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Fall 2007 - Student's drive

Destination Purdue > Fall 2007 - Student's drive

Student's drive impresses 'Idol' judges

By Christina Harp

When Simon Cowell told her she "seemed like an all-American girl who can accomplish anything," Stephanie Larkin was sure she was headed to Hollywood.

Stephanie Larkin sings

Photo provided by Stephanie Larkin

Stephanie Larkin didn't make it to the American Idol finals, but her singing did help the senior food science major from Auburn, Ala., capture the 2006 Miss Purdue title.

She didn't fly to California to sing for the stars, but the Purdue food science major isn't giving up. "Although I didn't make it this year, I'm going to give it one more try," she said. Larkin had hoped her third time would be the charm. She auditioned for American Idol in 2004, making it to the second round, and again in 2005. Performing for the first time in front of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and, of course, the infamous Cowell was nerve-wracking for Larkin.

"If you're a fan of the show, you've watched every episode and dream of one day being on that stage. It's incredible. After the sheer excitement of just being there, it's time to get down to business and try to impress in them that you are the next 'American Idol.'" In October 2006, the Auburn, Ala., native was one of more than 10,000 people who attended the "cattle call" of first-round auditions in Memphis. "I had about 30 seconds to 'sell' myself to a producer, and they let me sing for 45 seconds after that. They told me I had a great look and presence," said Larkin, whose poise and easygoing manner helped her as the 2006 Miss Purdue pageant winner. That poise also helped her stay calm in the storm of activity that is the Idol audition process.

After her 45-second audition, she was invited to move on to the second round the next day, where she sang for Idol director Nigel Lythgoe. A thumbs-up was all Larkin needed to know that she had finally made it to the third round. "It was such a great feeling to see her reach that level," said her father, Willie Larkin. "She did it all on her own; she has the drive and self-motivation to be successful. As soon as they called her name to go in, we saw an air of confidence about her."

Before Larkin sang "Come Rain or Come Shine," the judges noted her goals and accomplishments on her information sheet and seemed impressed with her ambition and drive. "You seem like you can do anything and everything. If I told you to go climb a mountain, I think you would do it," praised Cowell. He had not heard of Purdue, which Larkin proudly described as "The Harvard of the Midwest."

The trio of judges had mixed reactions to Larkin's song. Jackson gave her the thumbs-up, but Cowell and Abdul were not so sure. "You sound rehearsed, and we are looking for raw talent," Abdul said. Cowell agreed and said Larkin sounded "old-fashioned and cabaret." Larkin felt a boost of confidence after Cowell, notorious for his blunt criticisms and negative comments, told her that she had a good voice.

"When I heard Simon say that, I thought I was in. Randy agreed with him, but Paula convinced Simon to vote no," Larkin said. "I was heartbroken, to say the least, but I did feel honored that Simon thought I was talented, because he really is 100 percent truthful."

When Larkin emerged from the room, her family knew she had not advanced to the next round. "We saw the look on her face as she opened her hands, indicating that she hadn't received a yellow sheet, which is what they give everyone who moves on," her father said. "We told her that there would be more opportunities and that our love did not hinge on her winning the contest. We were proud of her no matter what the outcome."

The seasoned vocalist advises those who feel that they can make it on the show to get vocal training, develop a variety of songs and, most of all, have confidence. She also has tips for those who aren't so serious about singing. "If you're doing it just to be on TV, wear a funny little costume or curse at the judges; they eat that stuff up," Larkin said with a laugh.

Her strategy to make it to the finals, however, consists of long practices and hard work rather than the silly antics that seem to be a staple of the show. "I'm still perfecting my craft, but hopefully one day I'll be able to share my God-given gift with the world," Larkin said.