Michael Johnson/Livingston County News
Lima's Jonathan Stills with his American Idol contestant number.
Stills’ career booms after trip to Hollywood
You may have followed Jon Still briefly on this season’s American Idol. He got the “golden” ticket to Hollywood, but then got knocked out in early elimination. What you may not know is what a lasting impact this brief brush with fame has had on the Lima native.
If you’ve just gotten back from a seven year stay on a desert island, you may not be aware that American Idol is one of the most popular television programs of all time. Featuring live amateur singers competing for real-time audience votes, Idol has launched the careers of Grammy and Oscar-winning performers.
A talented singer with a soft spot for Stevie Wonder classics, Stills fantasized about trying out for the show for several seasons — but never had the courage to do it. “I decided to audition for the show on June 1 after much debate and my friends pushing me,” Stills told The County News. “On that day, it just hit me. I am going to try for American Idol and there’s no reason to be scared anymore.”
Problem was, the closest audition was that weekend in Boston. The next one was in Atlanta. To give himself enough time to prepare, Stills boarded a plane for Orlando a month later.
There, he learned how the show’s four judges possibly hear from the thousands who show up for the casting call.
“Over 8,000 people showed up for the screening process on July 6,” explained Stills.
A couple hundred of theses were chosen for callbacks in Orlando on July 28. Only when the field was narrowed to 40 did the “real” American Idol judges hear from the contestants.
Stills chose “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder,” a favorite of his he used to listen to with his father over WDKX.
Simon Cowell panned Jon’s “star quality,” and Randy Jackson agreed. Howeever, new judge Kara DioGuardi gave Stills advice on how to step up his game.
“She told me to watch stars, to watch how they act, interact, dress and develop their overall image,” he said.
Ultimately, Stills was sent through to Hollywood, where he met with competition from the nation’s 181 best contestants. “I was star-struck. I had to give my presentation in front of famous people. It was very nerve-wracking.”
The normally vicious Simon Cowell dropped his guard for a moment of warmth. “Leaving the hotel, he stuck his hand out, said ‘Good luck,’ winked at me, smiled and walked away.”
“I think Simon’s got a heart under that wicked exterior.”
Stills was sent home after nerves got the best of his first audition in California. “As the audition went on, I got more comfortable — but I wasn’t give another chance. I saw other people who were nervous and weren’t given another chance.”
Now Stills is back home in Lima, driving the school bus and volunteering for both the Honeoye Falls Fire Department and Lima Ambulance.
A few moments of fame on screen were actually seven excrutiating months that he had to keep inside information on the show a secret. Stills calls his audition “the biggest lifechanging experience” he has ever encountered.
“It has taught me so much about myself, my limitations and my lack thereof. If I believe I can do something, I can do it.”
Today, Stills is singing more than ever — including a performance of The Star Spangled Banner at a recent Amerks game.
He also hasn’t ruled out another attempt to be the next American Idol.