Christina Jones is taking her loss on "American Idol" with grace.
The 18-year-old senior at O'Fallon Township High School was eliminated from the TV singing competition Monday night, when celebrity judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan narrowed the field to 24 contestants.
"I wasn't too upset about it," Christina said. "I was happy about all the opportunities that this show will bring to me. I have no regrets. I had so much fun hanging out with all these amazing people."
Christina has known the outcome for weeks, as her final performance was filmed in early February. But she was legally barred from talking about it until after the broadcast.
"It was kind of heart-breaking," said her best friend, Natalie Cochran, 16, of O'Fallon. "I really thought she could win. But it's just such tough competition. There are so many talented people on the show this year."
Christina did better than most. She made the Top 50 list of contestants Sunday night, surviving Hollywood Week, a grueling process of group and solo rounds. It had started with 169 contestants, selected from thousands of people who auditioned in cities around the country last year.
Hollywood Week was followed by a showcase round, allowing each of the 50 contestants to perform in front of an audience with a live band. Christina sang the Michael Jackson hit "Who's Lovin' You," but it wasn't televised. Richie, a five-time Grammy winner, broke the news that she was getting cut.
"He said he really enjoyed me being there, but that he only had room for 24 people," Christina said. "He wanted me to go home and kind of find myself in my music."
Christina is the daughter of Natalie Jones, a business continuity specialist with Ameren in St. Louis, and Darryl Jones, who does IT contracting for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They also have a 15-year-old daughter, Taylor.
Christina auditioned for "American Idol" in Chicago and New Orleans before being picked as one of 169 contestants for Season 16, which began March 11. The second audition was televised March 12, making her a school hero. She sang the Gladys Knight & the Pips song "Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me."
"It's really surreal to see her on the screen," Natalie Cochran said. "I'm like, 'I know that person. I've known her for years, and she's on TV with Katie Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.'"
Christina spent three weeks in Los Angeles for Hollywood Week and the showcase round. She kept busy with performances, rehearsals, interviews and homework assignments emailed by her O'Fallon teachers, but she carved out a little time for sightseeing.
Natalie Cochran was one of the few people in O'Fallon who knew what Christina was doing. It wasn't easy to keep the secret.
"(Students) would ask me about it, and I would just make up stories like, 'She's doing a college visit' or whatever," Natalie said.
Christina appeared on TV a second time March 26, when a portion of her group-round performance made the broadcast. She and three other contestants sang and danced to the Jessie J song "Domino." Richie singled out her and Gabby Barrett, 17, of Pittsburgh, for praise.
"You all were able to come together as a group and then break off into your individuality," he said. "Christina, Gabby — incredible."
On Sunday night, viewers got a glimpse of Christina's solo-round performance of Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way," but only in background footage. She also was shown waiting with other contestants in a "holding room."
"She looked good," said Natalie Jones, 53. "I could tell she was tired. I could tell she was under stress. In one shot, she was even crying."
Christina's parents and sister traveled to Los Angeles in early February to be part of the showcase audience, along with her vocal coach, Jessica Ford, who began working with her when the family lived in Tennessee. Ford now is based in California and gives lessons via Skype.
Last spring, Christina won the prestigious St. Louis Teen Talent Competition at The Fabulous Fox Theatre, singing the Whitney Houston song "I Have Nothing" and receiving an $8,000 scholarship. She was a Fox semifinalist in 2015 and a finalist in 2016. She will perform at this year's show April 28.
"I'm prepping myself," Natalie Cochran said. "I really think she's going to make it big. I really feel like her music career is going to get boosted by ('American Idol')."
Christina sees her stint on the show as an educational experience that will benefit her career in the long run.
"It really opened my eyes to what this industry requires," she said. "It showed me what to expect. It's a lot harder than I thought. I realized that it's not just about sounding good. I had to look good. I had to say the right things, and I had to be unique and put myself out there more than I normally would."
Christina expects to graduate in May and move to Los Angeles. She has been accepted at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy's College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts, where she plans to study musical theater.
Her long-term goal is to perform on Broadway because it combines her favorite activities: singing, dancing and acting.
"I'm not going to stop singing," Christina said Monday night. "I'm going to keep trying to make a name for myself. I'm going to keep writing songs and auditioning for as many productions as I can. I love doing what I'm doing too much to quit."