N.O. contestant advances in ‘Idol’
New Orleans — Burnell Taylor, who was voted into the Top 10 on “American Idol,” is already a star in the eyes of the faculty and student body of Sarah T. Reed High School, where he put his talent to work as a student at school events, from singing the national anthem at football games to assemblies and other events.
“He was so free with his gift,’’ said Clover Davis, school secretary. “He just never held back and was always willing.’’
Taylor, who graduated from Reed in May, sang “I’m Here,’’ from the musical “The Color Purple,” on March 6 to advance to the Top 10.
Breanna Steer, of LaPlace, who had advanced to the top 20 contestants with Taylor, didn’t make the final cut.
Taylor’s performance was creating a buzz Friday at Reed.
“He’s a really good kid, and I’m just happy to have the world see his talent,’’ Davis said, noting that many students know him since he’s a recent graduate.
“A lot of our kids need to see that and should be motivated and encouraged to be diligent,’’ she said.
She said Taylor visited the school recently, and staff members were impressed by his weight loss.
“It was right after the audition, and I said, ‘My goodness, look at you.’ He realized it was something he had to do to get on top of his game, vocally and physically,’’ Davis said.
On Monday, Taylor said the support from family, friends and his high school has far exceeded what he expected and is a big help to him, even though he’s not able to talk to those back home as often as he would like.
The show maintains a busy schedule and “when you do have down time, you are so tired,’’ he said.
There’s also the hard work of diet and exercise. Taylor credits the show with his 40-pound weight loss.
“I just want everyone to know that if you want something, you have to go get it,’’ he said. “I don’t want anyone to ever be afraid of growth. I’ve opened up, lost weight, changed my look,’’ he said. That would not have happened “if I wasn’t here,’’ he said.
But those who knew Taylor in high school aren’t surprised to see him excelling on a much larger stage.
Donald Jackson, who was principal of Reed when Taylor attended, said he started an after-school music enrichment program, called Beats and Lyrics, along with Damon Baptiste, in large part because of Taylor.
Taylor composed several original songs that were played over the loudspeaker during announcements at Reed, Jackson said, including one that he wrote to encourage fellow students to pass the Graduate Exit Exam — called “Pass That GEE.’’
“He was one of the few juniors who would sing at senior events,’’ his former principal said, noting that getting up in front of peers to sing “takes a lot of courage.’’
Another former Reed administrator, Kenneth L. Jackson, who was disciplinarian, remembered Taylor as “jovial and well-liked,’’ by his peers. Jackson, who is now at Lake Area High School, said former Reed students have been calling him to ask if he has seen Scooter — Taylor’s nickname — on television.
“Everyone is just so happy to see him doing so well,’’ he said.
His talent was clear to the Reed community, Jackson said, calling it effortless and “like a God-given talent.’’
Terri Peyton, another Reed administrator, said Taylor is a happy person who has stayed close to teachers and friends at Reed. He visited recently when the senior class held its ring ceremony, she said.
“We all knew he would do something great,’’ she said, noting that the school showcased his talent whenever possible.
“I think I’m more nervous and jittery than he is. He’s so cool,’’ she said.
Peyton said she is making sure the student body at Reed watches Taylor at daily assemblies and that they spread the word to family, friends and the community to vote for him.
Taylor, for his part, is making the most of the opportunity.
His selection last week was the same song he used for his audition for the show. But that choice had nothing to do with seeking a comfort level, he said. “That is a big song,’’ he pointed out.
He chose to do it again because only a portion of the audition was shown on television. “I wanted to give the people the chance to hear the parts they didn’t hear,’’ he said — and he wanted to sing it with full orchestration. Auditions for the show are performed a capella.
As for what he’s singing this week, that’s a closely held secret.
“You’ll just have to watch,’’ he said.