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From Broadway's 'Lion King' to 'American Idol,' Fayetteville native wants to be a star

Lee Vasi of Fayetteville auditioning for "American Idol." Vasi's audition will air on the March 25 episode.
Lee Vasi of Fayetteville auditioning for "American Idol." Vasi's audition will air on the March 25 episode. AMERICAN IDOL. (ABC/Guy D'Alema) © 2017 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lee Vasi has been watching "American Idol" since she was about 5 years old, around the same time the show premiered on Fox.

"Idol" is now on ABC and Vasi is 20 years old, already a veteran performer, and auditioning for that show she grew up watching. Vasi's audition will be shown on Sunday night's episode.

“I remember watching as a very little girl and people always told me I should audition for the show," she said. "I was just waiting to be old enough to do it.”

Vasi is a Fayetteville native who has been singing since before she can remember. She started with musical theater at age 7 and was on Broadway by age 9, playing Young Nala in "The Lion King" musical for a year and a half.

"After my contract ended, I knew entertainment was the industry I wanted to be in," Vasi said in a phone interview this week. "This is not a hobby, this is definitely something that I want to pursue for the rest of my life, so here I am.”

Vasi has spent the past two years studying recorded music at New York University. She decided to attend the "American Idol" audition in Savannah, Ga., in October. Vasi's parents, Maureen Vargas and Dwight Sullivan, who still live in Fayetteville, went with her.

"It was definitely chaotic, definitely weird," Vasi said of audition day. "It’s a day when you have no idea what to expect." Vasi describes a long day of waiting, "which definitely helps with getting the nerves up.

"After you’ve had more time to sit with your nerves and see other people going in and not getting a good result, the nerves were very, very high that day," she said.

The judges 'glow'

Her nerves didn't settle down when she stepped before the judges — Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan — to audition.

"I was a lot more nervous going in and seeing them," she said. "They are actually real — actual icons I’m about to sing for. Especially Lionel Richie. He is just a legend and just being in his presence, you can feel it ... My favorite song in life is 'Zoom’ by the Commodores, so it was so surreal to be able to meet him.”

Vasi even buttered the judges up a bit when she first met them.

“The first thing I said when I walked in the room was 'Oh my God, you guys look so great in person’ — because they do. Like literally, all three of them glow.”

Vasi sang “Love Should Have Brought You Home,” by Toni Braxton for her Savannah audition and the judges asked her to sing another song. She went with “Como Le Flor” by Selena.

Even with Vasi’s theater background, she considers herself a singer-songwriter, and writes music with an international twist.

Lee Vasi of Fayetteville auditioning for "American Idol." AMERICAN IDOL. (ABC/Guy D'Alema) © 2017 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.


"The music that I write, I call it Spanglish-Pop-R&B," she said. "I use R&B chords and trap percussion, but I also incorporate Latin percussion and rhythms and sounds, and my lyrics are always bilingual because I’m multi-racial. So I feel like it’s important for me to express every part of who I am.

"I think not only can R&B and Latin music work together, but that Spanish and English can, too, and it can be a fluid conversation between the two cultures and the two types of music."

Vasi can't say if she got a golden ticket to Hollywood — we'll have to tune in Sunday night at 8 to see — but either way, she doesn't plan on giving up her dreams of being a singer, just maybe not on Broadway.

“I have veered away from theater in the last couple of years,” Vasi said. “I love to be myself on stage. Acting is cool and it’s great that I had so much experience with that growing up because it helps me as a performer in general. But I’m at a place where I want to be myself on stage. I want to be Lee Vasi. I want to show my personality. I want to do my thing, play my music and express myself that way.

"But I’m not one for limiting myself," Vasi continued. "I’m never one to say that I won’t do anything or won’t try anything. My goal is to be an international music superstar."

Also from North Carolina

Johnny White, 19, of Hickory auditioned on "American Idol" last week and received a ticket to advance to Hollywood. White has a touching story of growing up in shelters and in the foster care system. White sang James Brown's “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

Shannon O'Hara, 17, of Mooresville also audition on "Idol" last week, and like White, she'll be moving on to Hollywood. O'Hara sang Adele’s “When We Were Young” while playing piano.

Joshua Ward of Wilmington also auditioned for "American Idol," but his full audition will not be televised. Information on whether or not Ward advanced to Hollywood is being kept under wraps for now. We do know that Joshua performed Rihanna's "Stay" for his audition. Joshua can be seen twirling a football in this "American Idol" promo.

Watch 'American Idol'

See Lee Vasi audition on the Sunday (March 25) episode of "American Idol," which starts at 8 p.m. on ABC. That will be the final episode of auditions. "American Idol" Hollywood Week starts Monday at 8 p.m.

Follow Lee

You can find Lee Vasi on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @leeleevasi

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, bcain@newsobserver.com, @warmtv, @brookecain

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