‘American Idol’ Breaks Out the Hankies

There was a TV show I watched growing up called “Queen for a Day,” which trotted out women contestants who would proceed to tell the most heart-wrenching tales of personal woe to compete for the crown and, if I recall, various prizes that may have included an Amana range. It was left to the studio audience, by its applause, to pick the winner, or biggest loser. It was a shameless attempt to elicit its housewife viewers’ sympathy and never failed to jerk the tears.

American Idol” has always taken advantage of hard luck tales, never more so than in the current season, with all three of the episodes aired so far presenting several stories of misfortune wrapped in musical talent.

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The first night from Jersey featured 16-year-old Long Island crooner Robbie Rosen, who told a tale of being wheelchair-bound as a kid, while Melinda Ademi’s parents won a green card lottery allowing them to become U.S. citizens after emigrating from war-torn Kosovo. Staten Island native Krielle Von Hugel had an inspirational back story featuring a doo-wop singing dad who overcame throat cancer, while 16-year-old Travis Orlando was one of two twin brothers from a recession-scarred Bronx family who lived in a homeless shelter for awhile. Then there was 23-year-old Paris Tassin, the single mother of a special needs child, who had J. Lo sobbing with her rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home.”

But none of those contestants seemed to strike the chord that 26-year-old Starbucks barista Chris Medina did during the Milwaukee auditions aired last night. The Chicago native revealed that, in October, 2009, just two months before a planned wedding, his fiancée, Juliana Ramos, who worked with him at the coffee emporium, was severely injured in a car accident, leaving her with traumatic brain injuries, as well as skull and several facial fractures. Ironically, his story parallels Milwaukee native Danny Gokey, the third place finisher in season eight, who lost his wife of 12 years when she died of complications from routine surgery for a congenital heart disease.

Watch the heartbreaking story:

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Medina recorded a song, “What Has Become of Me,” during Juliana’s hospital stay, with his band Able Body, one of five tunes posted on his MySpace page. “I’m giving all I’ve got to give to pull you through, to set you free,” go the lyrics. “More than the vow ‘through thick and thin’/I’m living it.”

For his audition, Medina sang The Script’s “Breakeven,” the lyrics that much more poignant from the circumstances, “When a heart breaks, no it don’t break even,” he sang, explaining his commitment to his fiancée with a simple, “What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me most?”

Even before voting to send him on to Hollywood, the judges asked to see Juliana, who was brought out in a wheelchair. “I just heard your fiancé sing, and he sings so good,” Steven Tyler whispered in her ear, kneeling to kiss her. “You know, ‘cause he sings to you all the time.”

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A web page has been set up at the Laurus Foundation for people to donate to help with Juliana’s medical expenses. Her mom, Janet Barnes, blogs about Juliana’s progress on a “For Juliana” Facebook page, where she wrote about Chris: “There is a man in our lives that has risen from a crisis to be a hero. Our very own Chris Medina has spent days and nights, losing blood, sweat and, oh yes, A LOT of tears to beg his fiancé back to health. And through it all he has become deeper, more centered, and an even more soulful individual. This has been witnessed by all of us from his mannerisms to his music. If you didn’t love him before, you do now. If you DID love him, you now adore him.”

Those words ring true for everyone who saw him last night on “American Idol,” which seems to have turned into “Extreme Home Makeover” this year with its emphasis on soap opera-ish back stories.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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