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Support rings out for Tampa's idol

Jessica Sierra's performance on the television show excites her family and impresses even hard-to-please Simon Cowell.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN and BRADY DENNIS
Published March 23, 2005


photo
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Twelve-year-olds Morgan Burns, left, of Tampa and Ashleigh Griffin of Lutz are overjoyed as American Idol begins Tuesday. The girls came to the Tampa Theatre to show their support for Tampa singer Jessica Sierra.

TAMPA - Jessica Sierra had not stopped belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart when lights from cell phones lit up the darkened theater like flitting fireflies.

Ami Sinardi, her two daughters and their cousin were primed and ready.

"When they say it's okay to call, all we do is send," Sinardi told 6-year-old Skyler in the seat next to her at the Tampa Theatre, primed to call in their vote for Jessica.

In a flash, the Temple Terrace mother and daughters were on their feet, along with 100 other people who poured into the theater to watch their hometown celebrity on American Idol.

The crowd screamed at the end of Jessica's song and over the start of the judges' comments, but they quickly hushed. The screaming resumed when all three judges - including persnickety Simon Cowell who has reduced singers to tears - praised her. Cowell said Jessica and fellow contestant Carrie Underwood were the two top performers of the 11.

Tonight, the American Idol hopefuls will find out how millions of viewers rated their performances. But Jessica Sierra couldn't be more pleased with hers, judging by her reaction after the show's taping this week in Los Angeles.

"She was screaming in the cab, singing to the cabdriver," said Tonya Sierra, Jessica's stepmother, who flew to California on Sunday with the 19-year-old's maternal grandmother, Joyce Chancey. "She gave him an autograph for his daughter. He loved it."

It had been a tense night for the Sierra women, waiting through 10 other singers before Jessica got her chance. But it was worth the wait, Tonya Sierra said.

"They saved the best for last," she said.

After the taping and the serenading of the cabdriver, the three women celebrated at Orso's, an Italian restaurant in Hollywood, where a manager named Pete recognized Jessica and promised to vote for her.

"She was just excited" about her performance, Tonya Sierra said. "She just wanted to scream."

Apparently, she screamed a lot that night.

Her fans in Tampa were just as enthusiastic.

"Yes! This is great, I keep getting a busy signal so that means people are voting for her," said 12-year-old Jessica Simpson of Tampa, phone in hand as people trickled out of the Tampa Theatre, walking and working their cell phones at the same time.

Sierra's grandmother and grandfather, Betty and Joe Sierra, of Tampa, were among those in the crowd. They were thrilled with her performance. They had sipped on some white wine to help them relax.

"I've never seen Jessica give a bad performance, but you do get a little shaky, because you don't know what they're looking for, and you've got the public involved," Mrs. Sierra said.

The performer's father stayed at home in Plant City, where he watched and called in his votes. Sierra's grandparents were going home after the show to phone in their votes. "I put in an extra line at home," she said. "As many times as you get in, you can vote."

Supporters ranged from family and friends to strangers, and not just young American Idol hopefuls.

Donna Olmstead, 62, and her husband Richard, 64, of Tampa, also attended the downtown Jessica bash. "I've watched her over the years mature at different events," Olmstead said. "On American Idol you can watch them mature in front of your eyes."

Tuesday night, a storm dumped heavy rain on Los Angeles. But nothing could dampen the Sierra family's confidence.

"She owned the stage," Tonya Sierra said.

[Last modified March 23, 2005, 06:03:12]


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