Local 'American Idol' contestant Christina Jones
Christina Jones couldn't walk down the hall at O'Fallon Township High School on Tuesday without getting a hug, pat on the back or high-five.
And social-media messages poured in from people all over the country, congratulating her for acing an "American Idol" audition that aired Monday night.
But the highlight of Christina's day was seeing a tweet from superstar Katy Perry, a judge for the TV talent show.
"She said she saw seven different colors when I sang," said Christina, 18, of O'Fallon. "It just made my day. I've been in a good mood ever since I saw that post. It just really gave me a boost."
Tuesday also was a day of freedom for Christina and her family. They've known for weeks that she would be an "American Idol" contestant this season, but they couldn't talk about it publicly until the episode with the audition aired.
Christina had performed the Gladys Knight & the Pips song "Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me" for Perry and judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan in October at the Mardi Gras World tourist attraction in New Orleans.
Even now, the Joneses are limited on what they can legally say about the competition, which continued behind closed doors in Los Angeles earlier this year.
"I can't tell you how far I made it because they want to keep everything a secret, just so people will be surprised," Christina said.
The O'Fallon senior was sitting in the school cafeteria late Tuesday afternoon, taking a breather after a day that seemed ordinary in many ways. She went to math, finance and PE classes, hauling her books in a large backpack.
But there were constant reminders that her life had changed forever. Vocal teacher Cristina Nordin showed the "American Idol" audition on a big screen in her honors chamber ensemble class. Pride filled the eyes of Director of Student Services Martha Blackburn when she hugged Christina in the hallway.
"I cried the entire time, even before she started singing," Blackburn said of the audition. "It's just so exciting to know someone who has worked so hard and gotten to that level."
Overwhelmed by social media
Tuesday also was an extraordinary day for Christina's parents, Natalie and Darryl Jones, and her 15-year-old sister, Taylor. Natalie admits to being a little overwhelmed by all the social-media attention.
The family heard from hundreds of people, including one of Christina's middle-school teachers from Hendersonville, Tennessee, where they used to live. A man in New York posted a video of his baby from Monday night.
"When Christina started singing, the baby looked up at the TV and watched her perform and then turned back around and giggled," said Natalie, 53, a business continuity specialist with Ameren in St. Louis.
Christina's grandmother, Mary Wilson, 78, who lives with the family, had a laugh when a cable TV repairman found out he was working in the home of the young singer who was a "hero" to his daughters.
Because of TV problems, the Joneses hadn't able to watch the "American Idol" episode live, but they recorded it for later in the evening. That was OK with Christina, who had gone to show choir rehearsal anyway.
She watched the audition with other students gathered around the small screen on Nordin's smartphone via FaceTime before seeing it again with her family. The choir group included Christina's best friend, Nat Cochran, 16, of O'Fallon.
"I don't really know how to describe the feeling," Nat said. "I know that Christina is insanely talented and totally deserves a shot at this. We all knew it would happen. Everyone in the class knows she's going to make it big."
Last spring, Christina 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 semifinalist 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.
"I'm going to be opening and closing the teen talent competition this year," she said of the final-round performance, which will be April 28 at the Fox. It's open to the public.
Surviving Hollywood Week
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.
The season's first five episodes consist of last year's auditions from cities across the country, according to ABC spokesman Nate Reeves.
"Then there's three episodes of Hollywood Week, and during Hollywood Week, there's a couple of different rounds," he said. "They perform for the judges as soloists and as a group with the other contestants."
Only 50 contestants make it past Hollywood Week. Like the Joneses, Reeves declined to provide information on the outcome of Christina's time in the competition.
Her "American Idol" journey began in August, when her mother drove her to Chicago to be part of first-round auditions at McCormick Place. That's when show producers picked her for a second round with celebrity judges.
Christina's father, an IT contractor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and sister joined Natalie for that audition in New Orleans. Earlier this year, Christina headed to Los Angeles for Hollywood Week.
"They pay for your trip to LA, and they pay for your trip back if you don't make it," she said. "They're really generous about that."
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 would combine her three favorite activities: singing, dancing and acting. But for now, she's just looking to complete her education at O'Fallon.
"We are so proud of her," said Principal Rich Bickel. "She's so talented. I think our entire school community was on the edge of their seats, watching her on TV. What a thrill."