In a lot of ways, he’s like any other 16-year-old.
He gets up in the morning.
He sees friends.
And he does school work, if only grudgingly.
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What’s different is this: Bluffton’s Lee Jean happens to be in the middle of the intensely competitive “American Idol” currently being watched by millions of Americans, not to mention many from his hometown.
That can make things, well, a bit, surreal.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Jean said by phone earlier in the week.
The Bluffton High School junior has been making regular appearances on ‘Idol’ since early January, and is now facing the very distinct possibility of landing in the show’s Top 10 — a tremendous feat considering the tens of thousands of people who lined up in cities across the United States last summer just to have a shot at auditioning.
So what has life been like for Jean, who returned to the West Coast a couple of weeks ago for more tapings and more dress rehearsals?
“I’m on top of the world,” he said, laughing. “It’s kind of crazy ... . I always wanted to live in California and now I’m basically living out of a hotel in California.”
I’m on top of the world.
‘Idol’ hopeful Lee Jean, 16
And while his parents can’t always be by their son’s side due to busy schedules, Jean is not alone. Older brother Dar’rell has been serving as his chaperone, something the teen said has been reassuring for him.
“He’s basically with me all the time,” he said. “It’s less intimidating (having him there). It’s pretty cool.”
All minors are required by the show to be accompanied by a chaperone or guardian at all times. Underage performers are also required to spend at least three hours a day on homework; something Jean, in typical teenage fashion, made abundantly clear he’d rather not be doing.
Still, the support he’s been getting from Bluffton High teachers and the staff, who have sent lesson plans along, has made a lasting impression on Jean.
“They have been so flexible with this whole situation,” he said.
And like any teen thrown into a high pressure situation, he’s made some fast friends along the way.
Idol fans were heartbroken when friend Sara Sturm was eliminated just a couple of weeks ago. Seeing one contender after another sent home around him is something he’s had to come to grips with.
“We’re around each other all the time so you’re bound to make friends,” he said. “And we all just happen to be very close. So when someone goes, especially her, it’s just really disappointing.”
Then, after pausing for a moment, he added, “It’s hard to think that anybody will go home.”
And no matter what happens next — win, lose or draw — Jean said he’s proud of how far he’s come — once again showing that trademark quiet humility that made mega-star Jennifer Lopez first take notice.
“Whatever happens this week, I’m just thankful for everything that has happened so far,” he said, “because this is nothing that I could have ever imagined.”
Whatever happens this week, I’m just thankful for everything that has happened so far.