TBT: American Idol Crush Drives My Smooth Jazz Fandom

Image above of Allison Iraheta was uploaded by labird on coveralia.com and was labeled for free use, sharing, and modification on bing.com.

By Phillip Martin

Seven years ago, a 16-year-old girl with bright red hair took the stage during American Idol′s semifinals phase. She surprisingly captivated me with her scintillating performance that night. From that night on until her graceful but disappointing elimination several weeks later, Allison Iraheta earned my utmost attention. Interestingly, my fandom for her also drove my following for smooth jazz.

My fandom for Iraheta began the night she competed for a spot in Idol‘s Top 13. The show introduced her as a young Mexican American girl who had competed in another vocalist contest earlier. When she took the stage, I initially took a liking to the unknown girl. I, 17 at the time, quickly would remember her. It certainly helped that she had dyed her hair a heavily saturated bright shade of my favorite color.

I soon would remember Iraheta, not just for her appearance but for her strong voice. “Alone,” originally by Heart, was the song she sang. The music started out soft and melancholy. Then, the teenager’s voice resounded with the emotional chorus. Her performance that night decidedly was the catalyst for her long run into the final four. That moment also spurred me to follow her through the season’s run… with a big crush on the side.

Because of following Iraheta, I learned to become a better fan of a performer. Each week, I would back my big crush with support. Another guy, who was my project partner in a high school tech class that year, backed another contestant named Megan Joy. We both had massive crushes on the girls we were routing for, and we both made our cases for them. Then, hours after school, I would watch the latest round of Idol for that week with my mom and sister. I was so happy to see the red hed singing her tail off to the judges and to the other 20 million Americans watching. I was always so nervous watching each results show because Iraheta finished in the bottom three for voting a few times. Despite her moving on from those scares, I would constantly think to myself “America, please keep Allison on a little longer. Please help her earn a record deal.” America was kind, as the red head finished fourth overall for Season 8. Because of her long run, she earned a record deal. This helped her produce her first record, which I have owned for five years now.

Allison Iraheta’s iconic red hair from American Idol and her face graced the CD package of her solo album Just Like You (2009). I made this collage for an Instagram post.

Iraheta’s run also helped me enjoy music regardless of its popularity, and it helped me embrace my love for smooth jazz. I started following Iraheta not just because she caught my eye but because she captured my ears and my heart. Becoming one of her fans became part of my identity. Such can be said about my love for smooth jazz — that it is a part of who I am, a part of me I am proud to present. If you’ve read my author bio on this blog (directly linked within my byline in this post), you’ll read that I tried listening to other music genres. For a good part of my teenage years, I was a country music fan, and I also tried listening to what was popular in high school. With all due respect, none of those other music genres won me over like smooth jazz. Yes, a lot of the stuff I listen to has few words or lyrics, has a fan base mostly over the age of 45, and can be described as “boring” or like elevator music. I get that. Still, smooth jazz is who I am. The relaxing sounds of soft acoustic guitars and mellow saxophones represent a part of me as much as my favorite color that once covered Iraheta’s hair.

Iraheta has changed hair styles a few times since her run on American Idol but still looks recognizable. This a recent photo from her Instagram account.
Iraheta has changed hair styles a few times since her run on American Idol but still looks recognizable. This is a recent photo from her Instagram account, allisonirahetaofficial.

• Allison Iraheta was born on April 27, 1992. Yesterday was her birthday.

Today Iraheta is part of a band she formed a few years ago called Halo Circus. She got married to bass player Matthew Hager. She also returned to American Idol a few times to sing back-up vocals for contestants.

I quit watching Idol after Season 8 in 2009.


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