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Farmington's Jena Irene keeps the "American Idol" ball rolling

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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If she were still at home, finishing her senior year at Farmington North High School, Jena Irene would probably be in Mexico on spring break with some friends.

But she wouldn't trade where she's at for the world.

The 17-year-old singer is one of the last eight "American Idol" contestants standing as Irene and the other contestants put themselves through 80s Week. She's assured a spot on the American Idols Live! summer tour, and having not seen the Bottom 3 since early March she's become a favorite of many "Idol" handicappers to head even deeper into the competition.

Even judge Keith Urban noted during this year's South By Southwest Music Conference & Festival that, "Jena's a really, really great singer. She's definitely got it."

All of that, of course, is music to Irene's ears, though she claims to be a bit surprised at her success on the show.

"I thought I could sing, but not be as creative under the amount of stress and the amount of work we have to do," Irene says post-lunch from Los Angeles. "I think this is really bringing out my individual artistry. I didn't think I was that original to be this far into the competition, and I'm truly honored and loving every single moment."

Irene adds that the greatest lesson she's learning from singing on "Idol" is "to always be true to yourself, no matter what, and to always be humble and respect the people you're working with and to always take every advice point into consideration and always try something out." In fact, she says, it's become "an addiction to try new things and to take new risks. You want to try something different to wow the audience. You never want to peak. You can always improve, so each week it's like, how can you top what you did last week?"

Being part of "Idol" has also meant switching gears with some of the rest of her life beyond missing spring break. Irene says she's "preparing myself" to miss this year's prom, though via cooperation between "Idol" and North Farmington she's on track to graduate and receive her diploma at the school's commencement exercises in early June. She's already been accepted at Western Michigan University but still has to audition for the music program, and she says both schools have been "incredibly supportive" of her "Idol" run -- as have family and friends back home who send enough texts to drain Irene's cell phone batter after each episode.

And, she adds, a future making music now seems more likely than it did when she auditioned for "Idol" last October at Ford Field.

"I think this has made me realize I could be successful if I work hard and continue to grow and mature and hopefully find a sound for my first album and grow off that," Irene says. "I definitely want to do this for the rest of my life."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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