When Provident Bank hired LaKisha Jones to work at the Millersville branch in 2006, her co-workers could not have imagined that she was just four months away from the beginning of an explosive singing and acting career.
Her fourth-place finish during Season 6 of American Idol was only the start.
Last summer, she performed around the country with "American Idols on Tour."
And her jazzy, bluesy pipes impressed producers during auditions for Oprah Winfrey's The Color Purple on Broadway. In December, she joined the cast of the show. Her Rubenesque figure and height of only 5 feet were the perfect combination for the role of the feisty Sofia, which she played during the matinees, and the role of the church soloist, which she played during the evening shows.
After a run of a little more than two years, the production closed in February.
It's "a lot of hard work. It's very different from Idol," Jones said before the show closed. "The schedule [was] eight shows a week, so that can take a toll on your voice and your body, as well."
Jones, 28, may find time to rest now. She doesn't have a role in the traveling show, which comes to Baltimore this month.
This down time is likely going to be a transitional period for the budding starlet, who has a lot on her plate.
She is working on an R&B;/soul album, scheduled for release this summer.
"I've been in the studio, grinding," she says with a hearty laugh. "Trying to put out some good music that I enjoy listening to and that I think my fans will enjoy listening to."
In a Newsday interview in February, she said there was a possibility that she would do something in Las Vegas.
"I have an audition, so I hope that works out," she says. "It would be like a Broadway show."
Her time between American Idol and her Broadway appearance has been one she's enjoyed. While her voice has been consistently electrifying, a makeup makeover has taken her from drab to dramatic. In fact, she's looking quite glamorous.
Robert Jack, one of her former co-workers at Provident Bank, took notice when he saw her promotional photos. "It's amazing. You don't think of people around you as being someone famous like that. It's amazing how different she seems when you see [her] in print," he says.
Jack says Jones has come a long way from the shy and reserved person he met on the job.
"I'm amazed. I am absolutely amazed," he says, "When I met her, I never would have expected that there was such energy there, such talent. She just brought it out on American Idol, and it just proves who she really is."
Jones, who now lives in Houston, has also found some financial stability in her fledging career. She bought a house. But life as a singer and actress often keeps this single mother away from her 5-year-old daughter. Jones' mother steps in to take care of Brionne.
She expressed frustration about the mother-daughter separation period. "It's been crazy, I miss her a lot. I miss being a mom," she says.
The seeds of Jones' plentiful energy and talent were sown in her years as a choir member at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Mich.
Her mother, Beverly Jefferson, says Jones started singing there at 5 years old and never stopped singing. "I think she's very powerful. She's dedicated, and she sings from her heart," Jefferson says. "She feels what she sings ... she came up in the choir and sang there almost all her life."
Jones' fame hasn't gone to her head. She remembers the struggles of trying to get where she is today.
"I was in Baltimore, and I was working at the bank," she says. "I was living check to check and trying to make it. I had a couple of hard times, and thank God for change. I'm just grateful."
Claim to fame:
Former American Idol contestant; starred in The Color Purple on Broadway
This native of Flint, Mich., moved to the Baltimore area from Houston in 2006 after she was laid off from her job in Texas. She lived here for four months before her Idol fame. She has since returned to Houston.
Job while here:
About her fate:
"I'm just really grateful for American Idol. I really am grateful because it has opened up so many doors. That platform has allowed me to live out something that I've always wanted."
[HAROLD T. FISHER]