Toward the end of Wednesday night's "American Idol," Randy Jackson called it: Self-described "church boy" Jermaine Sellers was the biggest talent the judges had encountered so far in season nine.
This, so far ... all of the cities ... best vocal we've seen yet," Randy declared (just two episodes into the season). "You've got skills. This kid is hot! This is the real deal right here."
Sellers' soul-flecked version of Joan Osborne's "What If God Was One of Us" delivered virtuosic vocal runs and showcased an overall control that belied the Chicago-area singer's 26 years.
Though the "Idol" hopeful has only just come to the public's attention after his breakout appearance on Wednesday's show, Sellers has been quietly recording music since his early teenage years. He makes his living as a church singer and maintains a MySpace page with a selection of original R&B tunes.
According to the site, Sellers has signed a number of record deals over the years — his first at the age of 14 — but never produced a finished album. As his career floundered, he found himself performing for Royal Caribbean cruises. Last year, he appeared on another talent show, BET's "Sunday Best," at one point singing a rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Keep Your Head to the Sky." He finished third in the competition.
As is usually the case on "Idol," Sellers doesn't just possess serious vocal skills. His is a story of sacrifice and good deeds, from his community-oriented vocation to the fact that he's been caring for his mother since he was 17. She suffers from spina bifida, a birth defect of the spine that can lead to paralysis of the lower limbs.
On his MySpace page, Sellers writes that his motto is, "No trial, no triumph." During Wednesday's show, the judges made clear that he had triumphed during the audition round.
"Jermaine, I love you!" Kara DioGuardi said, as the singer earned the panel's unanimous endorsement and a ticket to Hollywood.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.