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Jewish high school senior makes first cut for ‘American Idol’

By Sarah Rosen

LOS ANGELES — Could the next Jennifer Hudson or Kelly Clarkson be a senior at Los Angeles’ Shalhevet High School?

Danielle Finn (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Danielle Finn, made it through the first round of auditions on the new season of “American Idol,” the popular TV singing competition that has launched the careers of pop stars including Hudson, Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.

The 12th grader wound up in the “American Idol” audition pipeline after her rendition of the Gnarls Barkley song “Crazy” went viral on TikTok and her mother’s best friend sent the video to an acquaintance who works at the show.

“I told all my friends that I was going to go and they were freaking out,” Finn says. “My teachers were so excited for me too.”

Finn, who wore a chai necklace to her audition, isn’t allowed to say how she fares in the competition.  

JTA: What was the audition process like?

Finn: I did my Zoom audition first. You sing for a bunch of producers from the show. There’s a lot of people on the Zoom — it’s really intimidating. Then, if they like you, there’s another Zoom and you sing the same song one more time. 

Then they decided that I was going to actually audition in person in front of the judges. That was super exciting. 

That was over the summer. I told all my friends that I was going to go and they were freaking out. My teachers were so excited for me too. In October, I actually went to the audition. It was such a cool experience, sitting with all these musical people outside the audition. I’m still friends with a couple of the people I auditioned with.

Can you tell me about your singing background? 

 My go-to song is “Feeling Good” by Michael Buble. At my Bat Mitzvah party everyone was saying I had to sing this song at the end of the night. I was embarrassed but I said fine, I’ll do it. Then I was in the best mood. It’s the best day ever, right?

My mom said I’ve been singing since I was a child. There are videos of me singing Hebrew songs after preschool. I’ve had singing lessons since I was seven or eight. That’s when I found out I have a really low voice. 

A lot of girls don’t have that, so now I really appreciate the low parts of my voice. I’ve been working on reaching higher notes recently too.

How has your talent for singing interacted with your Jewish observance?

I love my school because it’s a place where you can learn to be your own Jew and person. For example, they let me sing the national anthem at a basketball game. It was definitely a question, because there were a lot of other religious schools there that don’t accept it [a woman singing alone in front of men]. 

But they made an announcement and anyone who wanted to leave the room could. They said that this was something that we do in our school and we don’t want to hide from that. So they let me sing. I think it’s super fun to be able to do that.

What was it like keeping kosher and observing Shabbat during the American Idol process?

They made it super comfortable. They give you two or three meals a day, and I gave them my meal preferences before. There was an interview I was supposed to give on a Friday and I asked if I could do it before sundown, and they said that we could do it earlier in the day, or if it conflicted too much with my schedule, they already had enough footage and it was no problem. 

I’ve been in other situations where I’m one of the only Jewish people and honestly it can be pretty intimidating and nerve-wracking to ask to switch up the system. But they said it was no problem, so that was really cool.

Do you feel like you’re representing observant Jews on primetime? 

I honestly feel like I am. I bring it up in my interviews and it’s a big enough part of my life. Even if I don’t talk about it 24-7, just by wearing my chai necklace and being a kind person to everyone around me and the staff around me, I feel like I’m making a great representation of the Jewish community.




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