Sunday, November 18, 2018
Pop Culture

New ‘American Idol’: Wesley Chapel teen Zach D’Onofrio steals the spotlight in premiere

When Zach DíOnofrio auditioned for American Idol last fall, it was hard to tell who was most shocked: the judges or Zach himself.

The 17-year-old student at Wiregrass Ranch High School is one of the singers whoíll be featured on the rebooted American Idol premiering at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC. And he may be the ultimate poster boy for Idolís unspoken promise that it can make a star out of any singer, anywhere in America.

After singing in public for less than two years, the Wesley Chapel teen is about to get one of reality TVís brightest spotlights, one that made superstars of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, and for which ABC paid big bucks to swipe away from Fox.

"Iím a pretty humble person, and I honestly never expected any of this to happen for me, going to New York City, and I think that showed in my audition," he said. "I think they liked that about me. I was just down to earth. I didnít know that I had talent starting out with this, and I think they saw that."

Surprise and suspense have been a crucial component of Idolís audition episodes since day one, so letís tread carefully through spoiler territory. On the whole, the first episode has a hopeful and positive tone, and so do the judges ó there isnít yet a Simon in the bunch. Some singers make it (even when judges have criticisms) and some donít (even when judges like what they see).

Zach first pops up in the showís cinematic opening sequence, an homage to the "dreamers" and "lullaby singers" narrated by Underwood. Later, he gets his own extended feature that includes a visit to his Wesley Chapel home.

He describes himself as a kid who used to get made fun of at school due to his slightly froggy speaking voice. ("Itís a little bit higher than people would normally expect, and it made me shy," he tells the cameras.) He collects eccentric socks, and brought pairs as gifts for Ryan Seacrest and judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. He tells the panel heís been singing for less than a year, and this was his first audition for anything.

As with many classic Idol auditions, you arenít sure what to expect until he picks up the microphone and starts crooning Frank Sinatraís The Way You Look Tonight. But his confident repartee with judges is charming, especially when he starts dancing with Perry (just watch, youíll see). As Bryan puts it: "This show will teach you, do not judge any human being on this planet."

"I was just living the moment," Zach said. "It was a very crazy experience. But it was definitely tough trying to sing while Katy Perry is right in front of you, dancing with you. But I just kept going, and I finished the song."

Zachís parents, Darci and Bryan DíOnofrio, own the Dreamhouse Theatre in Lutz, which until a couple of years ago was pretty much the extent of Zachís performing experience. He worked the lights and sound and played the occasional supporting role ó Benjamin in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Farquaad in Shrek the Musical ó but it wasnít until he sang for the cast after a performance of Little Shop of Horrors that he realized he might have real talent.

In August, Zach won a local talent competition to skip the audition line for American Idol in Orlando. His audition for the judges in New York came in October. None of his classmates knew any of this was happening, but then, why would they? This was only his first year in the Wiregrass Ranch chorus.

"I just wanted to give it a shot because I saw how people reacted to how I sounded when I sing," he said. "I thought I would have a good chance because I thought no one else would be singing the same style of music. Because Frank Sinatra ó how many people can sing him? Most people would choose pop songs when they audition. I thought I would stand out."

This week, Zach has been doing interviews and prepping for a viewing party with family and close friends at his Wesley Chapel home. He hasnít seen the episode, so heís as curious as anyone to see how heíll come across to America.

"Since now I can post more about it and tell everyone that I am going to be on the show, people have reached out to me, congratulating me and things like that," he said. "Itís been a great growing experience for me since itís all new. Iíll definitely learn from it, no matter what happens."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

     
   
Comments
Here’s a guide to the authors coming to the Times Festival of Reading

Here’s a guide to the authors coming to the Times Festival of Reading

Read interviews with the 2018 festival authors and reviews of their books.
Published: 11/16/18
The Zola Twitter saga went viral. The ‘Zola’ movie is being filmed in Tampa Bay.

The Zola Twitter saga went viral. The ‘Zola’ movie is being filmed in Tampa Bay.

The story of prostitution, stripping and crime is becoming a movie called Zola. The production has been filming in the Tampa Bay area since Oct. 29, confirmed St.Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Tony Armer.
Published: 11/15/18
Updated: 11/16/18
John Legend, Barry Manilow, Trans-Siberian Orchestra lead Tampa Bay’s packed Christmas concert season

John Legend, Barry Manilow, Trans-Siberian Orchestra lead Tampa Bay’s packed Christmas concert season

John Legend’s Clearwater show kicks off a six-week holiday hit parade: Barry Manilow, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Michael McDonald, For King and Country, Jane Lynch, Kenny G and more. Plus: Nutcrackers!
Published: 11/14/18
Weekend concert picks: John Legend, Roy Orbison’s hologram, St. Pete Beach BikeFest and more

Weekend concert picks: John Legend, Roy Orbison’s hologram, St. Pete Beach BikeFest and more

EGOT winner John Legend arrives for the season’s first holiday concert, and Roy Orbison comes to life as a hologram. Plus: Petula Clark, Playboi Carti, St. Pete Beach BikeFest and more.
Published: 11/14/18
Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay is home to comic book industry professionals and fans — even a superhero — who were impacted by the Marvel icon and his work.
Published: 11/14/18
Stan Lee, creator of a galaxy of Marvel superheroes, dies at 95

Stan Lee, creator of a galaxy of Marvel superheroes, dies at 95

Stan Lee, the creative dynamo who revolutionized the comic book and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in Marvel superheroes, died Monday at age 95.
Published: 11/12/18
Live music picks: Travis Scott, R. Kelly, Brian Wilson, Christina Aguilera, more

Live music picks: Travis Scott, R. Kelly, Brian Wilson, Christina Aguilera, more

Travis Scott launches 'Astroworld,' Brian Wilson retires 'Pet Sounds' and R. Kelly faces protests at USF. Plus: Christina Aguilera, Simple Minds, Tanya Tucker, Joe Diffie, (Sandy) Alex G and more.
Published: 11/07/18
Ribfest food lineup and music set times: Barenaked Ladies, Josh Turner lead the way

Ribfest food lineup and music set times: Barenaked Ladies, Josh Turner lead the way

Get the lowdown on when to get to Vinoy Park to see Los Lonely Boys, Chris Janson and Robby Steinhardt — and what night you can save the most money.
Updated one month ago
Nashville’s blue wave: 15 years after the Dixie Chicks, country artists make a liberal political shift

Nashville’s blue wave: 15 years after the Dixie Chicks, country artists make a liberal political shift

‘Liberal’ used to be a dirty word in country music. But today, more artists are speaking out on gun control, LGBTQ rights and immigration. And some are stumping for a Democratic wave on Election Day.
Updated one month ago
This week’s best concerts: Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, Beats By the Bay and more

This week’s best concerts: Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, Beats By the Bay and more

Two of the world's most popular artists, Ed Sheeran and Twenty One Pilots, lead a busy week, including Keith Sweat, Fantasia, Dustin Lynch, Jonathan Davis, Jessie Reyez, David Lee Murphy and more.
Updated one month ago