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Mount Zion grad CeCe Frey overcomes false start to advance on TV's 'X-Factor'

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DECATUR — When Decatur native CeCe Frey began her audition on Fox’s “The X-Factor” with the classic blue-eyed soul song “Unchained Melody,” she couldn’t help but see right off the bat that the contest’s judges were not impressed.

She couldn’t hear it as she sang, but record executive L.A. Reid even leaned over to his fellow judges after a couple of lines and pronounced a snap judgment in only four words: “Horrible song for her.” It looked like her shot at advancing in the reality singing series would be over before it even began when she was stopped by fellow judge Demi Lovato. “What else do you have?” Reid asked.

As it turns out, what Frey had waiting in reserve was a scorching rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” that completely reversed her fortunes in less than a minute. She went from hanging on by a thread to being unanimously praised by the four judges, one of whom said “CeCe, I think this show needs someone like you.” Quite the turnaround from a nearly disastrous initial song choice by the 20-year-old graduate of Mount Zion High School, who up until recently worked a job selling stamps at Dale’s Southlake Pharmacy in South Shores.

“It was a very poor song choice, but I’m used to singing my own songs,” said Frey, who has performed locally for several years with her band, VolHolla. “I wanted to do a song that I thought would be unexpected. I remember that I was trying not to look at the judges, but I still completely knew, ‘Oh, they’re not feeling this at all.’ I almost started to panic then because I thought I had disappointed everyone I knew who was watching at home.”

Luckily for Frey, she received that second chance to sing in her audition, which aired Sept. 19 but actually took place in early June in Kansas City, Mo. In passing the initial audition, she earned the right to compete in the series’ “boot camp” portion of taped competition, which will air at 7 p.m. today on Fox. But even while looking forward, Frey continues to drift back in her mind to the shock of being able to impress the judges with her performance and especially with her confident attitude.

“When I walked on stage, I wanted to convey the sense that ‘I am ready for this,’ ” she said. “I wasn’t looking for validation. I’m confident in this competition, but it’s not because I think I’m waking up in the morning with talent, but because I know that I will work harder than anybody else. You can’t underestimate a small-town girl raised by parents with farmers’ work ethics.”

Indeed, Frey’s confidence and attitude seemed to be the element of her character that the show’s producers tried to capture in their portrayal of her in the audition episode.

Included were her conversations with other contestants, in which she seemed to be trying to “psych out” the others, even pointing to one person and wondering aloud, “What do you think that guy’s button is?”

Her leopard print face paint, familiar to fans of VolHolla in Decatur, also drew instant attention from the judges as she walked out on stage, just one example of Frey’s desire to retain her personal sense of style in the competition.

“I’ve established my artist persona already, and it’s all I’ve ever done and all I’ve ever known,” she said. “I wanted to audition as the artist that I intend to be and have always been.”

Time will tell if Frey advances in the competition, but such confidence makes it tough to disbelieve her when she says she plans to work through any obstacle in her path.

“For me, this is something I’ve been working on since I was 5 years old,” she said. “I’m ready for this, 125-thousand percent.”

jvorel@herald-review.com|421-7973

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