Clover teen wows American Idol judges with her ‘crazy swagger’

Herald columnistJanuary 24, 2013 

— Ja’Bria Barber exploded Wednesday night, with “crazy swagger,” style and “spunk” – and fried frog legs.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday, Ja’Bria was one honor student among about 2,000 students at Clover High School. She had finished her calculus homework. She had done the dishes.

Then “American Idol” came on television and – boom!

TV star. Nickname around the world: “Frog Killer.”

Ja’Bria went from kid in the school choir to singing “Pride and Joy” on “Idol,” talking about catching frogs in the nighttime mud of the countryside outside Clover, then eating those frog legs.

On national television.

“It just all blew up then,” Ja’Bria said, realizing at 17 that appearing on the phenomenon that is “American Idol” means, “I am, I guess now, an instant celebrity.

“I never thought about how I was supposed to feel after it hit.”

Even before Wednesday night’s show – a reality TV singing competition on FOX – finished, and it was announced that Ja’Bria had advanced to the “Hollywood” round, her life had turned to frenzy.

She is a teen, so social media is as much a part of her life as a toothbrush. That means she was bombarded with hundreds of Facebook friend requests from strangers. She was a hot trending topic on Twitter.

“I was on the phone watching it and on my laptop and on my phone, and I just couldn’t keep up,” Ja’Bria said. “Unbelievable. We had people at the house, coming by, until all hours.”

And the phone at her home just about blew up.

“We had to shut it all down, everybody was calling,” said her mother, Keesha Hargrave. “The whole world seemed like they were watching.”

Tens of millions at home saw Ja’Bria singing. The country saw Ja’Bria woofing with superstars Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj without nervousness or any hint of fear.

And everybody sure saw Ja’Bria “frog-giggin’ ” in a pond near her rural Clover home in northwestern York County.

Then eating those frog legs, after frying them up.

“Tastes like chicken,” she told the world.

By Thursday morning at Clover High, Ja’Bria’s life had been transformed. Her first class watched the clips again online, and the whole school was buzzing over it. Teachers and everybody wanted hugs and to give congratulations.

She gave interviews about how she was “nervous at first,” starting with the summer auditions at a huge casting call at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, through more rounds, then finally turning those nerves during Wednesday’s episode – taped in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway in front of star judges – into sheer power.

“I just joked with them and hugged them,” Ja'Bria said of superstars Mariah Carey and the rest.

Ja’Bria has been singing since she was old enough to talk, often at Mount Harmony United Methodist Church in even more rural Bowling Green, north of Clover.

Her mother at first didn’t want her daughter on “Idol,” because Ja’Bria was just 16 during auditions. She relented, because parents have to nurture their children’s’ dreams.

“She was singing, ‘Yes, Jesus Loves Me,’ from the time she could talk,” said her mother.

Ja’Bria explained how for her audition, she sang Carrie Underwood her first audition, moved to “Tell Me Somethin’ Good,” then threw in Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” before “Pride and Joy.”

Ja’Bria talked about the “awesome experience” of being on “Idol,” and how, because of contractual secrecies imposed by the show, she can’t say much else. She can’t say how much further she went in the show, or when she will be on again.

She did offer advice to any other teen who would seek a shot at stardom and a record contract: “If you get the opportunity, chase your dreams.”

Despite her overnight fame, by noon Thursday Ja’Bria was at chorus practice with her fellow Clover Choraliers, a face in the crowd of more than a hundred kids who tried hard not to stare and scream and shout as chorus director Jay Forrest ran them through practice and class.

The Choraliers are an award-winning juggernaut – state champions eight times in 10 years.

Ja’Bria is a soloist in the chorus, and she sure stands out whether she tries to hide or not.

Especially Thursday.

Forrest, proud teacher that he is, ducked out of class to describe Ja’Bria as “a humble, wonderful student who has amazing talent.”

“She has a special talent; she is a natural,” he said. “I can’t teach what she has. We all are so proud of her. She is our star today.”

Forrest closed the class door and then told the kids, bottled up for an hour, that they could now scream. And scream they did – loud.

One of Ja’Bria’s best friends, Brittney Coonrod, said that every kid at Clover is thrilled that Ja’Bria was on the show and that she advanced.

“I screamed when the show was on, and then this morning in my first class, we watched it again and everybody was so proud to know a real star,” Brittney said. “She is so nice, such a good person. She deserves it.”

Ja’Bria is now a singing TV sensation.

“Idol” Judge Randy Jackson described her as having “crazy swagger” and “spunk” – but it was her talk of frog-gigging that turned her from being just another successful contestant into a television and Internet phenomenon.

Carey called Ja’Bria “adorable,” saying she would give her a pass on “that frog thing” because of her talent.

All the judges were gape-jawed, bewildered and enthralled all at the same time at the frog-gigging that is, apparently, part of teenaged free time in Clover.

Her friend Brittney was there when “Idol” taped the frog hunt, capture, cleaning and cooking.

“Frogs. Us. Hunting frogs,” Brittney laughed.

Ja’Bria said she is a country girl who does country things, and catching frogs is a rare, but not unheard-of country-girl thing to do.

“Yes, we sure did go frog-gigging,” Ja’Bria admitted. “I’m not even good at it.”

And when Ja’Bria left chorus class Thursday, a newly minted star, she saw a sign her classmates had put up outside the room:

“Congratulations, Frog Killah!”

VIDEO BELOW

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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