When you have too much style for the judges of television’s long running paean to American rags-to-riches fairy tales, “American Idol,” you know you have something special.
So when Malibu resident Arielle Verinis made it through all the tiered auditions to actually stand in front of Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi and sing not once but thrice, and miss the final cut to compete in the show’s next season, she was philosophic about the experience.
“The ‘American Idol’ judges are arguably the most critical judges in the music business today,” Verinis said “So, if their critique is, ‘You have too much of your own style,’ well, it’s not too bad. It’s bittersweet.”
Verinis grew up in Woodbridge, Conn. and graduated from Fordham University in 2002 with a degree in business and communications. But she always loved to sing. So, while temping for hedge fund management firms, working in public relations for international tourist boards or assistant managing one of New York’s busiest recording studios, Avatar Studios, she would gig in bars and restaurants around the city.
A chance meeting in 2000 with one of Al Gore’s “Live Earth” producers, Greg Sills, brought Verinis to Malibu a year ago to act as assistant to Sills’ wife, Laureen, founder of the Malibu Special Education Foundation, and as nanny to the Sills’ younger son, who is autistic.
“Laureen put me in touch with who does the ‘Malibu Spotlight,'” Verinis said. “This gives locals a chance to showcase their talent. And that was my first gig here, at The Malibu Inn.”
Verinis’ voice and bluesy style are reminiscent of Janis Joplin or Joss Stone, that earthy, smoky sound that hints at too many cigarettes and regrettable love affairs. She had decided to try out last summer for the regional “American Idol” auditions in San Francisco.
“It’s insane, just like they show on TV,” Verinis said. “There are 10,000 people and you stand in the rain all day, waiting to get in. There are heats of four, with 14 tables of two judges and you have 10 seconds in front of them to give the best performance of your life. No pressure, right?”
She made it through three heats, singing three songs before one of the executives told her that she was good, but just not what they were looking for.
Disappointed, and resigned, Verinis returned home where she promptly was selected to appear at the Long Beach Blues Festival.
“I put together a band real quickly and thought we’d do a warm up at the Malibu Chili Cook-Off in September,” Verinis said. “We had the worst time slot, twelve noon, and it was hot and dusty and no one was there. But after I sang, this guy walked up to me.”
It turned out to be Bruce Gowers, one of the directors of “American Idol,” who said to Verinis, “You’re fantastic. Have you ever thought about auditioning for ‘American Idol?’ You could win it.”
Gowers arranged to send her to Scottsdale the end of September for the second round of “American Idol” auditions, where she made it through the preliminary panel, then the executives, and then found herself once again in front of.
“I waited from 8:30 till five o’clock,” Verinis said. “I was the second to last person to sing for them and [contestants] sing a cappella. It’s really hard to pick a song. It’s very important. So I tried, ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me,’ by Prince,’ but they said that they couldn’t get clearance.”
She asked if she could try another song and gave them “The Night Time’s the Right Time” (a 1937 blues tune by Roosevelt Sykes), but they didn’t like it. She asked for another chance and sang “The Letter,” a pop song by the Box Tops that was charting in 1967.
“But they didn’t want something old,” Verinis said. “Simon told me, ‘You’re a great singer, but just too stylized.’ I’ve worked 28 years to find my own voice. Maybe they want a new star they can mold into something.”
As she left the hall, host Ryan Seacrest said to her, “Girl, you put up a good fight.”
Verinis said her next stop is to settle on a manager. She has been speaking with Pete Angelus, who has managed Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Franky Perez.
Laureen Sills has resigned herself ultimately to losing Verinis as an assistant.
“I knew as soon as we hired her that she wouldn’t last forever,” Sills said. “She’s too good. She’s got much bigger things to do.”
Verinis will perform at the Malibu Inn on Nov. 14 at 9 pm. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.