BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Chick-fil-A’s loss was “American Idol’s” gain.
Angela Miller had just graduated from Beverly High School in June. She had turned down music scholarships from three colleges because she knew she was going to try out for the famous TV show.
She even gave up her job working at the fast-food restaurant at the Northshore Mall in Peabody.
“I have always watched ‘American Idol,’ and it’s always been a dream of mine to be on the show,” Miller said. “I just graduated from high school and haven’t started college. It’s the perfect time.”
‘Perfect’ turned out to be almost an understatement. The 18-year-old Essex Street resident’s ascension from food court to fame began spectacularly this week when she advanced to the next round of the reality-TV singing competition in Hollywood.
In a three-minute taped appearance during the “American Idol” season premiere Wednesday night, Miller drew praise from the four celebrity judges and prompted the Twitter world to proclaim her one of the favorites to win the entire competition. The show was seen by 17.8 million people, according to Nielsen ratings.
Back home in Beverly, Miller called the experience “overwhelming” and “amazing.”
“I’ve been watching it so long on TV, and then being there, it didn’t feel real,” she said. “Even watching the audition (on tape) it still feels like a dream. I wasn’t expecting so much enthusiasm and love from (the judges). When Randy (Jackson) said I was one of the best of the day, I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”
Miller’s success is not entirely surprising considering her background. She is the daughter of ordained ministers and grew up singing and performing in the church. Her older brother, Jonathan, 20, is a member of the band Exiting The Fall.
Her parents, Guy and Tana Miller, both graduated from Valley Forge Christian College in Pennsylvania. They moved to Beverly when Guy attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton.
The Millers served at churches in Lynnfield and on Cape Cod before becoming co-pastors of the new Remix Church in Salem in September.
“Angela and Jonathan grew up on the church pew,” Tana Miller said. “They just grew up with music all around them, even at home.”
Angela was a member of the choir and honors vocal ensemble at Beverly High and performed in school musicals. In 2011, she entered the Assemblies of God National Fine Arts Festival in Phoenix and placed seventh in the female solo vocal category.
Her performance at the festival drew the attention of three Christian colleges that offered her scholarships, she said. Her top choice was Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Texas. Ultimately, she turned down the scholarships to concentrate on preparing for “American Idol.”
“I said, ‘I’m going to do “American Idol” and take the risk,’” she said.
Miller’s performance, shown on Wednesday night, was made even more compelling by her revelation that she suffers from 40 percent hearing loss in her left ear and 20 percent in her right.
Her mother said doctors discovered when Angela was very young that the protective covering over her eardrum was no longer there. She has had two surgeries to insert tubes in her ear. A month before her “American Idol” audition in New York in September, she was fitted with silicon spray ear plugs.
Eventually she will need a skin graft to protect her eardrum, but that surgery will be put off until the “American Idol” competition is over because it would cause pain on airplane flights, Tana Miller said.
“It definitely makes it harder to sing,” Angela said. “I can hear myself fine, but the music and everything else around me can be difficult to hear. I’ve learned to work with it over the last few years.”
Tana Miller said she was amazed but not surprised by her daughter’s performance at the “American Idol” audition.
“I have such confidence in Ange,” she said. “I am probably one of the biggest critics of musical talents there is. Two or three years ago all of a sudden I saw Ange get amazing, not just good. That’s when I realized we had something here that was a diamond in the rough. To me it was so worth spending the money to get to the auditions and all that. I knew in my heart she was going to go far if she did this.”
The Millers are prohibited by Fox television officials from discussing what happens next. The network is still airing auditions that took place in other cities around the country, so it can be assumed that Miller’s next TV appearance won’t be for a while.
In the meantime, Angela said she is singing all the time, practicing being interviewed (“I remind myself to be natural, say really what’s in your heart”), and watching news of her performance “blow up” on Facebook and Twitter.
“I’m just so excited for what’s going to happen next,” she said. “I know it’s all just going to get crazy.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.