JOPLIN, Mo. —
From the time she could talk, Ariana Goddard, now 15, has sung.
She has sung everywhere. While listening to the radio. As an accompaniment to the piano, which she taught herself to play.
On Wednesday, the Sarcoxie High School junior stood in line at Landreth Park with more than 100 other would-be celebrities hoping to give the performance of her life: a one-minute audition in front of “American Idol” producers for a chance to appear on the show.
Dressed casually, in a sunny yellow long-sleeved blouse, a favorite pair of jeans and ballet flats, she seemed to be exactly what the producers said they were looking for.
“They just have to be themselves,” said Katie Fennelly, one of two producers who came to Joplin with the American Idol Small Town Bus Tour. “We’re looking to be surprised. Our advice is don’t try to be something you think we want to see or hear.”
The Joplin stop was the eighth on the tour, which is seeking vocalists for a second audition to be held at a place and time yet to be announced. Those who make it past the second audition will sing on stage for the show’s celebrity judges.
Goddard arrived early with her mom, Melanie Goddard, to get a good spot in line, and it paid off as she didn’t have to wait long for her chance.
Nor did Melissa Smith, 25, of Joplin, who revealed that her singing prowess is a bit of a secret.
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“I went to Ozark Christian College and worked at Rapha House,” she said. “I’ve been a missionary to Cambodia, and now I teach a sex education course at LifeChoices. A lot of people in Joplin don’t even know I sing. Some of the kids I’ve taught are here, and they were shocked to see me.”
The bubbly, dark-haired Texas native wore a country sundress and her cowboy boots as a nod to her heritage.
Farther back in line, another Joplin resident, Crystal Hope, 22, ran through vocals to get her voice warmed up. She was thinking about her son, Caden, who was the inspiration behind the song she wrote and planned to sing for the producers.
“It’s called ‘Let You Go,’” said Hope, who attended Crowder College as a theater major. “I’m a single mom, so I do the rent and take care of my son by myself. He had holes in his heart, and we had a lot of hospital trips to go to. So, I had to let go of some things that weren’t good for that. That’s what the song is about, letting some things go and moving forward.”
Her son, now 2, had open-heart surgery last November and is “all better,” she said.
“It’s a song that connects to me,” Hope said of her reason for selecting it for the audition.
At the very end of the line, Mara Knight, 18, waited patiently with her pink guitar around her neck, knowing it might be hours until her chance to sing. The guitar, a gift from her late grandfather after he taught her to play, was her good-luck talisman against her nerves.
But her biggest worry was whether she would make it back to afternoon music classes at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University in time. A music education and vocal performance major, she arrived late because she had a music theory class at 8 a.m.
“I was scared to skip,” she said. “School just started.”
She inherited her musical skills from her mother, she said, and honed them as she got older. She auditioned for “American Idol” last month in Oklahoma City but didn’t advance.
“Our group was told to work on confidence,” she said. “I’ve been working on it, and I decided to give Joplin a try.”
As Knight continued to stand in line, Smith got the green light from the producers to proceed with her rendition of “This Woman Needs,” by SheDaisy.
After wiping away tears and calling her husband, Aaron, over to meet the producers, Smith shouted a “Woo!” and gave two thumbs up.
“When I was little, I wanted to be on the Grand Ole Opry,” she said. “When I got a little older, I thought it was a shot in the dark, though, so I went on to Bible college. Now I’m a missionary turned American Idol. Here we go.”
Goddard, too, was told she would advance to the second round after singing “Cowboy Casanova,” by Carrie Underwood, and “Daughters,” by John Mayer.
“I think I was more nervous than she was,” her mother said. “I had goose bumps when I saw her step forward and realized they might be telling her she’d made it.”
Her mother quickly called her father, the school superintendent at Sarcoxie, who relayed the news to the teen’s high school choir teacher.
Goddard said she isn’t going to let the success go to her head.
“I’m headed back to school,” she said after taping interviews with the show’s film crew. “But we might stop for lunch beforehand.”
It wasn’t Hope’s day, however.
She gave it her all for the producers, but she didn’t advance.
“It’s OK,” she said. “They said they liked the lyrics of my songs, so I talked to them about doing that as a possible career. I have a ton of good ones. So it’s not giving up; it’s just changing focus, I guess.”
As for Knight, she decided to leave the line shortly before noon in order to return to Pittsburg for two afternoon classes. She then made her second trip of the day to Joplin, arriving back at Landreth Park with her pink guitar just 30 minutes before the cutoff.
Her Katy Perry song, “The One That Got Away,” was good, the producers told her, but not to the level they were seeking.
“I still feel like it was so worth it for the experience,” said Knight, one of the last to audition before the producers began packing up. “I met some cool people, and every time you put yourself out there, it builds your confidence. I’ll keep singing, I’ll keep trying, always.”
The producers said they were unsure how many were advanced Wednesday to the second round of auditions, although it appeared to be at least a dozen. They also did not have a final tally as to how many auditioned in Joplin.
‘Spirit of the people’
THE EIGHTH STOP on the show’s tour, Joplin was chosen because of its central location and because producers had “heard great things about the people,” said producer Katie Fennelly.
AFTER ARRIVING in town on Monday, the crew shot video to use in future broadcasts. Producers said they appreciated the enthusiasm and graciousness of Joplin residents.
“ONE OF THE REASONS we came is the spirit of the people,” said senior producer Norm Betts. “We said, ‘We want to come be a part of that.’”