MSA junior Murray seizing moment in ‘Idol’ spotlight

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 23, 2009

Brookhaven’s best-known high school student said she is usinglessons learned at the Mississippi School of the Arts as sheascends through the ranks of America’s most popular TV talent showin Hollywood.

Jasmine Murray, a 17-year-old MSA junior from Columbus, saidvocal techniques learned from MSA Vocal Department Director PattonRice have added to skills and helped her rise from a group ofthousands of contestants to the Top 36 on Fox’s “AmericanIdol.”

“It’s helped me prepare in a lot of ways,” Murray said of hertime at MSA. “It’s really helped my voice. Mr. Rice always teachesus inclination, breathing correctly, different stuff like that.He’s definitely stressed that a lot. Leading off, pronouncing mywords, the ending – I know I have to remember that in anysong.”

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Murray, who was already a lifelong singer before coming to MSA,said the different genres of music the school has exposed her tohave also helped to prepare her voice for competition. She is aconverted fan of many genres, including classical, theatre,Christian, country and pop – the singing of which has helped toexpand her mastery of her voice, she said.

Murray’s musical preferences could give clues to her upcomingperformance when she sings on Wednesday’s show at 7 p.m. She willbe one of 12 contestants who will be singing for a chance toadvance to this season’s Top 12.

Murray was unable to identify the song she will be singing, butshe did say it is “fun” and one of her favorites. She also said herfavorite singer is Christina Aguilera, because “her voice is sopowerful and so amazing, and she has so much stage presence.”

Unfortunately for Murray, Aguilera – nor any other famousHollywood sirens – has not shown up for coffee. Murray said she hasnot had time to meet any of her musical role models during her timein Hollywood because her “Idol” duties keep her so busy.

And when the show breaks, the high school student has to catchup on course work from MSA. She said show administrators set asidetime for minors to complete their school work daily, and shetackles those duties with all the enthusiasm of herperformances.

“School comes first, no matter what,” Murray said. “This is mydream, but school is so important. Education is something no onecan take away from you.”

However pleasing Murray’s focus on schoolwork may be to theMississippi Department of Education, her primary reason for beingon the show is, of course, performance.

She has survived initial cuts that have seen some early-seasonstars, like Katrina Darrell – otherwise known as “Bikini Girl” -fall by the wayside.

Murray also lived through the scary onstage experience of beingthe only survivor of her original group, “Team Diva.” She was theonly singer left standing after the rest of the team was sent homefrom the competition.

“At that moment, when they called everyone forward but me, I waslike, ‘Oh my gosh,'” Murray said. “I didn’t think I’d made it, Ithought all of them did. I was really scared. I started crying atthe end when they said, ‘Jasmine, you’re moving on.’ I was like,what? Are you serious? It was totally cool. I wish all my group hadmade it though.”

Murray said she was pulling for the members of Team Diva, as thefellowship with other singers is what makes the entire “AmericanIdol” experience “pretty cool.”

“Being around other people who have the same passion, who wantto do the exact same thing,” she said. “It’s like being in my choirclass and being with kids all the time who want to do the exactsame things I want to do. I’ve never experienced anything like it,it’s so positive. If I could do it all over again I would.”

Murray is an “Idol” contestant in the first place just bychance.

She was in Orlando, Fla., last year to compete in a pageant whenshe heard auditions were taking place in Jacksonville, and drove tothe city just to take a shot. She said she never expected to makethe cut, much less become part of the show or advance to the Top36.

“Sometimes I wake up and I can’t believe I’m in the Top 36,”Murray said. “It’s just like a dream has come true. I’m seizing themoment right now.”

Though Murray has been seizing the moment for several weeks, hassurvived cuts, appeared before the judges and sang her lungs out onnational TV, performing on “American Idol” is still no walk in thepark.

“I’ve still got butterflies,” she said. “They’re always there.But it’s not a bad thing. I think I like feeling a little bignervous sometimes. I’m always nervous right before I perform, butusually by the time I get out on stage I’m calm.”

No matter what happens on the show this season, Murray said shewill keep singing. After she graduates from MSA next year, Murraywants to continue her arts education at the American Musical andDramatic Academy in Los Angeles.

From there, she hopes to attend the Belmont School of Music inNashville, Tenn. But through all the big dreams and bigperformances on the national stage, Murray said there is a certainrural state in the South she’ll always call home.

“I definitely do miss Mississippi,” she said. “It’s where I grewup, where my heart is. But I definitely love being out here, beingwith these people. But, hey – I’m sure I’ll be back sooner orlater. Hopefully not too soon.”