SWEETWATER — A freshly-arrived Venezuelan refugee who settled in Sweetwater is set to be one of the stars in the early season of the newly revived American Idol.
The show, which ended its run on Fox two years ago, is being relaunched on WPLG-Channel 10 and other ABC affiliates on a two-night premiere scheduled for Sunday and Monday.
The three new judges are pop star Katy Perry, 1980s icon Lionel Richie and country star Luke Bryan.
And among the dozens of candidates vying for a career in the recording industry, Michelle Sussett is set to receive invaluable exposure in the premiere’s second night on Monday. That’s when her audition before the famous judges is set to air.
The producers won’t say whether the 22-year-old Sweetwater resident made it to the so-called Hollywood Week or anything beyond that.
Still, getting before the judges for a few minutes was something Sussett says she hoped for, even when she lived in troubled Venezuela.
“I watched American Idol in Venezuela,” she says, “and one of the reasons I wanted to come to the United States was to be on the show.”
Sussett and her father, Alexis Guillermo, as well as her two younger brothers fled the oppressive regime of Nicolas Maduro in July 2014 and were given political asylum after Guillermo became a target of repression and lost his job as an engineer.
Sussett says she learned English during her first few months here and started working in area restaurants to make ends meet.
All along, she worked on her singing, too.
“It’s been my passion since I was four,” she says. “I used to listen to Disney songs from the cartoons and I started singing them.”
Sussett says she was at a local karaoke event last year when members of the local Top-40 cover band Higher Ground noticed her and eventually hired her.
“I’m working as a singer now,” she says, “but I’m not quite there yet when it comes to my dream.”
Sussett applied for American Idol auditions in 2015, but that didn’t go anywhere. Then the show died, and she thought her goal of becoming an idol died with it.
Until, says Sussett, she saw online last year that ABC was planning to make the program its own.
She said she followed directions to show up for a preliminary audition at a bus in Key Biscayne in August.
“I arrived at 5:30 a.m.,” she explains. “It was full of people who got in front of producers for, like, a few seconds at a time.”
She sang the first opening lyrics of Selena’s Techno Cumbia and she was through.
There was another audition on Skype, and in November, Sussett was invited to fly to Los Angeles to tape the audition set to be air Monday.
“I lost my voice while waiting for that audition,” she says of the ordeal in a ballroom on Hollywood Boulevard. “So I just went to a restaurant down the street for hot water and soup, and when I got back I almost missed my turn.”
The hot stuff, she said, set her voice straight right on time for Richie, Perry and Bryan.
“I sang parts of Techno Cumbia in Spanish and Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato. I guess I got my voice back at the last minute. Katy (Perry) was my favorite. She was so kind to me.”
As for what happened, it’s a surprise, Sussett says, although she sounds buoyant about the outcome.
“All I can tell you is that I’ve invited friendsto my house to watch the show.”