Wiregrass Ranch junior Zach D’Onofrio’s hopes of being the next “American Idol” are officially over, after taking the shy Wesley Chapel 16-year-old on an incredible whirlwind journey that started at auditions at Florida Hospital Center Ice here in Wesley Chapel and led him to Orlando, New York and California.
Unofficially, his dream ended Jan. 21 in Hollywood, CA. But, to those not in his immediate family, Zach’s end came March 26, when the last episode he will appear in was shown on ABC-TV.
“It was a really great experience,” said Zach, the day after the final episode.
Like he did on the “Idol” season premiere, Zach had a nice spot on the March 26 episode, which focused on his friendship with fellow contestant, the quirky Catie Turner. While Turner pined for the young, good-looking hopefuls on the show, her affections were mostly aimed at Zach.
“He’s funny, he’s nice, he dresses cool,” Catie said.
“Me and Catie got really close on the show, and I definitely made a lot of good friends that I will never forget,” Zach says. “I am very thankful I could meet all these great people.”
Like Zach, Catie transforms herself when it comes to singing. She turned in a sterling performance of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” and then cheered on Zach from backstage.
Zach sang 45 seconds of Michael Buble’s “Cry Me A River” (though it was edited to about 15 second for TV) on his final appearance. Cameras showed the other contestants expressing shock (as most people do) when Zach’s squeaky voice gave way to his much bigger and deeper singing voice.
When it came time for elimination, the 10 contestants in Zach’s group were called to the Dolby Theater stage. While the show made it look like three were asked to step forward, it was actually seven of the 10. The three that weren’t asked to step forward, including Zach, were eliminated by celebrity judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry, who famously danced with Zach during his audition in New York.
Zach was never told why he was not chosen. He walked off the stage with the other eliminated contestants, did a brief confessional-type interview that aired and showed him fighting back tears, and then it was over.
He and his mother Darci ate at a nearby diner with $25 gift cards they had been given, and packed up their suitcases.
“It hit me pretty hard,” Zach says. “One day you’re there and they are explaining the rules, the day after that you sing, and the next morning you are on your way back home. It all happened so fast.”
Zach quickly put the disappointment behind him.
“It was nice to have my mom with me, sharing the experience. It definitely helped me out,” he said. “I bounced back really quickly. I felt like I sang my best. I felt like I didn’t do anything wrong. There’s no reason to be sad.”
Back home in Wesley Chapel and at school, Zach said he found lots of support.
“A lot of people have told me I should have gotten through,” Zach says. “My teachers watched it too, and they were confused about why I didn’t get through. I don’t know why, which kind of sucks.”
But, Zach says he plans on building on his experience. When he started, he had 400 followers on Instagram but now he has an audience of 12,000. He says he will continue posting videos on YouTube, and he hopes to bring back the more intimate sound made famous by crooners like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and, more currently, by Harry Connick, Jr., and Michael Buble.
He said he has talked with New Jersey’s Austin Georgio, who is currently on NBC-TV’s “The Voice” singing competition as that show’s resident crooner, about collaborating on a project.
And, before he left Hollywood, he was told by other contestants he should try again next year.
“Why not?,” Zach says. “If they get a second season, I plan on trying to be there.”
Look for an announcement about a possible local performance by Zach on our “Neighborhood News” Facebook page and at WCNeighborhoodNews.com.