Kansan gets a shot at ‘Idol’ fame

Jon Pic

He may very well be the greatest musician you’ve never heard of.

His name is Aaron Sidwell, and he’s been writing songs since he was 12 years old -- and he wants to be the next American Idol.

But he missed that boat.


After auditioning in New York City and Omaha, Neb., for Fox’s hit series, Sidwell is now trying his hand at a different side of the “American Idol” rocket to superstardom.

Sidwell, a former Butler Community College vocal music student, recently found out he’s triumphed over thousands of other tunesmiths and made it to the top 20 in “Idol’s” song-writing competition. The prize will be to hear the song belted on live television by whomever America chooses to win this season of the show. Not to mention the chance to earnestly kickstart his own career.

“I would hope that it would get my foot in the door as a songwriter,” he said. “Maybe I could write for a few more artists on [‘Idol’ judge and producer] Simon Cowell’s label.“

But it’s not just the other song-writers or even the Idols themselves who have been obstacles for Sidwell. It’s been a long journey to this point for the 26-year-old native of Enterprise, Kan.

At 3 years old, Sidwell’s parents were told that 85 percent of his blood cells were cancerous.

“My chances of survival were slim,” Sidwell said. “By the grace of God and a blood transfusion, I went into remission at 7 years old.”

That experience has shaped Sidwell’s perspective on life.

“I feel that because I grew up around sick people — living inside a hospital for a lot of my younger years — I’ve developed a compassion for people. Especially sick children,” Sidwell said. “There is nothing worse than watching a child have to suffer through something so ugly as cancer.”

That in mind, Sidwell has previously headlined a pair of concerts in Wichita to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.

“I feel my music has a message of hope inside of it,” he said. “Even the ‘angry’ songs have some sort of resolution in them, whether it comes lyrically or musically.”

Since graduating from Enterprise High School in 2000, Sidwell has been cranking out songs and trying to make a name for himself. He took the title of Wichita Idol a few years ago and slept on New York City sidewalks “with 11,000 other strangers” for three days just to get an audition for “Idol” during the show’s third season.

While waiting for his music career to take off, Sidwell left Butler to study teaching at Wichita State University; now he works with first graders at Allen Elementary.

During his time at Butler, Sidwell said he developed as an artist.

“The quality of education at BCC really helped me to foster confidence in myself, as an individual and a professional as well,” he said. “The instructors really helped refine my vision for my future.

“I was a Butler Headliner which meant we practiced, practiced, performed, and practiced some more. I learned a great deal about stage presence.”

Butler instructor Valerie Mack, who worked with Sidwell in the Headliners, said she was “not surprised” when she learned he was in the “Idol” Top 20.

She sent e-mails to everyone she could think of — co-workers, colleagues, even her contacts at the British Broadcasting Company — to help give Sidwell a push to the top.

“I hope this is his big break,” Mack said. “There is not a more deserving young man. He is such a nice guy and he’s so talented.

“I felt like if he would hang with it and continue with his music, he would get his chance, if people would just listen to it.”

Laura Burkholder-Doeden went to school at Butler with Sidwell, where they became close friends. She said this is a “phenomenal” opportunity to showcase his talent.

“He’s always amazed me,” she said. “I’m so happy he’s got this opportunity to [succeed]. It’s well-deserved.”

His fate in the “Idol” contest — just like the performers on the show — lies in the hand of the TV-watching public. The contestants are being rated on, where voting continues until April 23. His song, “Something Like Heaven,” has been getting positive buzz on the Web site’s message boards.

“I felt the song was perfect to sing to an audience,” Sidwell said. “I also think the melody is commercial enough to be an ‘Idol’ single.”

Despite his past “Idol” disappointments, he won’t be turned off by the show if he doesn’t win the competition.

“I just feel so lucky to be in the top 20 out of tens of thousands of applicants,” he said. “Of course, I want to win, who doesn’t? But I am realistic in knowing it is a long shot and there are other ways to sell a song.”

El Dorado resident, Jan Watts, a former radio announcer with American Family Radio, met Sidwell in 2000 when a pastor dropped off Sidwell’s first CD entitled “Power of Your Love.”

“I played his CD over and over,” Watts said. “I hope Aaron wins this song-writing competition so that America can enjoy his music like I have.”

With plans to move to Nashville and truly pursue his music career in July, a boost from “American Idol” certainly couldn’t hurt.

“It’s a fast way to develop a fan base without having to leave the same stage,” Sidwell said.

El Dorado Times