Could Shi Scott be the next "American Idol"?
Some of her one-time classmates at Aberdeen Middle School thought she could and it turns out they weren't alone.
The 19-year-old former Belcamp resident sailed through to Hollywood on a "golden ticket" after she won over two out of three judges in her audition on the show's 14th season, which began airing this month.
Scott, who attended elementary and middle school in Harford before moving to Gaithersburg during high school, nervously sang a pitch-perfect rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Valerie."
"It really sounded like an Amy Winehouse impression to me," judge Harry Connick Jr., told Scott, before he voted to put her through to Hollywood Week, which airs the first week in February.
"There's an incredible talent and personality in there, and I would rather see that than anything else," Connick told her.
Scott, who spoke by phone Tuesday from her Gaithersburg home, said she could not reveal if she actually made it through Hollywood Week, which was taped in October, and on to the show's live national competition.
She has already scored high marks, however, not just from the "American Idol" judges, but from the student body at Aberdeen Middle School.
"I was in choir and we did 'Aberdeen Idol,'" Scott recalled. Although that contest did not have formal judging, "I was voted most likely to be 'American Idol' at the middle school, which is pretty crazy."
Scott said she has been singing since "before I formed sentences" and began writing songs at age 14.
As "a very sensitive" child, she said she kept her singing mostly private, until one day when her family was listening to Amy Winehouse and her mom observed Scott sounded exactly like the British singer, who died in 2011.
Scott actually prefers indie and folk music to Amy Winehouse's "retro-soul" sound, but she said music in general is just her way of making her voice heard.
Through singing, she said, "I can really plan out what I want to pull out from people."
Scott attended Church Creek Elementary School in Belcamp and Aberdeen Middle before ultimately dropping out of the International Baccalaureate program at Edgewood High School.
She said she went to several different schools before graduating from Gaithersburg High School last year. She wants to be "not just a singer but a voice for people."
"It just so happens that people listen to me when I sing," Scott explained. "My entire childhood, I was very sensitive. It was severe; it affected my whole life."
"I haven't ever really written a love poem," she said of her music. "More so what I write about is humanity – not directly; it's still an art form."
The national platform of the "Idol" stage was a perfect way for Scott to push herself out of her comfort zone, she said.
"What I found out is, I grow the most when I am put under immense pressure," Scott said. "I knew I wasn't going to walk in and be ready. I knew I wasn't going to wow them and have them see me as this superstar."
During the audition, which took place in New York this summer, Scott told the judges her given name is Shaina but she goes by Shi because Shaina means "beautiful."
"I don't necessarily like strangers calling me beautiful," Scott explained.
Judge Jennifer Lopez joined Connick in approving Scott, while judge Adam Lambert called her "cute" and "very talented" but was not sure she was ready to move forward.
Scott said the whole audition experience, including meeting the show's singer-judges in person, was very surreal.
"It's like walking into a TV set, and they are so polished," she said, describing host Ryan Seacrest as "a little tin doll" who is "super-short and real pretty."
"It feels like you are in the process of making TV," she said.
She was not surprised to be told her voice sounded like Winehouse.
"The whole 'American Idol' will be showing that it is my voice, and trying to get over that hurdle," she said.
"I was very surprised by them saying I was very talented," Scott said. "It was really, really crazy to hear people who are amazingly talented, amazingly established, say that I had talent."
Scott, who has been freelancing as a model and a party motivator for her dad, said her only goal in the music business is to spread a message of empathy and humanity.
"If I got the money, I would basically give it all away," she said, adding she is not competing to please anyone else. "I am doing it for me. I need to make me happy."