Jillian Jensen's "X Factor" audition on Wednesday night became one of those reality-TV moments that everyone talks about the next day. Not because the judges said something awesomely mean or because she totally tanked or sang like a golden angel from heaven, but because it was a real moment.
"I've probably watched it 20 times and I cry every time ... and that's me up there," Jensen told MTV News on Thursday (September 13) about the tearjerker moment that, yes, almost made stonehearted judge Simon Cowell shed a tear. "I'm a very bubbly person onstage usually, and that's where I'm most comfortable. ... It's the only place I feel comfortable. But when I walked onstage, my family said they've never seen me more scared poopless in my entire life. I was petrified beyond words."
Jensen, 20, said she grew up listening to newbie judge Britney Spears, idolizes L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell and considers Demi Lovato to be the biggest inspiration in her life. "She's doing what I love to do and has the same background I have," she said, alluding to their mutual experience as victims of bullying.
"Look, we're both up here," Lovato told Jensen before she performed. "The bullies that bullied us, they're at home watching us on TV!"
Lovato, 20, who has struggled with eating disorders and cutting, talked about her experience with bullying on the MTV special "Stay Strong" earlier this year. As soon as Jensen began telling her story of being bullied in middle and high school, it was clear Lovato felt a kindred spirit in the room.
"It made me very, very emotional knowing that we share that and knowing that this is the person who gave me courage to continue, regardless of what people say," Jensen said.
And once Jensen began singing, well, Lovato couldn't hold back the tears, and it was obvious Jensen had touched a part of Demi that reminded her of how far she's come in recovery.
The crowd in the "X Factor" studio went nuts after the run through Jessie J's empowerment anthem "Who You Are" and Jensen, too, just lost it, as Lovato walked to the stage and gave her a long, loving embrace. Even Cowell seemed on the verge of tears. "It's OK, I know exactly what you've gone through, but I made it through, and I know you will to," Demi reassured a sobbing Jensen.
The Massachusetts native — who started singing when she was 2, picked up her first instrument at 6, penned her first songs at 8 and is now fluent in piano, guitar, saxophone, violin, drums, bass and ukulele — said she chose the Jessie J song because the lyrics spoke to her struggles and the desire to keep pushing to reach her goals. "My purpose was to connect with the words and hopefully inspire as many people as I could," she explained. "I know it's weird, but I wasn't really focusing on the vocals, just on the message."
The "X Factor" stage was the first time Jensen had ever shared her story in such a public fashion. But she promised herself that if she ever made it onto TV, she would dedicate her performance to others who've been bullied. "Knowing that I, literally, survived my experience ... that's what gave me strength," she said. "I knew I could survive and be a voice for all those kids."
And that message has already made a huge difference. Jensen said she got a call from a distraught teenage boy at 4 a.m. after the show aired who said he was thinking about committing suicide the day before and he changed his mind after seeing her audition. "That brought me to absolute tears," said Jensen, who also flirted with suicidal thoughts earlier in her life. "I knew it would touch people, and I've been getting emails like that left and right. To think that so many people are going through what I'm going through, it completely breaks my heart. I really hope I get to go far in this, but with this audition, I feel so accomplished. ... Regardless of what happens, I feel complete."
Jensen already knew the power of TV after an incident that followed an appearance last year on "Live With Regis and Kelly," when she was part of a girl group. Soon after, the boy who had bullied her tried to hit on her on Facebook. At first, she thought it was a joke. Then she got mad, but in the end, she felt a sense of empowerment because she suspected his overtures were proof he never really meant all the mean things he'd said.
So far, she's gotten some Twitter congrats from Cody Simpson, whom she performed with twice last year in Massachusetts, but who's a bit young for her taste. But the high point for her is breaking through Cowell's crusty shell and almost making him cry — and that hug from Demi.
"She really got me, and that's left me in complete bliss," said Jensen, who has a "Stay Strong" tattoo just like Demi's. "Knowing that the person I look up to the most with my experience genuinely looks at me and understands."