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Ciatu Kromah, a student at ASU, rehearses with her guitar during American Idol auditions in Charlotte. Kromah advanced to Hollywood Week, which airs on FOX tonight and Thursday. Photo courtesy of American Idol.

Originally published: 2013-02-13 10:13:12
Last modified: 2013-02-13 11:08:06

ASU student appears on 'American Idol'

If you're not watching this season of American Idol, here's your reason to start.

Appalachian State University student Roseline Ciatu Kromah, 21, who goes by CiCi, has made it through to Hollywood Week and is expected to appear on this week's two-night show as a select group of ladies work to impress the judges.

Kromah, a cell/molecular biology major, started at App State in fall 2009 but took the semester off for her Idol run. While at ASU, she participated in Ear Candy, a female a cappella group, the ASU Gospel Choir and University Singers.

After not making the cut during two earlier American Idol seasons, Kromah hadn't planned on auditioning again. But when auditions were announced in her hometown of Charlotte, she couldn't resist.

So on June 19, auditions began in Charlotte as the show whittled down the thousands of contestants to just a few hundred, Kromah said. It wasn't until October that those who passed the preliminary rounds got to sing for the judges: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban.

Kromah presented the judges with her take on "Summertime," a frequently covered George Gershwin tune.

Minaj "really, really liked it," and Carey did, too, Kromah said. Urban had to leave for an event and didn't hear the audition, while Jackson had a few reservations, she recalled.

"Randy was kind of like, 'You have a good voice, it's just really jazzy. I don't know if it's gonna work for this show," Kromah said.

The judges also asked Kromah to play one song with her guitar, and Kromah chose the more contemporary "So Sick" by pop and R&B artist Ne-Yo.

Her performance was strong enough to earn her a yellow ticket and the magic words: "You're going to Hollywood!"

Kromah said the best part of the competition was seeing her mom's expression when she walked out of the room with her ticket.

"That was one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life, just seeing that," Kromah said.

Her family members, some of whom immigrated from Liberia, celebrated with an impromptu African dance, forcing host Ryan Seacrest to join, she said.

As one of the roughly 170 women and 120 men who made it to Hollywood, Kromah was in select company.

As for what happened in Hollywood, Kromah is sworn to secrecy. The show filmed in December, and the contestants were threatened with steep fines for revealing the show's secrets. The top 20 singers in Hollywood will progress to Las Vegas.

Kromah said her long-term goal is to attend medical school and become a doctor, but she hopes that music will be a fun way to make money for that pricey endeavor.

A piano player since age 5, Kromah said she turned to singing after she tore her ACL and couldn't play soccer anymore. She said if the economy were better, she would make singing professionally her focus.

In a strange coincidence, Kromah auditioned for the judges in Charlotte right after another singer with Appalachian State ties: 26-year-old Kenneth Johnston.

"We prayed together before, and I had no clue that he was an old App State student," Kromah said.

Johnston, also a Charlotte resident, graduated from ASU in 2008 with a political science degree, he said.

A singer since childhood, Johnston said he hadn't sung much regularly since he got cut from a men's a cappella group at ASU.

But he had watched American Idol since its inception and decided to take a day off from his 9-to-5 to try out.

"Nobody at work even knew that I sang," he said. "I don't walk around the office humming or singing. I keep quiet."

Johnston eventually made it before the judges, where he performed Stevie Wonder's "If You Really Love Me," as well as a Maroon 5 song and a Bruno Mars tune.

"I made all three songs my own, and I ended up being a success," he said, adding that the judges -- minus Urban, who couldn't attend -- compared his voice to Luther Vandross.

Kenneth also got a ticket for Hollywood and the chance of a lifetime.

"It was really exciting," Johnston said. "We did tons of filming. ... Cameras were rolling from the time that I got there until the time that I left."

Johnston said the competition in Hollywood was intense.

"It was a competitive environment," he said. "People did not go to sleep, to say the least. ... It wasn't in your best interest to relax."

Despite his early success, Johnston was eliminated after the men's solo round, which aired last week.

Looking back, though, Johnston said he was pleased he took the leap of faith. He said he wants to continue singing while also pursuing his career in the business world.

"Your dream doesn't have to be singular," he said.

The public doesn't have to wait much longer to see whether Kromah's dreams came true.

The women's Hollywood competition airs at 8 p.m. tonight and Thursday on FOX, broadcast locally on cable channel 7.

"I just want people to know that it's not unattainable," Kromah said. "I feel like a lot of people are discouraged to try, and they should just do it. You never know what you can get out of just doing something on a whim."

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