Warner Robins resident makes it to next round of ‘American Idol’

wcrenshaw@macon.comJanuary 24, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Middle Georgia may be on the verge of having a TV star without the controversy of Honey Boo Boo.

Warner Robins resident Summer Cunningham’s successful and memorable audition on “American Idol” aired Wednesday night and generated considerable buzz. When the Georgia Southern sophomore woke up Thursday morning she had about 150 friend requests on her Facebook page and more than 300 new Twitter followers.

Her unanimous approval by the four celebrity judges earned her a trip to Hollywood, Calif., where she will compete with more than 100 other finalists for the 24 spots in the show’s new season.

The audition that aired Wednesday filmed Sept. 30, Cunningham’s 20th birthday, at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C. She showed up with about 9,000 other hopefuls, and after two auditions in front of show staff, she went before celebrity judges Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban.

After Cunningham belted out a powerful rendition of “Lean on Me,” she got an immediate thumbs up from Minaj.

“I think your voice is really, really pretty, and controlled, and I love the tone,” the pink-haired judge declared.

Urban chimed in his approval, but took issue when Cunningham responded “I did the country thing” to his question about her singing background. Urban has a country music background.

That touched off a prolonged debate about country music and whether it should be Cunningham’s niche, but there was no question raised about her singing ability. Cunningham was left nervously listening to the curious and lively discussion while she waited for a third vote and her ticket to Hollywood.

Of all the things she imagined might happen in the tryout, she said in a telephone interview from Statesboro on Thursday, she never remotely envisioned what actually occurred.

“It was just nerve wracking,” said Cunningham, a public relations major. “The last thing you expect to happen is having these four major celebrities arguing like that right in front of you.”

Finally, she got a thumbs up from the other two judges, but Minaj was so perturbed from the argument that she walked off the set, and production shut down for the rest of the day.

With more than 100 other people going before the celebrity judges that day, Cunningham was far from assured her appearance would make it to air, but after the throwdown she didn’t have much doubt it would be televised.

“I was so excited,” she said of her feelings afterward. “The moment was so intense. It seemed like the longest time when I was standing in there. I cried a little bit, but I was in shock.”

Cunningham has lived in Warner Robins all of her life and graduated from Houston County High School in 2011. Most people know her as “Cammie,” which is short for her middle name, Camille, but she plans to go by Summer, her first name, on stage. She has sang since she was a little girl and as a teenager sang the national anthem on several occasions at games for the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. She has often been told she should try out for “American Idol” but thought it was too much of a long shot until she finally decided to give it a try last year.

The date of the Hollywood audition hasn’t been set, but she expects it will take place in a couple of weeks. If she makes the cut to be a part of the season, which will be broadcast live, she and her fellow contestants will face audience votes each week to determine who is thrown off the show. The winner gets a recording contract.

Having a career as a singer would be a dream come true, she said, but right now she is just thrilled to be going to Hollywood.

“I try not to think about it too much,” she said. “But that’s ultimately what I would love to do with my life.”

Her appearance was the talk of the school at Houston County High on Thursday, said band Director Wally Shaw, particularly among the teachers who remember her. He remembers her from her time singing in the choir.

“Cammie is a very talented young lady,” he said. “She’s got all the essentials she needs to make it big. I’m excited by the fact that anybody from Central Georgia has made it that far.”

If she makes the final cut for the show, he said, it will be a really big deal at the school.

“We may not get anything done around here for six weeks.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service