by Chris Harris
If you’ve been following the journey of this year’s crop of “American Idol” contestants, you’re probably familiar with the name Briston Maroney.
But did you know that the talented young vocalist has a local connection?
A resident of Knoxville, Tenn., Maroney was featured in the Salt Lake City, Utah, auditions, which aired on January 29.
Maroney is the grandson of Somerset native Thom Hieronymus, now of Pittsfield, Maine, and the grand-nephew of Janie Hieronymus Hail, retired English teacher at Somerset High School, and local dentist Steve Hieronymus.
And as one might expect, Hail is having a wonderful time watching Maroney on TV.
“It still strikes me as so unreal,” she said. “I’m just loving it for this kid.”
Currently, “American Idol” is in the “Hollywood Week” stage, where contestants who made it past the initial regional auditions gather en masse and are whittled down by the judges — some group performances, some solo are on the docket. If Maroney makes it past this round, he’ll go to the live rounds — where America itself gets to vote on who stays and who goes.
Now in its 13th season, “American Idol” has proven a revolutionary television phenomenon, establishing the “reality” talent show as a commercially viable format, and introducing America to such names as Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood, and of course, former (and infamous) judge Simon Cowell. This season’s judges include pop-jazz icon Harry Connick Jr., cross-media talent Jennifer Lopez, and country star Keith Urban.
Maroney’s family is hopeful he can be the next big name turned out by the FOX program, although he’s no stranger to having people hear his music already — he’s part of a band called Subtle Clutch, which has songs available on the music service iTunes.
For his part, Thom Hieronymus is happy to see his grandson doing so well.
“I’m very proud of him,” said the 1969 graduate of Somerset High School and current nurse practitioner. “It shows a great deal of poise to be in the spot he’s in, and a great ability to play to the crowd.”
Hieronymus said that Maroney’s success doesn’t come as a surprise.
“I’ve known for a long time that he was good with his guitar,” said Hieronymus. “He’s already got a reputation as a singer-songwriter. ... I’m surprised that he’s pursuing it as early as he is, but he’s doing fine.”
Of course, grand-aunt Hail is proud too — and curious about the celebrities that Maroney has encountered.
“I said, ‘Tell me Briston, what’s your favorite part of (being on the show)?’” said Hail. “He said, ‘Well, Jennifer Lopez called me ‘baby’ — he loved that part.”
Of course, Hail had to ask about the hunky Urban too. Showing that ability to please the audience that his grandfather mentioned, Maroney confirmed his grand-aunt’s suspicions: “Well, Aunt Janie, I’d guess you’d say he’s just beautiful,” recalled Hail with a laugh.
As a lover of literature, a painter, even a musician, it’s easy to think Maroney could have inherited some of his artistic talent from Hail’s side of the family. Hail waves off that line of thought, saying it’s likely his dad’s side — Maroney’s mom Becca is Thom’s daughter — that’s provided the lion’s share of young Maroney’s musical ability.
Still, in those times when Hail has been around Maroney, she could tell how naturally gifted he is, including this past Thanksgiving, when he came up to Somerset to visit family.
“He’d already gone through auditions; we knew he’d had his ticket (to the Hollywood Round), even though none of that was on TV yet,” said Hail. “He played for us what he auditioned with (”You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by the Rolling Stones). I thought it was a great choice, considering what he was doing.
“He’s always played since he was little,” she added. “Becca would bring up here to the family reunion, and every time she’d bring him up, he’d play. He’s always been part of the family.”
Maroney got about 30 seconds of airtime this past week singing “Royals” by Lorde; Hail is expecting to potentially see more of Maroney this coming week on the show as the auditioning continues.
Hail says it’s easier to watch Maroney on TV knowing what’s going to happen than it was when the show was filmed and they had to anxiously await the results. She said he’s an “unassuming kid, like the boy next door,” and is hopeful for continued success on the show and in life.
“To start with, we all thought, ‘This is great, I wonder how far he’ll go,’” she said, “and now (after making it to Hollywood Week), it’s just fabulous.”
Should Maroney make it further? A little bit of voting help from Somerset, Ky., wouldn’t hurt.