For most of his life Emilio Salinas has been in situations where he has risen from obscurity to, seemingly overnight, become one of the “cool kids.” It happened for him as a student at Hallstrom Homeschool where he went from a “bumpy” first year of trying to fit in to the kid everyone knew, and now it has happened for him again at Rock Valley College where the once fearful kid who wasn’t sure he wanted anything to do with college can’t walk across campus now without being recognized by fellow students, staff, or faculty members due to his role as a student worker in the IT department and as the Vice President of Communication for the Student Government Association.
Just recently, Emilio was hoping his popularity would soar once again, this time from the guy who performs at Potbelly in Rockford to the next American Idol.
Emilio has been singing for as long as he can remember. His parents are musicians and he played percussion for their band, fittingly named “The Salinas Band,” opening up for popular Christian artist Sarah Kelly at large venues in places like Green Bay and Chicago. He’s never taken voice lessons, and although he plays a number of instruments, including guitar, bass, and piano, the only one he ever took lessons for was bass.
“I really like the acoustic guitar so I just learned from watching my brother play his electric [guitar] and [from watching] YouTube,” says Emilio. “Piano is starting to be my favorite instrument to play, but you can’t really bring a piano everywhere with you.”
Besides keeping busy playing gigs around town, Emilio has taken his shot with talent shows in the past, even winning a couple. He once tried out for The Voice, but found the experience not as glamorous as it is portrayed on television.
“It was a stressful experience,” says Emilio. “Lots of waiting, lots of people, and small chances. They’re also not really looking for the best voice. They’re looking for what looks good on TV. Voice isn’t the first thing on their mind. Also, there are three rounds of judges before you would ever get to the blind auditions with the celebrity coaches.”
Despite a less than satisfying experience auditioning for The Voice, Emilio didn’t hesitate when his boss at RVC suggested he try out at the WTVO Stateline Idol event that was scheduled to take place on August 31 at RVC’s Starlight Theatre. He channeled his own idol, Ed Sheeran, and wowed the judges enough to earn a top three finish in the competition and a “fast pass” that got him to the front of the line for the American Idol auditions in Chicago on September 11.
The win immediately boosted his local fame as he appeared on WTVO’s morning show the next day to perform Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill.”
“The whole experience of [Stateline Idol] was great,” says Emilio. “My regular gigs always had a good amount of people, but now they seem to have a lot more, which is good for me and for the restaurant.”
So will Emilio be the next American Idol?
The Idol Experience
Emilio estimates his “fast pass” saved him about five hours of waiting in line, but that didn’t exactly mean he was about to sing in front of Katy Perry either. There are three rounds of judging to get through before you ever set foot in front of the celebrity panel. That doesn’t mean the early rounds are not nerve-wracking.
“There were about 10 tables in the room with a judge at each table and about four contestants singing to each judge,” says Emilio. “It’s a little chaotic. You hear people singing over each other. And then at the back of the room there are two doors. One said ‘Yes’ and the other said ‘No.’ So it was pretty intimidating.”
When his opportunity arrived, Emilio went to his go-to-guy once again and sang Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.” It was good enough that he was the last one standing at this table. As the others were sent through the “No” door, he was thinking he was on his way to the “Yes” door when the judge said, “Can I hear a second song?” Emilio obliged and this time sang “God Gave Me You” by David Barnes.
Although the judge said Emilio was amazing and asked if he sang professionally, he told Emilio it was a “no” because of his song choices, but that he was really good and should keep playing. As a slightly confused Emilio made his way through the “No” door, the security guard said to him, “They already found their Ed Sheeran type, but don’t give up.”
“I knew from the start they were looking for TV type people so I didn’t have my hopes up,” says Emilio. “It was still cool to experience the whole thing. I’m not discouraged. I will keep playing music because I love it.”
Emilio will continue to work on some original music and will stay busy with local gigs, including his standing engagement at Potbelly on East State Street in Rockford every Saturday from 12 to 2 p.m.
He will also be performing at a few upcoming events at Rock Valley College, including:
- Ms. RVC event during RVC Homecoming Week on October 26 at 5:30 p.m. in the Student Center Atrium
- Halloween/Fall Fest event on October 31 (time TBA)
- International Student Showcase on November 17 at 7 p.m. at the RVC Stenstrom Center