Brooke Swadley, the daughter of Jeff and Angie Swadley, of Purdy, is a 2011 graduate of Purdy High School. She is currently a freshman at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, attending on a softball scholarship following her outstanding performance for the Lady Eagles last year.
"When I was around 15 or 16, I decided I wanted singing to be part of my future, possibly a career," Brooke said. "It seemed more realistic to wait 'til after I got a degree and then move to Nashville or make a CD. I heard a rumor that 'American Idol' was coming to Joplin, I thought, 'If God is going to place that in my life, I might as well go for it."
Brooke decided to go on the morning of the auditions in August to go. Without telling anyone in her family, she finished attending classes at MSSU, put on a dress and boots and headed off to Landreth Park to try out.
Brooke expected a crowd of auditioning singers but not "a million people who were there to watch." She found parking a mile from the park and walked to the line, where she stood for three and a half hours. She learned there were 850 people trying out, and only eight would advance. Contestants paraded onto three different stages, four at a time.
When it was her turn, Brooke found herself under a small tent with a movie crew and four producers sitting at a table. She gave her name and sang Jo Dee Messina's "Because You Love Me."
"That's a song that showcases my voice, a pretty song in my range," Brooke said. "It's important to have a song I can put emotion into. I like the story, and the chorus builds. That's one of my strong points."
Then Brooke was asked to sing another song, something upbeat. Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" was fresh in her mind and was her second selection. Brooke said she wants to pursue country music and particularly likes the twist Underwood's songs offer.
When the four in her group finished, they were called up to the table.
"We don't see anyone here with star power, except for you, Brooke," one of the judges said.
The others went home, and Brooke found herself rushed from table to table, giving an interview and sitting for a photo shoot. She sang her song again for a different camera crew.
"I've been interviewed after sports games but nothing so formal," Brooke said. "It fit my personality well."
By the time she finished, Brooke was a mile from the audition site, under another tent, filling out a 15-page form that outlined her life story. When she was done, Brooke stopped to relax and called her parents.
"They said, 'What? You tried out?!' Everyone was excited and crying," Brooke said. "I think my parents were in shock. That's the reason I didn't tell them. My dad says, 'Wait 'til you're older.' I wanted to show them I was ready."
The Idol staff said they would be in touch. Brooke didn't know what to expect for a week, when one of the producers contacted her. She received an 86-page song list, with 50 songs per page. She was asked to prepare three for competition.
"They're always saying how crucial your song choice is," Brooke said. "My whole family helped. A lot of the songs I'd never heard of. You only get 30 seconds to sing, so you have to make it count."
Brooke didn't hear anything more until mid-October. On a Monday, she was told to be in San Antonio, Texas, that Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Brooke rearranged her schedule and prepared for a road trip, with her parents and her dad's mother, driving 10 and a half hours.
The Swadleys reached San Antonio on Friday and spent the day sightseeing. On the big day, Brooke was in line at 7:15 a.m. at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, a huge arena. She said the scene was every bit as wild as the TV shows it with "millions of people and cameras in your face constantly."
Brooke thought she was on time but found herself at the end of the line. She was quickly separated from her family, assigned papers to fill out and ushered through security. In time, the contestants and their families were herded into a big room together. It was another wild scene, where Brooke's parents were waving signs they had prepared to encourage her.
"I was in the second group to try out," Brooke said. "I thought I would have to wait forever. I sang within an hour and a half of arriving."
Each contestant went through two auditions. In the first room, Brooke sang in front of five executive producers. In the group was Norm, one of the producers Brooke met in Joplin with whom she had a good rapport.
Brooke appeared in her stage look: a light orange strapless dress with lace at the top that was shorter in the front and longer in the back, pearl bracelets, a diamond and pearl necklace and cowgirl boots.
"I always have funky jewelry and cute shoes," Brooke said. "I'm going for country with a little edge. I want a style that's similar to Carrie [Underwood] that's more than simple country."
With a country look, Brooke did the unexpected and sang Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman."
"Aretha and Etta James are right down my alley," Brooke said. "Aretha sings with so much soul. She's sassy, and so am I. I have a big attitude when I step on stage."
After one verse of her song, the judges stopped Brooke and moved her to another room. There she received a bigger sticker to wear, signifying she was moving on. Brooke waited in another line, where only three were in front of her. By this point, she knew only 10 would advance to Hollywood, where the final audition before the televised cast would take place.
A mini-photo shoot followed. Brooke then walked onto another stage. This one had the American Idol logo on the wall, like the one shown on TV. Forty people were in the room, including the production crew.
With camera lights in her face, Brooke faced the four judges, who were guests from the "So You Think You Can Dance" series. She recognized Nigel Lythgoe, who is executive producer of "American Idol."
Lythgoe introduced the panel, asked Brooke to describe herself and her background. Then she sang "Natural Woman" again.
The first judge said, "Wow, you're one of the best we've seen. You're young, cute and sweet. I say yes."
Lythgoe said, "I agree; a sweet, beautiful voice. But I think we'd be doing you a favor if we did not put you through now. I'm afraid the industry will swallow you up. I think you'll be more successful if you come back after college, and you have more experience. It will be much easier."
The third judge said, "I believe we're doing you a huge favor if you wait a few years."
Brooke weighed the situation. To go at this time would mean walking away from her college scholarship and going to Los Angeles on her own for a period of months.
"That's a lot for a 19-year-old girl from Purdy," Brooke said. "I've never had any heartache or troubled times. I agreed. I said, 'Thank you for your time.' What can you say? I was not going to argue with them."
Brooke walked through a door where her family was waiting. She was interviewed on camera again and said she believed everything happens for a reason. She had no regrets and planned to go back home to play softball.
"I told my parents it was not part of God's plan now," Brooke said. "It was such a fun experience I will always remember, just seeing it in real life. I couldn't believe I was there.
"I told them the judges said I was too sweet and innocent and not ready for the industry," Brooke said. "My family was so proud of me. They hurt for me, because I haven't had much disappointment. I couldn't have done it without them."
Now back at MSSU, Brooke said she plans to look for as many opportunities to sing as possible and in time make a recording. She hopes to complete a degree in occupational therapy before going to Nashville and exploring the music business. She knows Liz Moriando, of Mt. Vernon, who performs in Nashville regularly.
"I don't know if I will try out for 'American Idol' again or not," Brooke said. "That's a lot of show business. I like being a small-town girl who has a simple life. The judges could have said my voice wasn't good enough, but they said my voice was great. Now I have more time to live my life."