Aspires for 'American Idol' status

It was a tough night for viewers and fans of American Idol hopeful Emily Wynne-Hughes. The 21-year-old La Cañada resident had wowed the Idol judges in a Phoenix audition and then struggled with a self-imposed last minute song change in Tuesday night’s airing. She squeaked by with a stay because the judges really liked her, but on Wednesday it was all over after she forgot the lyrics of “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” during a group performance. She left with the judges and many fans still rooting for her, but forgetting words is apparently the ultimate sin when you are singing in a group in Idol-land.

There have been many stories written about Hughes since the Jan. 13 airing of her Phoenix American Idol audition. She auditioned in Phoenix, Ariz. and made it to Hollywood, making an impression on all four Idol judges. But the press that has followed since has not always been on the positive side.

“I have had a harsh awakening,” Wynne-Hughes said about the last few weeks. “My life is under the microscope.”

She made the decision to audition for American Idol after she and her mother had a heart- to-heart discussion about her future in the recording industry.

Wynne-Hughes is the lead vocalist of the band Go Betty Go, an all-girl rock band. The band is well known; their third CD will be released in the next six months. But being known and making a living can be two different things. The recording industry has always been a difficult business, but in the present economic climate, record labels have had to look at their bottom lines even more closely.

“If you’re not Madonna or Britney Spears [it’s tough to get support],” Wynne-Hughes said.

Even though she may be recognized on the street for her band, she is still working two jobs in addition to performing just to make ends meet.

“My mom and I sat down and looked at [the situation],” Wynne-Hughes said. “I was reconsidering being in the industry.”

That is when her mother mentioned auditioning for American Idol. The young singer said that after giving some thought to the prospect she decided it was a good idea.

“Mom called me the next day and said the auditions in Los Angeles were [held the day before],” she said.

When she heard that she missed the audition she felt like she had missed a great opportunity.

“Little did we know a week from that day they were holding auditions in Phoenix,” Wynne-Hughes said.

She and her boyfriend drove to Phoenix and she stood with thousands for her shot at singing for the four American Idol judges.

Attention being drawn to this La Cañada resident is nothing unusual. She has never exactly fit into the typical La Cañada mold.

“I remember the exact moment,” Wynne-Hughes said of her realization that she wasn’t like the other girls. “I was in eighth grade and I wanted to be on the cheerleader squad real bad.

“My mom took me to buy shoes and I saw a pair of Converse sitting next to the saddle shoes. I wanted the Converse.”

She said at that moment she realized she was trying to conform to an image that just wasn’t her. From that point on she began carving her own path.

And that path includes tattoos, a lot of them.

“I got my first tattoo at 16 ½ [years old],” she said.

She continued getting tattooed and is now working on a Snow White sleeve, including evil trees and love’s first kiss. To Wynne-Hughes, the tattoos are just a part of who she is and she does not want to be defined by that. After speaking with her for only a few minutes it is obvious this young woman is a contradiction of the stereotypical rock and roller. She is also a respectful, hometown girl who is grounded by her family.

“When people see me at Trader Joe’s, at first they think, ‘Oh, this girl can’t be from La Cañada, she must be from LA,’ but then after they talk to me and I am respectful and friendly they realize I am from here,” she said.

She is proud of her hometown and remembers choir at La Cañada Elementary School.

“I had the most amazing choir teacher named Mr. [Frank] Beemer,” Hughes said.

She also remembered teachers who her inspired her, even if she failed their class. “I failed drama the year I was in the musical,” she said.

She particularly remembers being shocked when then drama teacher Gale Caswell failed her. Wynne-Hughes knew it was because of her poor attendance .

“When you’re not strong in other [academics] you depend on drama and choir,” she said. Instead of deterring her, the bad grade inspired her. “That was also the year I was voted best dramatic actress by the students,” she said.

Beyond the rock and roll look and publicity, the bottom line is that Wynne-Hughes can sing. During her Phoenix audition all four judges voted for her to move on to the next level. She chose a difficult song, “Barracuda,” by the all-girl band Heart. Judge Simon Cowell complimented her on her performance.

Her American Idol experience has been a mixed blessing though, because of her band. At first she thought she would have to miss their European tour if she was chosen by Idol, but she was able to go during a break in filming. There is still some animosity with band members, but Wynne-Hughes hopes that the publicity she has received will help bring attention to Go Betty Go.

“I don’t know that they will see this as an opportunity for the band,” Wynne-Hughes said. “But I would like to be Emily from Go Betty Go for a very long time.”

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