Clay Girl Picked to Appear on National TV Show

She’s Hollywood Bound

(Article appeared in Clay Today on Feb. 2, 2012)

By Christina Leach Phillips


MIDDLEBURG — Steffanie Renae, 15, is going  to Hollywood as a contestant on “American Idol” after winning her second round of regional auditions in Savannah, Ga.

During the Jan. 18, show, the ClayCounty teen sang “Inside Your Heaven” by former American Idol winner Carrie Underwood.

“It was incredible!” said Steffanie, “I’m standing there in front of all these judges, and I’m just star struck, and I didn’t know what to say.”

The panel of judges that included Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, and Randy Jackson gave Steffanie two “yes” votes and one “no” vote, which qualified her to move to the next round of competition.

Lopez, who called Steffanie a “sparkly baby,” complimented her on her “natural beautiful bravado.”

Steffanie’s grandparents, Vince and Valerie Elston, from Middleburg, and her mother, Andrea White, were at the Savannah audition cheering for her.

Valerie Elston said Steffanie has been singing since she was four years old and always wanted to be on American Idol.

“She loves American Idol. She has all the American Idol t-shirts, she’s had American Idol birthday parties, and Carrie Underwood is her favorite American Idol finalist,” she said.

Elston said there were over 10,000 contestants who auditioned inSavannah.

“First you go through all these producers, then you go through more producers. It’s just amazing what you have to go through,” she said.

Helping Steffanie reach the top of that large group was a “golden ticket” she won when she auditioned for the “American Idol Experience” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios inOrlando.

Steffanie said she was standing outside the building with her friend, Rachel Crow, and was not sure she wanted to try out, but Rachel said, “You are going to go in there, and you are going to win the ticket, and you are going to make me the proudest friend ever.”

Steffanie gives credit to her friend by saying, “If it wasn’t for her saying that to me, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

Elston said, “That golden ticket afforded her the opportunity to get ahead of the 10,000 other people who auditioned.”

Although Steffanie has had no formal voice training, she began singing professionally at age four when she won a radio contest to sing with the Temptations when they visited MetroPark in Jacksonville.

“She was a cute little blonde-haired girl in a poodle skirt and saddle shoes,” her grandmother said. Steffanie sang “My Girl” with the group on stage, a song her grandfather said she knew by heart because he sang it to her many times since she was a baby.

Three years ago, Steffanie opened for Travis Tritt when he visited Jacksonville, and she is known locally for singing at the Clay County Fair, and other state and local events, including singing the‎ National Anthem for a sell-out crowd at a Seminoles and Gators baseball game in Jacksonville.

Steffanie also sang in last year’s Suwannee River Jam, and, most recently, she sang at the Morocco Shrine Steelers Music Festival in Jacksonville.

“I always loved singing — Every time my mom would put baby songs on, I’d be stomping my foot or clapping and singing along with it,” she said.  “I was a happy baby when it came to music.”

Vince Elston said, “We noticed that when she was three, she was singing with a natural bravadomy wife noticed it, and then we started doing a little recording, and she started singing everywhere we were in front of people.”

Steffanie, who lives with her grandparents, said she sings all the time to the radio. “I’m just that girl in the back seat that likes to sing.”

Her grandfather added, “Every time we go on a trip, grandma and papa get a free concert all the way down.”

A Ridgview High School student, Steffanie is currently being home schooled so she can pursue her singing career.

“My future goal is to be riding around in a tour bus and going to concerts and singing at the Grand Ole Opry,” she said. “I want to be the next Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride.”

As Steffanie prepares for her Hollywood debut on Feb. 9, she is taking some voice lessons as suggested by American Idol Judge Randy Jackson, and she is getting support from her friends and theClayCountycommunity.

“Oh my gosh — my high school is going nuts,” she said. “I’ve been getting Facebook statuses and phone calls. . .”

Does she have advice for future American Idol contestants?

“I’d say be yourself, and don’t let the nerves get to you because the judges are just like regular people,” Steffanie said. “Just sing your heart out because that is what counts.  It’s the voice that they get to hear.”

Her grandmother added, “Whether she would make it through or whether she wouldn’t make it through, the experience itself is invaluable. Everything about it teaches the young person so much about the business they want to go into, the people you get to meet, and the things you get to do.”

“She is a very good, sweet girl,” said Elston. “She is absolutely excited as only a 15-year-old girl can be.”

Watch Steffanie in American Idol on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. on FOX.


The following article appeared in Clay Today on Feb. 23, 2012

Clay Singer’s ‘Idol’ time Comes to End in Las Vegas

By Christina Leach Phillips


MIDDLEBURG — Steffanie Renae is back home after being eliminated from the American Idol competition in Las Vegas, but she said she plans to try again next year.

The 15-year-old singer made it to number 47 out of 300 contestants by first surviving four rounds of competition in Hollywood where the number of contestants was narrowed down to 70. Then, that group went on toLas Vegaswhere Steffanie was cut after performing a melody with two other contestants during the Feb. 16 American Idol television episode.

“I wasn’t sad — I just think of it as a learning process, and that I just have to go back and do it again,” said Steffanie. “I know I did my best, so I am not very sad about it.”

Steffanie’s mother, Andrea White, was there to hug Steffanie after she got the news that her group was eliminated. A tearful White, said, “I really thought they were one of the best . . . I really did.”

Steffanie’s grandmother, Valerie Elston from Middleburg, said Steffanie called her fromLas   Vegasand said she was going to audition again next year.

“Believe me — she is a trooper,” said Elston. “I couldn’t be more proud of this little girl — I mean first time out at 15 years old, and she goes all that way — that’s amazing.”

Steffanie said she now knows what to expect for next year. “I know how to handle things now. I know what they want and what they don’t want.”

One of the things that Steffanie said she learned was to be strong and not let people “walk all over you.”

“When I go back, I’m going to be my own leader instead of following everybody else like I did. I think that is why I got cut just because I wasn’t making my own decisions — I let people make them for me,” she said. “You have to be your own person.”

She said she also learned to, “Always eat before you sing.  It actually helps you not pass out because there was a lot of that in American Idol. I call it the ‘Idol Bug’ because everybody was fainting, everybody was throwing up. . .”

Steffanie said the contestants were there all day and couldn’t leave the room because they were being video taped. “When they have bathroom breaks, people wouldn’t take stuff from the snack bar, they would just go to the bathroom and come back, and that is how they got sick.”

Steffanie said she had Goldfish crackers to snack on and did not get sick.

As Steffanie waits to try out for American Idol next year, she will remain busy with many local singing appearances.

“She pretty much booked the rest of this year and all summer long,” said Elston.

On Friday, Feb. 24, Steffanie will open for Linda Davis and the Bellamy Brothers in Concert at theMoroccoShrineTempleinJacksonvilleand will also make an appearance at the Chili Cook-off at theMoroccoShrineCenteron Feb. 25.

At the 2012 Clay County Fair, Steffanie will open for the Oak Ridge Boys on April 7, and she will sing at the Suwannee River Jam in Live Oak, Fla., May 2 – 5.

Steffanie said she plans to go back toRidgeviewHigh Schoolin the fall after being homeschooled this year, and then she will begin to prepare for the next American Idol auditions.

“It was a pretty good experience — I think I’ve learned a lot, and my voice has really improved since I came back,” she said. “I will definitely be auditioning next year.”