'American Idol' Season 13: Jena Irene Stays Thankful for Middle School Breakups
A 'boring week' and a friend's text led Detroit native to audition for 'Idol.'
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with American Idol's season 13 finalists to give an in-depth look at the top 10, including their earliest memories of music, when they knew music would be their career choice and what led to their decision to audition for the singing competition.
Meet the rest of the top 10 singers here.
Born: July 13, 1996
Jena Irene remembers the first song she ever performed. “I was singing in my car seat listening to this song called ‘Torn’ by Natalie Imbruglia. My mom asked my sister, ‘How does she know all the words? She's two!”
Irene’s musical evolution continued when her sixth grade boyfriend broke up with her in the hallway, between classes. “I came home and I knew some chords on the piano but only by ear and I started writing a song. I didn't know if it was any good so I called my mom upstairs and said can you listen to this? She said it was kind of good. I kept writing and writing and writing and even if the songs weren't any good it was practice.”
Another heartbreak led to another musical opportunity. “I broke up with my seventh grade boyfriend and it was a really bad day but my mom told me about a band that had just lost their lead singer. She asked if I wanted to audition. I didn’t care, I was mad at the world that day. I met these kids and I was the youngest at age 12. The oldest one was 16. There was one girl and three guys and we just clicked.”
Irene auditioned with Guns ’n Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and a week later was invited to join Rip Chord. The band heard from another group known as the Rip Chords (“Hey Little Cobra”) and since they had a prior claim, Irene’s group changed its name to Infinity Hour.
An Idol fan since she saw Carrie Underwood compete, Irene had just celebrated her 17th birthday in July 2013 and was having a “boring” week. “Everything slows down in the middle of summer and one of my friends texted me and said, ‘American Idol is coming to Detroit and they haven't been back in 11 years and I think you should take the opportunity. Registration is in two days so if you're not doing anything this weekend, just go.’ and I said okay. Me and my mom both decided to go and it was 11 hours just to wait to register so I thought why am I even here? There are so many other people here. And then I auditioned and got in.”
The Detroit native has already had a taste of what it’s like to be famous. After Hollywood Week aired, she was boarding a flight to return to Los Angeles. “I had no make-up on and I looked liked I had just rolled out of bed. One guy was pointing at me. He said, ‘Good job and good luck!’ I'm thinking, what is going on? It was weird and surreal. That's when it kind of sunk in that I was on American Idol.”