By Jason Wright
My family has watched Fox's "American Idol" for years. Both my teenage daughters love to sing and every year we all find a couple of contestants to cheer for and rally around.
Among the talented singers at the Salt Lake City auditions was bright-eyed, 17-year-old Kenzie "Kenz" Hall. From the first time she appeared on screen, my daughters knew they had someone to vote for as she lit up the camera and quickly wowed the judging panel.
With her golden ticket punched to Hollywood, Hall appeared to have as clear a path to the finals as anyone. The judges routinely praised the artist as having "the whole package" and she survived several cuts during the show's infamous Hollywood rounds.
Hall was eventually selected as one of the top 15 girls from among 80,000 total entrants. The next step would be a dream come true for someone who'd been watching Idol most of her life -- the chance to sing on live television for America's votes.
However, in a dramatic first-time twist, host Ryan Seacrest announced with millions watching that America would only hear from 10 of the 15 remaining young women. The other five would leave the show immediately.
One by one, 10 girls were invited out to perform live while the rest sat backstage with high-def cameras locked on every anguished twitch and nervous smile.
Hall was not among them.
Once considered a serious contender on social media and in the blogosphere, Kenzie Hall was finished.
"It was devastating," Hall told me during a recent Skype interview from her home in Draper, Utah. "We'd all heard rumors they might not allow us all to sing for America's votes, but we'd been told to disregard anything we didn't hear directly from the producers."
Then, the night before the first live show of the season, Hall and the other contestants received a text from a producer telling them the news was difficult to share, but that some would be going home without ever performing live for America.
Was she bitter?
"It stung, sure, but I have no hard feelings toward Idol. I'm so glad I did it and I made lifelong friends. The producers were pleasant and I was humbled by the support. I think it made me fall in love with music even more."
Hall spoke often of her faith during our conversation, "All along I knew I had to rely on God because he sees the bigger picture. And I had a good experience, I think, because I kept to my standards and I'm proud of that."
I asked if there were specific moments she was challenged to stray from her faithful path. Only after some prodding, Hall described an experience with former American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert. The season eight star, with more than two million albums and four million singles sold, was hired by Idol to mentor singers during the early rounds.
"He was very nice," Hall said, "and he's extremely talented, but in one of the sessions he wanted me to wear a short dress and lay on the floor in a very sultry way." He explained to the young performer that it's simply how the business works and, eventually, she'd need to conform to find success.
"I'm pretty stubborn," Hall said, "especially in my faith. So it was easy to make that decision. I had pre-determined I wouldn't sell myself that way."
Idol learned a lot about Hall, and she learned plenty, too. "I learned a lot about myself. I grew a lot and I learned God never gets tired of our prayers." After a long breath Kenzie added, "He really is there. He will always be there, especially in times of stress." The thoughtful teen paused again, "Yes, he is always there."
Before wrapping the session, I asked her what her goals were with Idol now a memory. She declared, without hesitation, "My number one goal is to be a great mom and wife. My number two goal is to be a successful musician. If that's national, or around Utah or even right here locally, I'll be happy with whatever comes as long as I accomplish that first goal."
Later this summer, Kenzie Hall will see her first full-length album hit iTunes. Once again she'll be anxious and antsy to see whether America likes what she has to offer. But whether the album goes gold or never sells a single copy, she'll always have her sights set on something far more important than the charts.
Because lights or no lights, sales or no sales, applause or the quiet of crickets, she knows who her No. 1 fan is -- and she knows he is always there.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.