Some of the greatest success stories of American Idol are of the finalists, rather than the winners. Not many people can forget Jennifer Hudson’s soaring fame when she appeared opposite Beyonce Knowles in the 2006 Dreamgirls film adaptation. Hudson went on to win the Oscar for that role the following year. The next Idol finalist to make her mark in show business is Syesha Mercado.
Mercado was a hometown hero for a while, because she grew up in Sarasota, though she was born in Bridgeport, Conn., and she auditioned in Miami for Idol.
The seventh season of Idol is often remembered as the Battle of the Davids (David Cook and David Archuleta). But, like most Idol success stories, America was not through with Syesha.
Currently, Syesha can be seen as Deena Jones in Robert Longbottom’s latest version of the Dreamgirls musical which opened at New York’s famed Apollo Theater on Nov. 7, 2009 and will be performed at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Miami Oct. 19-24.
Mercado, who is of Puerto Rican and Bahamian descent, was once called talented by Simon Cowell but was told that her voice was more suited for Broadway.
As she took a short break from the stage in Miami, she spoke about her experience in the theater.
“It took a while for the moves to get into my kinesthetic memory. I had to learn everything on the spot in front of everybody,” said Mercado, a 2005 graduate of Booker High School in Sarasota, with a concentration in Theater, Visual and Performing Arts. “Along with being in the show that Beyonce played the role [in the film]. I just took it as I got offered the part for a reason.”
As she appeared in Idol, Mercado, a Theatre student at Florida International University, in person is bubbly, with lots of ideas and a love for making a difference to people. Her co-stars feel that way about her also.
“I absolutely love Syesha. She’s one of the sweetest persons I’ve worked with,” said Ronald Duncan, a cast member of Dreamgirls. Duncan, a native of Miami and graduate of New World School of the Arts, should know about actors in theater. He has appeared in plays such as Mamma Mia! at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, The King and I and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.
Speaking about her role as Deena, Mercado said, “I feel like she has two sides. In the first act, she’s very gullible and insecure. But, in the second act, she grows into a mature woman who understands what she wants out of life. She symbolizes and represents a girl, a woman, with a dream and a passion and someone who finds their voice and goes after what they want.”
In Longbottom’s version of the musical, Beyonce’s Listen from her 2007 B’Day album, has been incorporated into the stage version as a duet by Mercado’s Deena and Effie White, played by Moya Angela.
Mercado, in fact, has been working on an album since 2009.
“It’s coming out at the top of 2011. I’m really excited about it,” said the actress/singer, whose musical styling is inspired by Whitney Houston, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, and Aretha Franklin whose Think Mercado sang for her American Idol audition.
“Every song that’s on the album embodies everything that I want to say — songs from the heart,” she said.
For the album, Mercado has worked with Evan Bogart, Dianne Warren, and Reo, who has produced for Beyonce.
Meanwhile, she is enjoying her run in a Broadway show and looking forward to sunning in Miami Beach and getting in touch with her inner nature girl. She hopes to release her album and go on tour once her break is over.
“There must have been something in the part that made them pick me. So, I try to bring that every night,” she said about being a principal in the cast of Dreamgirls, despite limited acting and dancing experience.
“I pay my homage to Sheryl Lee Ralph and Beyonce. They came before me and they did a beautiful job. But I do what I need to.”
Mercado has many fans and Twitter followers rooting for her. She also has her good friend and cast mate Duncan wishing her well in her new endeavor.
“[Syesha and I] have always gotten along and she deserves everything she goes for in life,” Duncan said.
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com.
Pictured: Syesha Mercado