An O'Fallon Township High School senior became a contestant on the TV talent show "American Idol" Monday night.
Christina Jones was shown singing for celebrity judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan at an audition that was taped in October at the Mardi Gras World museum in New Orleans.
"I feel really excited, and I'm really proud of myself that I could do something this big," Christina said earlier in the day. "It's kind of surreal."
Christina, 18, of O'Fallon, and her family couldn’t reveal what happened at the audition until after the episode aired, according to her mother, Natalie Jones, 53, a business continuity specialist with Ameren.
"We had to sign a bazillion documents to make sure that we kept everything confidential," she said.
For the same reason, ABC spokesman Nate Reeves called Christina an "Idol hopeful" instead of an "Idol contestant" on Monday afternoon. But on Monday night, she was shown getting a "golden ticket" to Hollywood after her audition.
O'Fallon students had already drawn conclusions about Christina's success since she was absent from school for an extended period earlier this year. She also FaceTimed with her Honors Chamber Ensemble class from Los Angeles, where "American Idol" is filmed.
"It's been a hard secret to keep," Cristina Nordin, 29, the school's vocal director, said Monday afternoon.
At the audition, Christina sang the Gladys Knight & the Pips song "Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me."
"It means a lot to me," she said. "The words, the music ... I grew up with that song. I don't really sing it for myself. I sing it for the people I love. I really don't know what I would do without my family, my friends and all the other people who support me."
Perry used the term "timeless" to describe Christina's voice, and Bryan told her he felt like he should have paid money to hear her sing, according to her mother.
"Christina could not remember exactly what Lionel Richie said because she was very emotional," Jones said. "But he recognized that she was nervous, and after she sang, he said he was very proud of her for getting through it and not letting her nervousness affect her audition."
This isn't the first time Christina has made headlines with her singing. Last spring, she won the prestigious Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation Teen Talent Competition at The Fabulous Fox theater in St. Louis by singing the Whitney Houston song "I Have Nothing." She received an $8,000 scholarship.
Christina was a Fox semi-finalist in 2015 and a finalist in 2016. She sang "Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me" in 2016, winning the competition's Kranzberg Vocal Performance Award.
"She works so hard, and she really goes above and beyond preparing for something like this," Nordin said.
At school, Christina sings with the Honors Chamber Ensemble, Encore Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Show Choir. She also takes private voice lessons.
Nordin has taught and directed Christina since she was a freshman.
"Her musicianship is outstanding," Nordin said. "She understands music, and therefore she's good at interpreting it. But talent is only half the battle. She has a great work ethic. She works really, really hard. She pretty much lives it."
The "American Idol" season started Sunday night. Episodes will be broadcast Sundays and Mondays until the week of April 29, then on Sundays only. The grand finale is May 21.
Christina appeared briefly on Sunday night's episode as part of a teaser for Monday night's show. That led to an onslaught of social-media messages and high fives at school Monday.
"I threw myself off the couch and started crying," one friend told Christina.
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.
The whole family went to New Orleans for that audition. Christina's father, Darryl Jones, is an IT contractor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She also has a 15-year-old sister, Taylor.
The second audition went very well, according to Natalie Jones.
"(Christina is) extremely focused," she said. "When she gets nervous, she kind of goes within herself and gets even more focused."
Christina described Perry, Bryan and Richie as supportive, caring and knowledgeable.
"They really knew what they were talking about when they gave feedback," she said. "That's what I liked most about them. It just made sense, and they wanted us to be the best that we can be."
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.