Caleb Johnson, winner of the 13th season of “American Idol,” and Jena Irene, the runner-up, couldn’t have had different approaches to getting onto the popular television show. Johnson had set his sights on “American Idol” several years ago. He had auditioned for season 10 and season 11, getting through the cattle-call stage, only to be eliminated before the final singers were chosen.
Caleb Johnson, winner of the 13th season of “American Idol,” and Jena Irene, the runner-up, had different approaches to getting onto the popular television show. Johnson had set his sights on “American Idol” several years ago. He had auditioned for season 10 and season 11, only to be eliminated before the final singers were chosen.
Falling short prompted Johnson to take a long look at his efforts. Feeling he needed to raise his game as a performer and singer to advance farther through the audition process and make the show, he took off what would have been season 12 to work on his skills. The native of Asheville, N.C., worked with a band called Elijah Hooker as its lead vocalist. He wrote songs, played around his hometown and took a central role when the group recorded its 2013 debut album.
Johnson says that year of paying dues by playing and working on his craft paid big dividends when he auditioned for season 13 of “American Idol.”
“When you’ve done a lot of shows, and you’ve written stuff, and you’ve made a record, and you’ve been performing, you’ve experienced the highs and the lows of being a musician,” Johnson says during a telephone interview. “Then you can go into something like 'American Idol' and know exactly what you’re getting into."
Fans of the hit TV series can get up close and personal with Johnson, along with season 13's finalists — Irene, Jessica Meuse, M.K. Nobilette, Alex Preston, Dexter Roberts, Majesty Rose, Malay Watson and Sam Woolf — at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville. Lawn seating costs $46. No outside alcohol will be allowed inside for this performance. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Harlee Case will play from 6 to 6:45 in the Britt Performance Garden. Tickets can be purchased at www.brittfest.org; at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford; or by calling 800-882-7488.
Irene’s path to “American Idol” was far less calculated. A week before she auditioned for season 13 in her hometown of Detroit, “American Idol” wasn’t even remotely in her thoughts.
“I had watched the show a while back,” Irene says. “So I knew what it was about and everything. But I had never thought about auditioning for it. I mean, I was always in a band.”
Irene, like Johnson, aced her audition to season 13. If her decision to chase a place on “Idol” was somewhat spur of the moment, it was because she was no stranger to performing. She joined her first band when she was 12. She spent five years with a group called Infinity Hour that made a good deal of progress despite its adolescence. Irene, who turns 18 this month, left the group about seven months before auditioning for "Idol."
Johnson and Irene are now featured performers on the “American Idol Live!” tour, the annual outing in which the 10 top finalists from the previous season appear at venues across the country.
Johnson, as last season’s winner, closes the shows, while Irene performs three songs. They also do a duet of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” which they sang together during season 13.
After the “American Idol Live!” tour wraps up in late August, the two will likely see their paths diverge. Irene is in negotiations with Interscope Records for a record deal and wants to explore a sound that merges electronic pop with organic elements such as piano and her vocals. Johnson, meanwhile, signed to Interscope right after his run on "American Idol" and released his debut album, “Testify,” on Aug. 12.