[18 February 2008]
Two years ago LaKisha Jones was working as a bank teller in Maryland. These days, the only money notes she deals with are the ones she belts out eight times a week in Broadway’s “The Color Purple.”
Jones’ ticket to Broadway was that golden ticket to Hollywood she got last season on “American Idol.” Her place in the top 12 was sealed after she sang “And I Am Telling You” from “Dreamgirls” during the initial Hollywood rounds, a performance that caused judge Randy Jackson to gush, “You laid it out on that stage. Jennifer Hudson, watch out!”
Though Jones finished fourth on “Idol,” she’s not complaining. She spent all summer with the other top 10 finalists on the “American Idols Live Tour” and then joined “The Color Purple” as the church soloist in December. Though the show closes Feb. 24, the curtain isn’t coming down for Jones, a 28-year-old single mom who these days calls Houston home: She’s hard at work on her debut album, which is set to come out in the spring. Jones recently spoke to Newsday about how tough Broadway can be and how Simon Cowell isn’t as tough as he appears.
Fantasia was in “The Color Purple” and now you are. Clay Aiken is in “Spamalot.” Tamyra Gray did “Rent.” It seems like “American Idol” has taken over Broadway. Is this the direction you saw yourself heading in?
I did not. I had seen “The Color Purple” after I got pulled off “Idol,” and I thought I’d love to be in it. But I never thought I’d have a chance. And then I got the call to audition when I was on tour. It’s been a great opportunity for me. ... But the schedule here is crazy. I’m doing eight shows a week. This is really, really totally different from “Idol.”
On “Idol” you’re pampered and well taken care of. They take care of you here, but this is just so much more grueling. And then on my days off I’m working on my album. It’s going to be R&B, soul and will have some inspirational songs. ... I recorded my first song for the album in Houston. I’d never had a demo before. I’d always sung in church, so having the opportunity to finally put out something of my own is just amazing to me. ... I flew in yesterday at 12 o’clock and then had 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock shows. So even my days off aren’t days off.
Now that you’ve done Broadway, do you have plans for other shows?
I got a call to possibly do something in Vegas in the next few months. I have an audition, so I hope that works out. It would be like a Broadway show.
First Broadway, now Vegas. Did you have much acting experience before this?
Not a whole lot. I did some things in college. I was in “Godspell” at the University of Michigan, so that prepared me a little. But I was still nervous because this was Broadway. ... I had a month of rehearsals in November and then debuted on Dec. 19 as the church soloist. Then on Jan. 9 I debuted as Sofia at the matinees and that was really different because Sofia has a lot more speaking and acting.
That must be a challenge going from one character in the afternoon and then to another in the evening.
It’s almost like you have to turn it on and turn it off. Yesterday when I came back from Houston, I was so tired. But I just looked myself in the mirror and said to myself, “Time to turn it on.”
When you were interviewed last year after leaving “Idol,” you said your dream was to never rent again. Did it come true?
I got my house, honey. As soon as I got off the tour. It was wonderful to sleep in my bed in Houston. A nice big house for me and my baby (daughter Brionne). ... She’s 4 years old. She was in New York for a while and it was funny because she said to me “There’s too many people here.” ... That’s been the most difficult thing about show business for me, being away from my child. It kills me. I want to provide this better life for my daughter, but the sacrifice is being away from her. ... If this Vegas thing works out, I’m going to try and put a nanny in the picture.
A lot of celebrities mentored you on “Idol.” What was the best piece of advice you got?
Actually it was from Simon. He told me, “Believe in yourself, you can do this.” Simon is nicer than what people think. He offers constructive criticism and he’s being real, and a lot of times his comments are right on.
Simon also kept accusing you of shouting your songs. It seemed almost like you became a target.
I know. In the beginning the judges were giving me great comments, and then as we got closer and closer to the title, no more great comments. I didn’t quite understand it. But then I thought, if God meant for me to win, it would happen. And number 4 isn’t too bad. Hey, I’m getting to live out my dream, to travel and to sing. And I can say I’ve been on Broadway.