While Jason Castro and Syesha Mercado psyched themselves up for Tuesday night's "American Idol" performances, the contestants' parents bonded in a Lake Forest back yard, playing ping-pong, eating chili and laughing over the card game Apples to Apples. It's just the sort of thing Leesa Bellesi had in mind when she started her "American Idol" ministry several months ago...
A pastor’s wife and “American Idol” fanatic (she voted 1,200 times for Katharine McPhee on the night of the 2006 finale), Bellesi launched aiministryresource.com on Feb. 14, the day after the top 24 contestants for the current season were announced. The purpose: To offer finalists’ families spiritual encouragement and help with lodging and transportation as their children sing for votes and a shot at a life-changing record deal.
Bellesi had faith that somehow the password to the Web site would find its way to finalists so they could confidentially list their needs and the needs of their families.
Her prayers were answered on Easter, when Jason Castro and his mom, Betsy – who had flown in to Los Angeles from her home in Texas to visit her son – drove to Saddleback Church in Irvine for services. There, they met up with Saddleback’s high school pastor, a friend of Bellesi’s, who told the mother and son about aiministryresource.com.
Betsy and Rene Castro, a pool designer back in Texas, called Leesa. They also passed the word along to Kristy Lee Cook’s parents. The Cooks, from Oregon, called the Bellesis for help with lodging, but Kristy Lee was voted off the show a few days later. At the goodbye dinner, Leesa, who was there as a guest of the Cooks, met Syesha’s mom, Zelda Mercado. A few days later, Zelda called her, asking if the Bellesis had a place for her and her husband, Tony, to stay.
The Mercados live near Sarasota, Fla., where Zelda gives voice lessons and Tony is an electrician. The Bellesis invited the couple to move in to the guest room in their Lake Forest home as long as Syesha survives on “Idol.”
With the guest room taken, Jason’s family and friends are staying at the Bellesi’s trailer home above the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach. Among the guests: the two worship leaders at Jason’s church back in Texas who convinced him to try out for “Idol.” This week, Jason’s mom and brother are staying at the Laguna trailer.
Contestants’ family members say they are forbidden to talk to the media until the “American Idol” season ends.
Leesa says the mothers spend a lot of time on the phone talking with friends and family, organizing hometown “watch parties,” where hundreds of fans gather at restaurants, churches and schools to watch “Idol” and then cast as many text and phone votes as they can in the two hours after the show ends.
When they’re not busy supporting their kids, they are tooling around Orange County, riding bicycles around Lake Forest, heading to Balboa for frozen bananas (more than once), posing for pictures with famous pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, and getting hugs from a waitress (and huge Syesha fan) at Wingnuts in Aliso Viejo.
On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the Mercados and Castros car-pool to CBS Studios in Los Angeles to watch their children sing (and hang on one more week) and then get back in the car together to return to Orange County.
Bellesi said the families support each other and have prayed together. “Sharing scripture verses, for sure,” Bellesi says. “The stress is so hard on the families.”
You can read more of this interesting article in the OC Register…