It's hard to imagine that a 15-year-old farm girl living on the side of a mountain outside of Crawford could become a top 14 finalist on the glitzy hit show American Idol. But Jeneve Rose Mitchell believed she could, and so did her family. Together they took an eight-month journey through Idol that began last July with an audition in Denver, although the dream began long before that.
The daughter of Tim and Jenny Mitchell, Jeneve Rose was singing and playing fiddle by age 2. Over the years she has played many a local concert and fundraiser, and raised the money to build her mom's Crawford health clinic. In her spare time she learned more than a dozen instruments, wrote songs, and released her first CD, "Rocky Mountain Hillbilly Girl."
The family lives off the grid (without electricity, she would explain to Idol judges), and doesn't watch TV. But during Idol season they would fire up the generator to watch Idol.
Tim, a burly man who once sang in a cowboy band, was her first music teacher. He knew how hard she'd have to work to reach her goal, "but I didn't ever want her to have to pay her dues in a bar," he said. "She completely leap-frogged over that."
She did play one bar. Tim said they expected a house concert, but ended up in a sports bar in Pagosa Springs. Jeneve kind of wanted to go home, but he told her no, they'd driven all the way to Pagosa Springs. "You're going to experience what it's like to play in a bar one time."
He told her she could either drive the crowd out, or pull them in. "She sang her guts out," he said. Several people walked out, but some stayed for the entire show. She made $300 in tips that night, $100 from three different people.
"She's got the knack," says Jenny. "I saw it years ago."
While she specializes in old-fashioned country music, there's hardly a genre she doesn't like or isn't afraid to try. She's tall, like her dad, and performs with equal amounts of confidence, passion and gumption, and a sparkle in her big blue eyes. She engages her audience, makes them feel special, and inserts stories into her performances. She has the ability to make her audience laugh, and she can make them cry.
"I just love people," said Jeneve. "It's really that simple."
David and Tamera Hauze, a professional musical duo from Crawford, met Jeneve at a fundraiser, "just sawing away on a fiddle," when she was 7. They saw something special in her and asked her parents if they could work with her, they told the DCI in February. David also taught her to play the harp.
Jeneve was born the year Idol began. When she turned 15, the youngest age to audition, Idol announced it would be their final season. It was now or never, she said. Last July the family traveled to Denver to audition with 10,000 other Idol hopefuls. It was just one of 15 auditions being held across the country. Jeneve made the first cut, and the next, and the next, until last fall when she earned a golden ticket to Hollywood performing The Band Perry's "Chainsaw" on bass fiddle before celebrity judges Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban.
Idol requires contestants under age 18 to have a guardian at all times. Tim and Jenny took turns, heading home to take care of business and deal with one of the snowiest winters in recent history, which blocked the road to their farm. "I think it was harder on them," said Jeneve.
For the top 12 audition, contestants had to perform a well-known pop song from 2002-2007. "I could, like, think of zero," she said. She knew she wanted to play the harp, the one belonging to the Hauzes that they'd hauled to Hollywood, and had selected Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." But someone else claimed it ahead of her.
She went with another song she knew on harp, Sarah Mclachlan's soulful hit, "Angel." It turned out to be the better choice, said Jeneve.
The audition was held in the St. Vibiana Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. There was Jeneve, in a church, playing the harp. "It was just breathtaking," said Jenny. Family members and friends were there, and members of the Rosebud Fan Club, run by one of her six older sisters, bought as many tickets as they could.
The Hauzes were also there. To thank them, the Mitchells gave David and Tamera their VIP tickets. They tried to refuse, but Tim and Jenny insisted, and waited in the wing, watching her performance on a screen.
She gave the performance of a lifetime. But then, she wasn't playing just for Idol. She had something else on her mind, said Jenny. Tim's dad had passed away that morning. "I was singing for Grandpa," said Jeneve.
As with six other contestants, Jeneve's Idol run ended with the next audition. Had she continued, she had chosen Natasha Bedingfield's hit, "Unwritten," recommended by one of her sisters. She did have the opportunity to perform it on the Idol stage, "which was really cool."
She made friends with her fellow Idol contestants, and followed the show to the end. "You would not believe how much time we had to spend together, doing nothing, so we're all, like, besties," she said.
For her first post-Idol show she came home to the Paradise Theatre in Paonia on March 9 -- two days after the final Idol episode. Jeneve Rose was as humble as the day she left for Denver. She thanked the crowd, the Hauzes, all of her supporters, and above all, she thanked her parents. "None of this would have happened without you," she told them. "I love you, and you're awesome."
"I loved this audience," said Jeneve after the show. "This was so cool." Idol audiences are "just a bunch of girls yelling out the teenage boys' names," she said. "But people here, they really appreciate all the effort, all the soul I put into my music."
Crawford resident and Paradise board treasurer Tom Stevens suggested the show. He told the board they need to bring Jeneve to the theater as soon as possible, telling them, "She may not be playing this small venue again." He is proud to have had her at the Paradise, which has presented many national and international acts. "But I don't know anyone who's got this much talent."
He first saw Jeneve performing at Crawford Pioneer Days when she was about 11. "She had a lot of talent for a child," he said. Idol judges saw it, too. After Idol, "I no longer have to say she's pretty good for a child," said Stevens. "She's pretty good for an adult."
"I've known Jeneve since she was a little girl," said Crawford resident Liz Heidrick. She saw Jeneve's talent early on and hired her to play at her wedding. "I think it's the best hundred dollars I've ever spent."
Heidrick is grateful that locals could see her at this pivotal point in her career. "How lucky we are," she said.
Percussion artist David Alderdice worked with her in school music programs. He wasn't surprised that she made Idol, which he and wife Arlyn watched for the first time. What struck him was her professional growth and how she'd developed her own style over the last couple of years. "She really owns the stage and her instruments, including her voice."
Her Paonia performance of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" was particularly impressive. That she recognized it as a good song to cover and understood how it fit her voice was equally impressive. She could have picked from many songs, but she showed maturity in picking one that really matched her style, he said. "I look forward to seeing what she does in the future."
That she didn't get past the final 14 wasn't due to a lack of talent, said Stevens. "It was America that made that decision, and not the judges. The people she was competing against live in cities with millions of people." Family and friends, including Heidrick, who voted as many times as possible and from every cell phone and landline in her real estate office, were simply outnumbered.
Since she's been home, Jeneve has been catching up "on tons and tons and tons of school work." She also celebrated her 16th birthday and got her driver's permit.
"Now she gets to drive me crazy," said Jenny, revealing a clue about where Jeneve gets her feisty attitude.
She also makes time for music every day.
Jeneve is working on a new CD of original and cover songs, which she hopes to release soon. She plans to start touring later this year. After that she hopes to tour the United Kingdom, where she has a big fan base.
There are still opportunities to see her locally, including at AppleFest in Cedaredge this September. She was also selected grand marshal of this year's Crawford Pioneer Days, and will sing the first song she ever performed, The Star-Spangled Banner.
She'll also be at her Pioneer Days booth during the festivities. She invites everyone to stop by and say hey.