Janelle Arthur sounds a little tired over the phone.
“We have not gotten to the point of being really exhausted, just really tired,” says Arthur.
She is nearing the midway point of the “American Idols LIVE!” tour. The Oliver Springs native came in fifth in the 12th season of “American Idol” earlier this year. On the show, Arthur was known for her affability and lack of histrionics — both as a person and a performer.
Arthur says she’s playing in front of larger crowds than she did on “American Idol,” but she was always aware of how many more people she was playing in front of when she was on television. However, there’s something different about these crowds.
“These are the people who were really rooting for us,” says Arthur.
Janelle Arthur: 'You Keep Me Hangin' On'
Those weren’t the people she was always around before she became part of “American Idol.” Arthur started singing at a young age, and at 8 she landed the role of Dolly Parton (as a girl) in a production at Dollywood. She later performed regularly at the Country Tonite Theatre in Pigeon Forge. At school in Oliver Springs, though, Arthur says she was regularly subjected to bullying.
“That all started once I started singing,” she says. “I was in a very, very small town doing something that wasn’t cheerleading and wasn’t basketball or sports. It wasn’t anything like anyone was really doing. I was in the second grade and it gradually got worse and worse. ... And a lot of times kids would say things that you knew wasn’t coming from a child. It was something they’d heard their parents say.”
Arthur says as she got older, things got worse. She says it’s hard for girls in general to fit in and friends turn their backs on each other, but it was particularly bad to be a girl who was singled out.
“It was hard for me, because every day I didn’t know if I was going to get punched out or be attacked in the bathrooms or the hallways. ... You see in a movie, the kids who are bullied are like rejects or whatever. You have this stereotype. But people need to realize it’s just kids who are a little different and different is not a bad thing.”
Arthur’s difference led her to try out for “American Idol” twice, making it a little further each time. It was only through the encouragement of her family and friends that she tried out a third time and went into the final rounds.
“They kept saying, ‘You’ll make it this time!’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t think so.’ So I have to thank them.”
"Done" by The Band Perry and Janelle Arthur
Arthur performed on the “American Idol” World Tour in 2012 (with performances from the Netherlands to Kuwait) after she was eliminated in the Las Vegas rounds of the show in Season 11, so she says little about this tour has been a surprise.
What she says is a little surprising is meeting fans.
“You realize you have fans, but you don’t realize how much you’ve touched and impacted them.”
She was particularly touched when a blind fan who had bought the VIP pass to meet the performers singled Arthur out as the performer he wanted to have a photo taken with.
“I knew I had touched him just through my music,” says Arthur. “He couldn’t see what I looked like or anything else.”
Arthur says many opportunities have come her way. She hopes to record an album and she’d like to pursue acting. She’ll return to Dollywood, the site of her acting debut, in September as part of the Great American Country concert series.
“It’s in the same theater where I was performing as Dolly,” says Arthur.
She’ll also perform in Maryville in October as part of the Foothills Fall Festival.
Recently, she fulfilled a dream by performing at the Grand Ole Opry.
“My ultimate dream was to play the Opry,” says Arthur. “When I was asked by the general manager I just cried. I couldn’t even fathom that I was going to play on that stage!”
Video: Watch Janelle Arthur's "You May Be Right"
Arthur says she always felt like she was a representative of East Tennessee and a person of faith no matter where she’s been.
“My grandpa was an elder in the church for, like, 20 years. I went to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday night. It was a very important thing to us, and faith was what we were all about. It was so about God and not being judgmental, not judging people and showing love to any type of person. That’s how I was raised. Sometimes you can be raised to be closed-minded to things and people, and that’s definitely not how I’ve been raised. I’ve been raised to love with a Christian love.”
American Idol LIVE! 2013
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena
Tickets: $66, $46 and $33.50, available at Knoxville Tickets outlets, 865-656-4444 and www.knoxvilletickets.com
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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