Hanging with J.Lo and Steven Tyler No Big Deal for La Verne’s ‘American Idol’ Singer

May 18, 2012
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Michelle, who recently appeared on American Idol, is a passionate performer.

Michelle, who recently appeared on American Idol, is a passionate performer.

The call came from Camera Ready Choirs on a Tuesday afternoon. “Can you sing back-up for Kris Allen on “American Idol” on Thursday?”

Within the hour, La Verne’s Michelle Croce was emailed the song, “Vision of Love,” which Allen would be performing, and told to be at a North Hollywood rehearsal site the next morning to work with Allen, his band, and the five other back-up singers.

On Thursday, she ran through the song three more times, went over her “blocking” on stage with a world-class choreographer, then holed up in a room, across the hall from Ryan Seacrest, where she was told to wait.

Five hours later the curtain lifted, and staring straight at her, Allen and her fellow singers were Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson, the three judges of “American Idol,” now in its 11th chart-topping season.

“I definitely had my star-struck moment,” Croce said.

After the performance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oapYcUWbarU), she and the other singers rushed off stage as they told LMFAO, the following act, to break a leg.

“It seemed like our performance was over in seconds,” Croce said. “We ran upstairs and got our stuff, and I actually left when we were still on the clock, technically, and then made it home in traffic to watch myself on live TV at 8 o’ clock (American Idol only appears live on the East Coast.).

“More exciting than seeing myself was that I could definitely hear myself,” Croce said.

For the last half-dozen years or so, Croce has  really been on the move. At age 15, she attended a performance in the San Gabriel Valley by the Continental Singers, a musical ministry, and less than two months later she was performing with them.

“It was definitely a calling,” she said. “I felt very blessed and moved by their performance and felt God saying, ‘Hey, you know what, get into this.’

Michelle poses with Kris Allen and his band and her fellow singers at a rehearsal of "Vision of Love."

Michelle poses with Kris Allen and his band and her fellow singers at a rehearsal of "Vision of Love."

Michelle coaches and directs members of UpStart.

Michelle coaches and directs members of UpStart.

“I really enjoy the combination of music and the formation of young people. “Any time, you’re doing music, it’s a group environment. And a good group — where you’re accepted and loved — has the power to be life-changing.”

For Croce, it has been that and more. Over the last few years, she has learned what it’s like to be a performing artist living out of a suitcase.  Her touring has taken her to 38 states and several European countries. In fact, over the last three summers, she has toured with the Dutch Continental Singers, singing in Holland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

“I’ve spent probably a year of my life on tour, if you lump everything together,” said the alto singer, who can also sing soprano.

But don’t think her family, including her father, Nick, who runs a successful business in La Verne distributing fun bendable characters like Gumby, Pokey and Bart Simpson and other licensed cartoon characters, has been writing checks all day to support her dream.

After a scheduled trip to Europe fell through, she called the Dutch Continentals and asked if there was any way she could volunteer.

“I called them to see if they needed help at their rehearsal camp,” she recalled. “I spent most of the summer cooking and cleaning toilets, but I actually had a great trip. I met lots of wonderful people.”

She made such an impression on her Dutch hosts that they invited her back the next year as the group’s assistant director and co-director, preparing the singers to perform at churches, concert halls and camps across Europe.

Last summer, she also toured Europe with the Citrus Singers, based out of Citrus College, where she is completing her Associate of Arts degree next month in Fine and Performing Arts before transferring this fall to George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., to continue her musical odyssey.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the April 19, 2012 American Idol performance seen by millions of viewers that most captured her heart, but a performance last summer outside of Rome, in a little town called Trastevre, that did.

“I’ll never forget it,” Croce said. “The 44 of us all singing as one — singing classical and choral music and really understanding for the first time its true meaning – was all very magical.”

Because of her international travels and rehearsals, she has learned to sing in French, German, Italian, German, and even Latin.

“I now speak a bit of all those languages,” Croce said in English.

Although show business seems to distort a lot of egos – given the constant competition and rejection performers face – Croce doesn’t seem to have one. “I would hate to be famous,” she said.

UpStart performances can be held under big tents and small ones, including this E-Z-Up.

UpStart performances can be held under big tents and small ones, including this E-Z-Up.

At the same time, she added she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to practice her love and craft of singing and producing musical shows. “You can’t be picky,” she said. “You have to look for opportunities and when you get them you have to take them, whether that’s being in the spotlight or standing off to the side.”

More than just looking for opportunities, she’s helping create them, recently adding acting “intensives” to her repertoire.

“To be a great performer, whether you sing, dance or do anything else, you have to be a great actor,” she said.

For now, she loves singing every day, working with her Upland, Calif.-based voice coach Lori Kibbe, performing with the talented Citrus Singers, and serving as musical director for the youth singing group, UpStart, which she started after the Continental Singers and the Continental kids disbanded last year.

“I couldn’t just abandon them,” Croce said about her up-and-coming singers. “I’ve watched them grow from these crazy, maniacal 8 year olds to mature young adults taking ownership of their talents.”

Croce even went so far as to purchase some of the musical works from the Dutch Continentals in The Netherlands and then translate them so she could include them in some of UpStart’s performances. Her young singers and dancers regularly rehearse at Friends Church in Glendora.

It’s hard to believe this current musical dynamo was once a self-described “shy” kid who grew up in rural Hayfork, Calif., outside of Redding, and was home-schooled her entire education. On the farm, instead of practicing octaves, she cared and rode horses.

“That was an incredibly formational time for me, growing up in nature and being free and raising animals,” she said. “If I hadn’t had my horse when I was younger, I think I would be a very different person today.”

As a result of her many blessings growing up – her time on the farm, her spiritual foundation, her world travels, and her supporting and loving family, she now has a firm hold on the reins guiding her life.

Her positive attitude comes through loud and clear, a joie de vivre that can turn any situation to her advantage.

She even found Hollywood delightful.

“You hear about the Hollywood sleaze, but I had a great experience,” she said.

She might not be the new American Idol that will be announced next week on Fox, but she’s off the charts when it comes to singing, dancing, directing, and, most important, leading a truly purposeful and inspirational life.


You don’t have to be invited to an American Idol taping to hear Michelle Croce perform. This Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19, at 8 p.m. at the Haugh Performing Arts Center on the campus of Citrus College, she will be performing with the 2012 Citrus Singers in a fast-paced musical extravaganza staged and directed by Douglas Austin and John Vaughn. From country to classics, from Broadway to blues, from rock to nostalgia, the ever-young Citrus Singers, backed by the Citrus Blue Note Orchestra, promise yet another kaleidoscope of musical showmanship and pure entertainment.

Tickets are $17.50. Student and senior admission is $16.50. Ages 16 and under are $15. For more information, please call (626) 963-9411.

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