By STEVEN NALLEY
Fans of “American Idol” in Starkville may have noticed a familiar face in this season’s San Diego auditions.
At the 2011 Cotton District Arts Festival, guests watched 19-year-old Okolona native Jordyn Mallory win the Songwriter’s Competition. Since then, audiences across America have watched her perform on tour.
A few weeks ago, the world watched Mallory win the show’s “Golden Ticket” to Hollywood, earning the approval of judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.
“They’re all very cool, very laid-back,” Mallory said. “Steven said that I had beautiful eyes from when I very first walked in, so things moved pretty smoothly after that. Jennifer is beautiful — she’s just stunningly gorgeous — and Randy is pretty awesome.”
The show’s “Hollywood Week,” where the judges cull hundreds of successful contestants like Mallory to a few dozen for audiences to vote into the finals, began airing this past week and continues this Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. on FOX.
Mallory has worked in Nashville with Grammy and Emmy-award winning producers, and she has opened concerts for such performers as Loretta Lynn, Eric Church and Jake Owen. While writing and recording music in Los Angeles in July, she said she made a last-minute decision to drive to San Diego and join the “American Idol” auditions.
“The music industry has changed so much in the past few years,” Mallory said. “It’s really hard on artists these days to come out the traditional way. Finding a record label and getting them to develop you and come out with you, it’s very hard to make that work. I feel like I’ve been so lucky to work with these producers and songwriters ... but ‘American Idol’ is an amazing way to make your music career happen in a fast way and get so much exposure so quick.”
Mallory said the audition marked her first trip to San Diego and as “a real travel junkie,” she greatly enjoyed the city’s beauty as well as the audition process. The auditions have many more steps than are seen on television, she said.
“I ended up making it past that first round, so we had to stay for a few more days to do the other rounds,” Mallory said. “A few months later, I got to go back to San Diego. That was the first time I got to audition in front of Randy and Steven and Jennifer. It was so cool. It was just one of those moments I’ll never forget.”
Mallory said she is grateful for support she has received, not only from family and friends but also from people she didn’t know before appearing on “American Idol.”
“Mississippi has been so supportive to me, and I just can’t thank people enough for sticking with me and being behind me throughout the whole process,” Mallory said. “It’s really been such a cool experience. The support has just been overwhelming. You never realize how many people pay attention to what you’re doing, you work so hard in this business, and all the hard work really pays off whenever you get that kind of support.”
One of Mallory’s supporters is her Nashville roommate and musical colleague Caroline Melby, mandolin player in the Starkville-native band Nash Street. She said it feels surreal and wonderful seeing one of her best friends appear on national television, and she agrees with Mallory on the advantages “American Idol” offers up-and coming performers.
“I really think ‘American Idol’ has changed the music industry completely,” Melby said. “It’s really just a boost for your career. Who knows what will happen in the end, but I think it’s a great thing they have done with TV and all of these people who would normally be unknown to the country.”
Melby said Mississippian musicians in Nashville tend to form strong bonds, even carpooling for commutes and dropping friends off in their respective hometowns, so she and everyone in Nash Street is pulling for Mallory to succeed.
“I’m so excited for her,” Melby said. “She’s worked so hard up to this point, and she deserves every bit of it. I’m excited to see what happens. I’m sure her career’s about to take off.”