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November 1, 2011

Jim Bailey: Bypassing Idol worship earns Amber standing-O

Amber Thompson is an attractive, vivacious 22-year-old. She has been singing gospel music professionally with her family group, The Nelons, since she was 10.

The Nelons were one of the featured groups in last month’s Gaither Family Resources Fall Festival, singing during one of two concerts held at Anderson University’s Reardon Auditorium. Amber sings the soprano part in the trio that also includes her mother, Kelly Nelon Clark, and stepfather, Jason Clark. Her younger sister, Autumn, also makes occasional appearances with the group.

Amber recently had an opportunity to try out for the popular “American Idol” TV show. She opted not to undertake the course the show’s judges demanded of her. For that, she received a standing ovation at the Fall Festival concert.

Kelly explained the scenario to the audience. Last year the family, which now lives in Jacksonville, Fla., took a vacation trip to Walt Disney World. While she was there, Amber took advantage of a chance to participate in one of the Disney World attractions, an “American Idol” tryout. She was the day’s winner, earning a guaranteed gold ticket to one of several scheduled “American Idol” tryouts around the country.

Her ticket got her into the tryouts ahead of several thousand other hopefuls, Kelly said. The judges were impressed with her voice, stage presence and general appearance. Then came an interview.

Amber was asked to tell about herself. She replied that she had been singing Christian music all her life and was a professional gospel singer. It was at this point some of the judges took exception.

“You realize this is not a gospel competition,” said Jennifer Lopez, the well-known actress and singer who serves as one of the show’s judges. “If you go on ‘American Idol,’ you will have to sing secular music.”

Another judge went even further, asking if she would be willing to sing nothing but secular music. And a strong suggestion was made that she dress much more provocatively than she was attired for the audition.

It was at this point that Amber came to the decision that changing her entire persona to become an “American Idol” was not her kind of priority, and she withdrew from the competition.

As Kelly concluded her account, several hundred people at Reardon Auditorium rose to their feet and applauded. Amber was visibly touched.

Amber is a student at Trinity Baptist College, and around her studies the family sings about 150 dates a year around the world. She literally grew up on the road as her mother and grandfather Rex Nelon toured all her life.

From the decisions she made surrounding her “American Idol” tryout, it is evident she has her life goals in line and her priorities straight.

I’m reminded of a quote attributed many years ago to the McGuire Sisters, who traveled a similar road from singing in churches to national stardom: “We’ve reached the top now, and there’s nothing here.”

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at

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