'X Factor' Contestant Stacy Francis' Whitney Houston Connection

Whitney Houston Stacy Francis split L
Getty Images; Ray Mickshaw / FOX

When it comes to TV singing competitions, experience has shown that many contestants come into tryouts with semi-professional pasts, be it major label deals (American Idol season 7 finalist Carly Smithson and The Voice’s Javier Colon and Dia Frampton are but a few), gigs as backup singers for known artists (like Idol’s Melinda Doolittle, who sang with Michael McDonald and Aaron Neville), or a history on Broadway. Often, auditioners try out for multiple shows and sometimes even get airtime, as in the case of The Voice’s Frenchie Davis or X Factor’s Tora Woloshin.

Yahoo’s Reality Rocks blog has a great rundown of this season’s more noteworthy X Factor back-stories, including that of 59-year-old Leroy Bell, a songwriter whose tunes were recorded by the likes of The Spinners, the Temptations and Elton John (the latter even received a Grammy nomination in 1979 for the Bell-penned song, "Mama Can't Buy You Love”), and we’ve uncovered another curious connection between 42-year-old contestant Stacy Francis, Grammy-winning singer Whitney Houston and an American Idol finalist from season 8.

As it turns out, Francis, who came to the contest desperate for a second chance after years of abuse by her ex-husband, had a stint on Broadway, appearing in the Tony-nominated stage production of Footloose, where she sang “Let’s Hear It For the Boy.”  That was in 1998, a year later, she joined Whitney Houston onstage at Wallingford, Connecticut’s Oakdale Theater (now called the Chevrolet Theater) for the song “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" -- this, according to Idol contestant Nick Mitchell (pictured), who attended the concert, sat two rows from Francis and was also plucked out of the audience.

“My mother surprised me with tickets for Whitney Houston’s My Love Is Your Love tour,” Mitchell recounts to The Hollywood Reporter. “It was my 16th birthday present and a dream come true. About an hour into the show, Whitney stopped and asked, ‘Does anyone in this audience knows how to shoop?’ My mom pushed me in the aisle and I screamed, ‘I love you,’ to which Whitney said, ‘I know you love me, but do you know how to shoop?’ I grabbed the bouquet of flowers that I brought along with my State of Connecticut Olympic medal and a card and went to the stage. It was amazing. That night changed my life forever!”

Mitchell, who tried out for Idol under his kooky alterego Norman Gentle, delivered a line from the stage and even got to declare his devotion in Houston’s ear, and then was asked to clear the way for another singer to shoop.

He continues: “Whitney says, ‘We also have a very successful singer from New York City who’s currently on Broadway, my friend Stacy Francis.’ Stacy came onstage and she shooped those high C notes like Mariah Carey-style, the place went insane.”

Flash forward 12 years later, Mitchell and his mom are at home in Connecticut watching the X Factor judges’ house episode when they put it together. “We were like, ‘Oh my God,’” he says, offering a message of support to Francis: “Stacy, you tore the house down, now it’s your turn.”

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin