Brooke White's friends say she never had pop-princess fantasies as a little girl. She never saw herself crooning soulful melodies to a packed house.
The "American Idol" contestant never imagined herself on stage - period.
Her dreams took place behind a chair.
"She's probably the most successful beauty-school dropout," said Heather Harris-Torriente, who enrolled in beauty classes with White at age 16 and remains one of her closest friends.
But performing wasn't always natural for her.
As a sophomore, White was too nervous to audition for Heritage Academy's production of "Meet Me in St. Louis." Heather Harris-Torriente, a hair dresser and still one of White's closest friends, said it took a handful of friends and the choir teacher at the charter school to get White to try out.
"She went and auditioned and got the lead role. We were mere background people. We didn't even get parts," Harris-Torriente said, laughing. "That's when she really found confidence in performing and really working and gaining in it."
Now, the 24-year-old, sweet-tempered blonde has her biggest lead role yet as one of 11 finalists braving the weekly pressures of the Fox TV competition. Besides her vocal talent, White has also shown deft hands with instruments. Last week, Simon Cowell called her interpretation of the Beatles' "Let It Be" on the piano one of the best performances of the night.
Raised in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, White and her three younger siblings were brought up with high moral standards by parents Brad and Kaylene, friends and former teachers say. Drama teacher Gary Helmbold directed White in the school musical and recalls having to break the news to her of a kissing scene.
"When I first talked to her about it, she said 'Oh, but Mr. Helmbold, I've never kissed anyone before except my Mom and Dad."' Helmbold said. "We handled it very gingerly."
Although a high school musical can be a breeding ground for catty behavior, Helmbold said White could not have been more gracious.
"Often times, the lead separates themselves from the rest of the cast," Helmbold said. "She was everybody's friend. She was always the first to arrive and the last to leave."
About four years ago, White went to study voice at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, Harris-Torriente said. She has lived there since with her husband, Dave. In 2005, she released an album independently. When "Idol" began, White was working as a nanny to twin baby girls.
For students at her old high school, it's been refreshing to see a hometown girl make it big without compromising herself.
"Seeing people on TV, you think you can't do that. It's a totally different world," said Chiara Spence, 17. "She shows you can do anything that you set your mind to."
Every Tuesday, Rick Dalton, White's former history teacher, who first taught her to play the guitar, reminds all his students to watch the show and vote for White. He even uses her performances as material for giveaway extra credit questions.
"If anybody deserves it, it's her," said Dalton, his voice breaking with emotion. "Whatever she gets, she'll use it to bless others."
Friends say nobody is better prepared than White to handle the ensuing celebrity that comes with a juggernaut like "American Idol." Harris-Torriente said it's always been about the music, not the fame.
"She could sing in front of two people at the piano or 2 million, it wouldn't make a difference," Harris-Torriente said. "I think she's generally humbled by the whole experience. I don't think she needs recognition to feel good about herself."
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