It's rare, but sometimes you meet someone and can tell within the first few minutes of hanging out that they have something special. That's how people described Wheeling, Illinois, native Haley Reinhart in her run-up to Thursday night's final "American Idol" season 10 elimination show.
The scrappy blues mama crawled back from the bottom four times to make it to the top three on "Idol," only to be ousted just before the finale. Nonetheless, her supporters say she's one of those rare talents who shine through without being showy, and are confident she'll make the most of her time in the spotlight.
"She's done Wheeling proud and she's done more in a matter of months than most people do in their lives," said JT Teichert, who played alongside Haley in the Wheeling High School jazz band.
Brian Logan, the director of bands at that institution, said he had never even heard of Reinhart until the singer turned in a CD for the school's annual music competition during her sophomore year. On Friday morning (May 20), he described a similar reaction to Reinhart's own shell-shocked look when host Ryan Seacrest announced the results.
"Like Haley, for about three seconds we were, like, 'Wow, really?' " he said. "But we're just thrilled for her because she got some incredible exposure and people around the world know something we've known for some time — that we've got an incredible talent from Wheeling."
Earlier in the week, Logan recalled the first time he heard Haley sing, and how he was as blown away then as he was with her performances on the show.
"Her tape came across my desk and it was her dad playing guitar and she was singing," he said of the father-daughter duo, who had already been performing together for years along with Haley's mom in the elder Reinharts' group, Midnight, and who reprised their onstage chemistry on Wednesday night's "Idol" performance show. "It was a jazz standard and I was impressed with the guitar playing, but then she started singing and she had this sultry voice that said, 'I've been doing this a long time.' I thought, 'I'm listening to a veteran, not some kid. Who is this?' "
Logan tracked Reinhart down a few days later and he invited her to sing with the school's well-regarded jazz band, which, he noted, doesn't always have a singer unless there happens to be a very decent one in the school who can handle the gig.
But when she came back after a few days with the sheet music all crumpled up into a ball, he was wary, and before handing her the microphone he asked Haley to stand next to him and sing a bit with the band without amplifying her voice. "She sang for about eight seconds and I stopped the band, told her to grab the microphone and said, 'Let's do this for real,' " he explained. "She didn't have any music in front of her and she sang as well the first time as she did the last time."
And so Reinhart became an integral part of the band, playing at a big Midwestern competition and accompanying the group to the venerable Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 2009.
Logan wasn't surprised that Reinhart held it together when the bad news of her "Idol" elimination hit. "If she had broken down and started crying I would have been surprised," he said. "Because that's not who she is. She just loves to sing ... I think her fan base is huge right now and I would be surprised if she doesn't have a very successful career."
That humble, music-focused nature is the same one Reinhart brought with her to university in the fall of 2009, when she enrolled at Harper College in nearby Palatine, Illinois, to study jazz. She hooked up with the jazz ensemble and jazz band and, Ken Spurr, director of jazz studies at the school said in the three semesters Haley was with his program (before she made it to "Idol" on her second try and dropped out), he was really impressed with her chops.
Whether it was in the jazz history or jazz piano class, Spurr said he immediately sensed an ability in Haley to "move her voice around wherever she wants and to absorb anything you tell her." She proved those chops on Wednesday night, segueing from a rocking Led Zeppelin tune to a sedate Fleetwood Mac classic to Alanis Morissette's angst-filled "You Oughta Know."
Though he was a bit surprised that Reinhart tried out for "Idol," Spurr said he'd already gotten an early preview of what she was capable of when she sang the standard "Moanin' " in jazz lab — a tune she reprised on "Idol" with fellow ousted finalist Casey Abrams. "That was a great moment as a teacher," he said. "She did it a bit faster than we did, but she did a good job."
Like Logan, Spurr was a bit taken aback at Thursday's result after assuming that Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina would cancel each other out and leave a spot for Haley. "I think she's well on her way after the dust settles," he added. "I'm looking forward to watching what she does in the future ... It's rare to have that tremendous desire and that gift. But I also know that if she can sing and play with good musicians, she would be just as happy playing in a coffee shop as in a stadium."
Do you expect to see a lot more of Haley now that her "Idol" run has ended? Let us know in the comments.
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