Kerry A. Onxley greets American Idol finalists Josh Ledet and Hollie Cavanagh. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 4:30 PM
EDITOR’S NOTE: Kerry A. Onxley received the 2012 American Idol Mentor Award by American Idol Top 3 finalist Joshua Ledet.
Onxley, who was Ledet’s acting coach for four years, received an all-expense paid trip to Hollywood to watch Ledet perform
in the American Idol finale. Here is his first-hand account of how the night went.
On Thursday, May 9, my life changed drastically.
Like all of Southwest Louisiana, I had been following former Westlake High School Theater actor, Joshua Ledet, for months on “American Idol.” After learning of Joshua’s advancement to the final three round, I celebrated dinner with friends. About 45 minutes into dinner, I received a text from Joshua stating that American Idol was planning a huge surprise for me when he returned to Westlake for his homecoming. I was thrilled! I thought it would be a nice plaque. I never dreamed what was about to happen to me.
I was fortunate to be able to await Joshua at the airport with his family on Friday, May 12. It was wonderful seeing his mom, dad, sisters, brothers and, of course, Josh. It was such a happy occasion! Who knew it was only the beginning. As I waited in anticipation for Joshua’s return to his alma mater, Westlake High School, on Saturday, May 13, it was an amazing sight to see the thousands of supporters lining the streets of Westlake for his homecoming parade.
I filed in line to the Westlake High School gym with hundreds of staff, teachers, students and family members. Moments went on as the cheerleaders motivated the crowd and the band played spirited music. I sat in the gym’s upper deck to get a good view until one of the show’s producers escorted me to the bottom row. I sat and waited. Enter Josh. The crowd roared as the superstar waved and flashed his, huge signature smile. He truly was home. He recognized several of his friends, and then sang the favorite “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Outstanding! Immediately after singing, he proceeded off the court as the producers explained they would be filming a different segment. Soon, Josh reappeared to an enthusiastic audience not to sing, but make an announcement. This is what he said: “Will Mr. Kerry Onxley, please step up. As you know, ‘Mr.O’ is the theater director at Westlake High School. He has taught me so much and I would like to name him as my mentor for the Ford/ American Idol Mentor program.” I was shocked! As the producer led me to Josh, I felt numbed and without words (an unusual moment for me). We hugged and I whispered “focus” — the advice I give all of my theater students.
The evening went on to watch him perform in concert as the community came together to enjoy Josh’s talents and success! Following Josh’s departure from Louisiana, the next six days would be filled with people congratulating me and offering kudos, knowing it was Josh who deserved the praise.
Finally, Tuesday, May 23 arrived. I had an early flight from Lake Charles. Getting up early is a ritual of my day. Jogging daily at 4 a.m. has been part of my “stress release” program for years. However, this particular morning, I felt like I ran twice as fast, as the adrenaline was so very high.
Thankfully, all flights were flawless with beautiful weather all the way to Hollywood. As opposed to Josh, I love flying. It introduces you to a world of new people (with whom) to communicate. However, this time would be special because I would get to “brag” on Southwest Louisiana’s Idol to everyone I would meet.
Landing at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, I was greeting by a driver in luggage claim and immediately taken to the beautiful Andaz Hotel. Located on Sunset Boulevard, the Andaz Hotel has hosted many famous music icons. Led Zeppelin rented as many as six floors of the hotel in the mid-to-late 1970s and was reported to have driven a motorcycle along the hallways.
After a quick lunch and change of clothes, I was introduced to the other two mentors Robert (for Jessica Sanchez) and Ben (for Phillip Phillips) and we were driven to the Nokia Center. The Nokia Center is a theater and music venue that seats 7,100. Compared to our own Rosa Hart Theater (which seats 2,050), this place is huge. Famous events presented by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as well as, the MTV Video Music Awards are hosted annually at the Nokia Center. I was so excited for Josh! What 20 year old gets this opportunity!
The three mentors were seated on Row 11. Being in theater all my life, I was mesmerized by every part of the theater and the show. Set changes, light focuses, sound checks, tech staff and makeup artists made it a haven for theater directors! Upon entering this awesome place, I saw Josh’s parents (Nathaniel and Jacket Ledet) and two sisters (Trista and Jessica). I was happy to visit with them before the show. They are such a happy, supportive, proud family! I always tell my acting students — “Thank your mom and dad!” It was obvious; Josh had shown much gratitude to his parents and siblings for their relentless support.
At 4:50 p.m., a producer stepped to the stage and reviewed the audience on the detailed rules and expectations (when to clap, stand, etc.) during the live taping. During commercials, sets are changed, backup singers and instruments are placed and makeup is refreshed on the judges — Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler. From the crowd’s reaction, Steven Tyler seems to be the most popular. He was very friendly to the audience, always taking time to acknowledge various people.
The Top 10 American Idol finalists were introduced at the top of the show. When Josh’s name was mentioned, the crowd, including me, exploded in craziness. I was so proud of this young man for representing Louisiana so well! The show was much better seeing it live than on television. The performers appeared and sounded incredibly professional and polished — considering most of them are under 25 years old. What committed and dedicated performing artists of the future, I thought.
After the show concluded, the stage manager asked the audience to remain seated for an additional taping with a Broadway star. To my astonishment, this Broadway star was Kristin Chenoweth, who is best known on Broadway for her performance as Sally Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (1999), for which she won a Tony Award, and for originating the role of Glinda in the musical “Wicked (2003).” She sang a duet with Jessica Sanchez in a tribute to the late Donna Summer.
After two tapings of the duet, the audience was dismissed to the red carpet area outside of the theater. This area was used for the Top 10 American Idol finalists to be interviewed by the press. The crowd was at least 20 people deep. Being that I am only about 5-feet-5-inches tall, I stood almost no chance of seeing Josh. I edged my way into the area where Josh was being interviewed by the FOX network. I could barely see him as I was peeking under everyone. Suddenly, he spotted me and waved! I was surprised he recognized me out of thousands of people trying to get a glimpse. He motioned for me to approach the barricades. I began to struggle to the front of the line, which is much like moving through a Mardi Gras parade crowd. The interviewer encouraged me to “hop” over the barricade, so that’s what I did! Josh and I spoke briefly; the interviewer asked a few questions; I said my “See yas” to Josh and I exited the red carpet area. The rest of the evening was spent having dinner with the other mentors reminiscing on a great night of entertainment by our American Idols.
On Wednesday, the morning was spent at leisure. I met the mentors at 1 p.m. and we were taken to the Ford Motor Company/FOX American Idol pre-show reception. The film crew who had recorded Josh’s homecoming were there. It was fun and interesting talking to all of the show’s production staff.
As it became time to take our seats in the Nokia Center, I saw Josh and Hollie Cavanagh walking on the red carpet and was able to visit with them for about a minute. I was then seated in the theater and as it was with Tuesday’s show, the pre-production activity began. Within minutes, the stage manager announced “take places” and started the countdown. The Season 11 American Idol finale was about to commence.
Wow! What a production! I had never been to a concert that had so many stars — Neil Diamond, Jennifer Holliday, Reba McEntire, Rihanna, Jordin Sparks and Aerosmith, to name a few. Josh’s performance was brilliant, as he sang a duet with his favorite, Fantasia, bringing the house to their feet once again! There were several group numbers featuring the top 10 finalists. Even judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler performed stunning tunes approved by the audience.
The two- hour show passed quickly and it was time for host Ryan Seacrest to declare the winner. The giant theater grew deathly quiet as Seacrest opened the envelope. Phillip Phillips — the new 2012 American Idol! The crowd was out of control as the theater became filled with confetti. As Phillip’s family joined him in a victory celebration, he tried to complete a song, but emotions overtook him and he fell into the arms of his mother and father. There was not a dry eye in the theater as the audience shared this unbelievable moment.
The 2012 season of American Idol had ended, but the celebrations had only begun. On the Nokia Plaza, I joined Josh’s parents in conversation of Josh’s astounding, future career. How proud his parents were — and should be! The red carpet was rolled out once again and the American Idol stars took photos and gave autographs.
Our evening turned to the American Idol VIP Party. I was able to meet Josh’s sisters, Trista and Jessica, and had a great time talking about Josh and his performances. Later, Josh appeared and introduced me to the other American Idol finalists. What an awesome treat!
As the evening drew to a close, I returned to the car and the driver informed me that the mentors were invited to another VIP reception on the roof top of the W Hotel. Again, we were greeted with awesome food, music and superstars.
After an enthusiastic evening, it was
time to return to the hotel. I was exhausted. I can’t imagine how
tired Josh was after
months of constant rehearsals and performances. I was so proud of
We said our goodbyes and I was driven back to the hotel. Thursday, May 24 had come; I packed my luggage, headed to the airport and boarded an aircraft bound for Houston. I had a lot of time to think about what being a mentor means. In 27 years of theater education, I have never been regarded as the “most popular teacher” but, instead, I am considered a very strict teacher. The word “mentor” has a special meaning to me. A mentor is a counselor, adviser and tutor of much more than theater, but also life. Somehow, theater made an influence on this young man. Little does Joshua Ledet know that he taught me so much and he will continue to teach the world through the beautiful music he creates.
Posted By: Joelle Martel On: 5/30/2012
Title: Dedicated Teachers
Memories of my childhood teachers who made a personal impression in my life were once again remembered after reading this article. Teachers like yourself, Mr. Onxley are dedicated and so much appreciated. You deserved the royal reception that you received. Thank you for being such an inspiration to this exceptional singer.
Posted By: Sandra Lowery On: 5/30/2012
Title: You LUCKY Man!
I'm certain you know how lucky you are to have had JOSH in your class and your life! Apparently you did some good for him! I'm glad you were recognized for this special event, after all these years, you deserve it! Keep up the good work!
Posted By: J K On: 5/30/2012
Title: Joshua Ledet's mentor
Loved reading this article, to hear first hand what happens behind the scenes. The article was also touching what mentors are all about.
Posted By: EMMA YOUNG On: 5/30/2012
What a fantastic job to the mentor of Josh Ledet, again thank you Josh for being a great student. It shows you are well focused.
Posted By: Andrea Williams On: 5/30/2012
Title: Kudos Mr. Onxley
Thank you so much for your wonderful commentary. I am so happy that Josh selected you as his mentor. Your contributions have help to mold an outstanding talent!