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Choir member becomes 'American Idol' finalist

4/15/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: Photographs are available with this report.

By Heather Peck Stahl*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Kimberley Locke (right foreground) is honored during a reception at her church, Key-Stewart United Methodist Church in Gallatin, Tenn. Locke is one of seven finalists on American Idol II, a nationally televised vocal competition on the FOX network. A UMNS photo by Thomas Spann. Photo number 03-146, Accompanies UMNS #226, 4/15/03

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Kimberley Locke, 25, sings for the judges during the taping of American Idol II, a nationally televised vocal competition on the FOX network. Locke, a member of Key-Stewart United Methodist Church in Gallatin, Tenn., is one of seven finalists on the show. A UMNS photo FOX Broadcasting. Photo number 03-145, Accompanies UMNS #226, 4/15/03
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - When Kimberley Locke was 5 and singing in her church choir, she dreamed of becoming a professional performer.

Today, the member of Key-Stewart United Methodist Church in Gallatin, Tenn., is one of seven finalists in "American Idol II," a nationally televised vocal competition on the FOX network. She will compete again April 15, with the results show following on the next night.

Described by friends as rooted in her faith, Locke, 25, spends her free time praying, reading scripture and listening to CD recordings of the sermons and choir performances she has missed while participating in the competition in Los Angeles. Polly Persley, Locke's self-described "second mom," gave her the CDs on a recent visit.

"Of all the things she was given, Kim treasured the CDs the most," says Persley, who first met Locke at church 11 years ago. "Kim told me 'there's nothing like being in church and singing,' and she couldn't wait to go back to her room and listen to them. God is her head force."

Throughout the competition Locke has "remained grounded by her faith and not forgotten where she came from," says Nacole Robb, Locke's best friend since fifth grade. "Kim takes her position on 'American Idol' as a blessing by God, and by keeping God first in her life, she hasn't allowed her fame to go to her head." Robb plans to be in the television audience, holding up signs made by church members and friends in support of Locke. "Kim gives God the credit for her successes."

On Oct. 30, Locke was among some 5,000 singers ages 16 to 24 who auditioned in Nashville, one of seven cities where about 50,000 hopefuls from across the country stood in long lines for a chance to participate in the competition.

After two rounds of auditions in Nashville, Locke performed in front of singer Paula Abdul, producer Randy Jackson and record executive Simon Cowell, who remain the primary judges throughout the competition. Impressed by her voice, the judges chose Locke to be among the 234 to audition in Los Angeles in the "Going to Hollywood" round.

After four days of rigorous auditions in Los Angeles in December, Locke became one of 32 to compete for the title of American Idol on national television. On Feb. 11, she competed against seven others on the prime-time show, and was selected by telephone and cell phone votes from viewers across the country to advance to the top 12. In the weeks since then, contestants with the fewest votes have exited the show one by one.

The competition continues every Tuesday and Wednesday night until May 21, when the winner will be announced and awarded a contract with the record company BMG.

Locke was born in Hartsville, Tenn., but spent most of her life in Gallatin, a town of about 24,000. When she was 8, her parents divorced, and she and her older brother were raised by their mother, Christine.

About 12 years ago, Locke and three of her friends began the "Shadz of U" quartet, a name that represented the different shades of skin (Locke was born to a white mother and black father) as well as the different families and generations of each member. The quartet first performed at a Key-Stewart Church service and has been performing ever since at churches, black caucus and community events, and talent shows, as well as on studio recordings. Chandra Boone, a member of the quartet, says they won every competition they entered.

"Kim is an American Idol with or without the title," Boone says. "She wants to encourage others to be God-fearing, mannerly, respectful and hard-working. God is holding her tight, and God's grace continues to guide her through this competition."

James Story, Locke's music instructor since high school, isn't surprised that his student has done well in the competition. "It doesn't shock me that Kim is a finalist with 17 million people watching her," he says. "Kim sings with great passion and style for such a young singer. She can interpret song lyrics with great emotion and sophistication, which is a rarity."

Story says that Locke's past training at school and church prepared her for the 12- to 14-hour-day rehearsals required for her "American Idol" performances. Locke spent three years as a member of the Gallatin High School Performers, a select group of 16; two years as a member of the All-Middle State Chorus; and two years as a member of the All-State Chorus.

No stranger to hard work, Locke was working as an administrative assistant and studying to be a lawyer before becoming an "American Idol" contestant. In college, she worked two jobs to fund her education, and in August 2001, she received a bachelor of business administration degree in management. In her free time, Locke participated in her church's choir, Sunday school and Bible study, and served on the usher board.

"Kimberley is enthusiastic about learning about the Lord and his ministry," says the Rev. Roland Scruggs of Key-Stewart Church, who regularly leads his congregation in prayer for Locke. "She's very vivacious, outgoing, giving and loving. At Christmas time, she can bring you to tears with her rendition of the song, 'Mary, Did You Know?'"

"American Idol II" visited Gallatin Feb. 15-16 to film a brief biography about Locke's family, community and church. During that time, more than 200 family members and friends gathered for a reception, and each of those dates was declared "Kimberley Locke Day."

More information on Locke and the show is available at She can be reached at American Idol, P.O. Box 900, Beverly Hills, CA 90213-0900.
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*Stahl is a freelance journalist in Nashville, Tenn.

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