then cuts would be made.
The following day, it was time for Smith to hit the stage again, this time singing “Impossible” by Shontelle. After finding out he made it through, it was time for the group round of competition.
“I didn’t step foot off the stage before they said ‘pick a group and a song and go see the vocal coaches. Group round starts now,’” Smith said.
Smith teamed up with fellow contestants Malcom Allen, Maddie Walker, and Nalani Quintello.
“We called ourselves ‘Musically Inclined’ because that was the name of a group Malcom had in a talent show in high school,” Smith said.
Maroon 5’s “Love Somebody” was the group song of choice.
After a long day, the group harmonized and choreographed, met with the vocal coach, and power napped from 4:30 to 5:30 a.m. The sleep depravation began to kick in, however, and for Smith and Allen that power nap turned into oversleeping their alarms. Luckily, the two woke up just in time for roll call.
Before taking the stage, the group made a last minute decision to cut the choreography.
“The judges ripped us apart for our lack of choreography saying that the performance was boring,” Smith said. “The crowd was visibly shocked by the judges comments.”
Smith and two other members of his group advanced to the next round, the top 77. The next solo round airs on FOX Wednesday, Feb. 12 and Thursday, Feb. 13.
Ole Miss student, Michael Smith, performing on the American Idol stage.

Before American Idol
According to Smith’s mother, he began singing as soon as he was able to make noise and hum along. He sang wherever, and whenever he could, often in school plays, local talent shows, and at church.
By age nine, he could play the guitar, by 11 the drums, and by 14 the piano. One year later, Smith went to his first recording studio and recorded three original songs.
Since then, he has been recording and producing his own music, which he posts on his website https://michaelsimeonmusic.com.
Additionally, Smith plays shows at the Rib Cage with Sanders every couple weeks. The two have become good friends since the bus tour auditions.
Smith has been motivated to develop and improve his vocals ever since he auditioned for Idol at age 16.
“I was told, ‘you’re amazing, but you have time to grow. It is a no today, I’m sorry,’” Smith remembers.
Since then, he has won local show choir solo competitions, among other competitions. Smith made it to the executive audition rounds for America’s Got Talent and the X Factor and was in the top five of Ole Miss Idol last year. He released his first album, titled “Music Therapy”, in October of 2012.
Ultimately, Smith hopes to have a successful, lasting career in music and be able to make a living doing what he loves. One of his goals is to have a number one single on the Billboard HOT 100.
Smith is definitely headed in the right direction. Being so close, at times he has to pinch himself, “It’s still almost like a dream,” he said.
– Joanie Sanders, staff writer, HottyToddy.com, jgsander@go.olemiss.edu

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