Christina Jones seemed right at home during her second appearance on "American Idol" Monday night, singing and dancing to the Jessie J song "Domino" with three other contestants.
The 18-year-old O'Fallon resident's showing in the group round was so strong that celebrity judge Lionel Richie singled her out for praise, along with contestant Gabby Barrett, 17, of Pittsburgh.
"You all were able to come together as a group and then break off into your individuality," he said. "Christina, Gabby — incredible."
Christina made the cut in the group round, which is part of Hollywood Week, a grueling process that will narrow the field from 169 to 50 contestants.
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About a minute of Christina's performance was televised. She wore blue jeans, black booties and a red leather jacket with a flared bottom that was a gift from her sister, Taylor, 15.
"It seemed so quick," said her mother Natalie Jones, 53, who watched the broadcast from a hotel room in Florida, where she was speaking at a conference. "I thought she did good. She was in her element."
Jones is a business continuity specialist with Ameren in St. Louis. Christina's father, Darryl, does IT contracting for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Christina, a senior at O'Fallon Township High School, flew to Los Angeles for filming of Hollywood Week in January.
"It was very stressful," she said. "I didn't have my family there to support me. I kind of had to fight my own battles and comfort myself. I was really, really lonely, but I was doing what I loved."
The Jones family is legally barred from revealing how far Christina made it in the competition until after broadcast of the episode in which she is eliminated. The season started March 11. Episodes will air Sundays and Mondays until the week of April 29, then on Sundays only. The grand finale is May 21.
Christina first appeared on "American Idol" March 12. The episode showed her second audition in October, when she was picked as a contestant by Richie and fellow judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. That earned her a free trip to Los Angeles.
"They put us in a really nice hotel," she said. "I got to meet a lot of people and form some relationships. Most of them were really, really nice."
Contestants spent much of their time in a "holding room" outside the TV studio, waiting for performances and interviews, Christina said. They socialized, played cards and joked around.
There wasn't much time for sleep. Beyond "American Idol" activities, Christina had to complete homework assignments emailed by her teachers for advanced pre-calculus, expository writing and personal finance classes.
"They knew I was gone, but they didn't know why," she said.
At school, Christina sings with the Honors Chamber Ensemble, Encore Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Show Choir. Last spring, she won the prestigious Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation Teen Talent Competition at The Fabulous Fox theater in St. Louis and received an $8,000 scholarship.
Christina's mother drove her to Chicago in August to be part of first-round "American Idol" auditions at McCormick Place. That's when show producers picked her for a second round with celebrity judges in New Orleans.
"I'm going to need a vacation after this show," her mother said Monday night after broadcast of the group round. "We're on an emotional roller-coaster."
Christina expects to graduate in May and move to Los Angeles. She's been accepted at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy's College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts, where she plans to study musical theater.
While in California for Hollywood Week, Christina had to buy a few clothing items.
"I wasn't that smart with packing, so I packed mostly clothes that you would wear in the winter," she said. "I forgot that it was L.A. weather."