Monroe County pair heads to Hollywood to support their own 'American Idol'

By Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal

ABERDEEN – On any given night, “American Idol” pulls in about 18.5 million viewers. Sure, most watch in the relaxation of their living rooms while the fan-faithful may sit on the edges of their couches and recliners. For the much smaller group of the contestants’ immediate families and friends, it’s a different kind of anxiety.

“On a scale of one to 10, I was an 11 a couple of Wednesdays ago. She’s going to give it a 110 percent, but I don’t think she has the stress level the rest of the family does. It’s easier to watch from home than it is sitting in the audience,” said Nona Herndon, whose niece Skylar Laine advanced last week into the top 10 finalists, securing her a spot on the show’s concert tour.

Herndon and her friend Frankie Provias made the trip to Hollywood a couple of weeks ago to see Skylar’s country style wow the judges and make the audience stand on their feet to her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”

“It’s surreal to see it in person. I’ve gotten to do a lot in my life, but seeing my niece perform in front of a worldwide audience live is unbelievable,” Herndon said.

Herndon’s brother, Ed, called the Saturday before the live broadcast with the offer of two free tickets to the show. While in California, she and Provias toured some of Los Angeles’ hot spots, wound up as extras on “Extra” where Provias got to give Mario Lopez a kiss on the cheek and enjoyed VIP access to the “American Idol” set.

“After going through a certain entrance, walking by the judges’ trailers and having our purses searched for cell phones and cameras, we made it in. Skylar was the eighth performer that night so we got to move down to the front row for it,” Herndon said.

Following the live show, any dinner plans with Skylar fizzled out because of the tight schedule the contestants follow.

“They don’t have any free time. They’re always shooting commercials, practicing and working on their wardrobe. Her roommate is Hollie Cavanagh and if they go clothes shopping or something like that, bodyguards have to escort them,” Herndon said.

After that Thursday’s results show, Skylar finally had a chance to eat supper with her family.

“She’s keeping a positive attitude throughout the whole thing. She can tell the judges have their favorites, but the behind the scenes workers have said if they’ve made it this far, they’re already famous. [Idol judge] Randy [Jackson] says she’s got the overall picture of what they’re looking for,” Herndon said.

In recent years, the Brandon-native has embraced her talent that has shifted to country music thanks in part to her Mississippi roots. She writes her own material, plays guitar and has vied in competitions such as the Colgate Country Showdown. In her younger years, she was in traveling productions of “Annie” and “Les Miserables.”

“I think it was the Knoxville paper that wrote she stole the ‘Annie’ show even though she wasn’t the star. Even when she was six-and-a-half, as soon as that curtain opened, she was never nervous.

“I think at first, she saw herself ending up in New York in Broadway productions, but in her teenage years, it shifted to country music and she saw herself in Nashville,” Herndon said.

In addition to Herndon, Skylar’s grandmother Norma Harden lives in Aberdeen and uncle Richard Harden and his wife Mary Jo live in Oxford.

“She usually comes back up here twice a year, but sometimes she’d have to miss big family things here because the music always came first. My brother videotapes everything so if we miss anything she does, we’ve got plenty of chances to see it,” Herndon said.