American Idol: Naples native Paige Miles ready to prove she belongs in final 12

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— Last week, Paige Miles stood up on the stage as one of two “American Idol” contestants on the chopping block.

The ax was going to fall on either her or Katelyn Epperly, and for one of them, the dream of winning Fox’s mega-hit singing competition would be over.

It’s a good bet many people at home thought it would be Miles. Even her family wasn’t sure if she’d make it after a performance that was generally thought to be inferior.

“It wasn’t her best,” Miles’ aunt, Voncile Whitaker, said of the performance.

But Miles, a 2004 graduate of Community School of Naples, made it to the ranks of the final 12 contestants and Epperly went home. So much for predictions and prognostications.

“I felt confident (that I’d make it through) because I believe in myself and really felt that I belong,” Miles said in an e-mail interview on Monday. Miles was unable to talk via telephone because she was on vocal rest.

The 24-year-old school teacher has so far defied expectations on the show in both good and bad ways. She’s made it farther than any “Idol” expert would have you believe. The past two weeks, writers from the New York Times, MTV, Entertainment Weekly and more have predicted her demise. Yet she’s still standing, while blogger favorites such as Alex Lambert have been shown the door by voters.

But she also hasn’t lived up to the promise Simon Cowell heaped on her during the first live round, when she sang Free’s “All Right Now.”

“I think out of all the girls, you have the best voice. I genuinely do think that,” Simon, the oft-harsh judge, said.

Since then, the praise has been less effusive and hard to come by, while performers such as Crystal Bowersox keep earning raves across the board.

The judges uniformly dismissed a slightly weepy version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” Michael Jackson’s favorite song. Jackson is Miles’ favorite singer. After Jackson died she says she couldn’t hear the song without getting emotional.

But really, the song reminded her of her father, who she said she lost at age 4.

“... It was a way to cheer me up when I was younger,” she said. “There could be times when I missed him and could play the Nat King Cole version.”

But even she agreed it probably wasn’t the best song choice for her.

Even though she’s still in the competition, “Idol” watchers don’t believe it will be for long. The online betting site bodog.com gave Miles the worst odds of any of the remaining contestants, making her a 50 to 1 favorite to win, compared with 7 to 4 odds for Crystal Bowersox and 5 to 1 for both Siobhan Magnus and Michael Lynche.

Tuesday’s theme is the songs of the Rolling Stones — one that should play to Miles’ strengths. Her best performance to date was on a rock song and her big voice could have room to breathe on many of the Stones’ stadium anthems.

Miles wouldn’t give any hints on Monday to her song selection for Tuesday’s show, but she did say she felt confident in her choice.

“I pick (the songs) based on a connection,” she said of her reason for her choices so far. “But now I’m trying to pick them based on that and what really showcases my voice as well.”

Although only one “Idol” finalist is eliminated each week from here on out, the stakes are still high, especially in the next two weeks. Make it into the Top 10 and you earn a spot on the show’s concert tour. Also, even if you don’t win, the longer you are on the show, the more likely you are to secure a recording contract after things are over, which is the ultimate goal for the contestants.

Miles knows the margin for error is thin.

“I need to choose (a song) wisely because the judges are looking for me to be better than the songs I have picked in the past three weeks.”

Her aunt isn’t too worried though.

“I think she’ll do fine,” Whitaker said. “Her family will be voting for her and encouraging others to vote for her.”

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