Living a dream with an ‘American Idol’

While working out in a Washington, D.C. hotel gym, junior Jamie Lee Strenchock overheard a man on the phone and realized it was American Idol winner Clay Aiken’s personal assistant. Mustering up as much courage

While working out in a Washington, D.C. hotel gym, junior Jamie Lee Strenchock overheard a man on the phone and realized it was American Idol winner Clay Aiken’s personal assistant.

Mustering up as much courage as she could (not to mention wiping the sweat off her face), she introduced herself and gave him her demo CD.

He loved it and two months later, the aspiring singer and songwriter received a call saying he wanted her to do a duet with Aiken on his summer tour.

Thanks to her impromptu meeting with Aiken’s assistant, Strenchock sang on stage with Aiken when she was only 19 years old. It was during his summer 2004 tour and she was in a state of disbelief – but she sure was enjoying it.

A broadcast telecommunications and mass media major, Strenchock has already begun her long journey in the music industry with a manager, image consultant, three original recorded songs and a professional concert venue already under her belt.

This summer she’ll record two more original songs and then she’s off to New York City to try and get a record deal. These are big times for a young woman who is a full-time college student.

In high school, Strenchock said that she did just about everything. But come senior year, Strenchock knew she had to pick a direction.

“I loved singing. There was something about performing and living in the spotlight that made me feel unlike anything else I ever had in my life,” Strenchock said. “School couldn’t cut it – nothing could cut it.”

So she recorded a five song demo CD on her own. Among the songs were “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees.

Her big break was that fateful day in D.C. when she haphazardly met Clay Aiken’s personal assistant. The venue where Aiken performed held 10,000 people. Strenchock took the stage, chatted with Aiken for a few minutes and then performed the duet. After the show, people ran up to her asking when her album was set for release, requesting autographs and photos with her.

Backstage, she was given the intense responsibility of taking Aiken’s dog Raleigh for a walk. She also got to chat with the former Idol star.

“A lot of people think he’s gay; he’s not.” Strenchock said. “He comes from the South – he’s a southern gentleman. Kinda corny.”

When Strenchock went to sleep that night, she felt it was the best day of her life. “I thought to myself, ‘How I feel in this moment, I want to feel for the rest of my life,'” Strenchock said. “That day discredited any insecurity I ever had.”

When she began her college career at Temple, Strenchock didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the opportunities available for aspiring artists in the city. She began going to any audition she could find and rehearsing her music with local bands.

Her hard work paid off, eventually getting a job as a backup vocalist for the J.Hill Experience. In November 2004, she opened with J.Hill for John Legend (then an up-and-coming artist) at a University of Delaware concert.

“Before he blew up, we were kicking it with him in Delaware,” she said.

Artists like Legend and Aiken inspire Strenchock to strive for quality in her music. She writes the lyrics and composes the music to all her songs. She says that the task comes naturally to her and with a small background in piano lessons and music theory courses, it’s provided her with enough knowledge to produce.

“You don’t know what it means to feel your own music,” she said. “Besides, it saves the record company money, because they don’t need to hire a songwriter for you. It gives you more credibility as an artist.”

As if the pressure of an impending deal-making stint in New York City wasn’t enough, Strenchock has a full course load on her plate, as well as a thoroughly demanding internship at mtvU.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Strenchock makes the long, expensive train ride to New York City to work as a production assistant. There she helps producers write scripts, shoot shows such as 15 Minutes With … and edit footage.

“I thought I knew what busy meant last year, but I had no idea,” Strenchock said. “But it’s my choice.”

Yes, she has given producers at mtvU her demo and it has been met with great excitement. Strenchock is grateful for the chance to work at mtvU because it’s given her the opportunity to see the inner workings of an industry that she hopes one day will be reporting on her latest album release.

“I was raised to value education,” she said. “But if Sony Records came knocking at my door, I’d say, ‘See ya, Temple.’ It comes down to taking risks. If not now, when?”

So this summer, it’s off to New York City to try to land a record deal. And if New York doesn’t work out, Strenchock said she might just pitch a tent in the city and try out for the next season of American Idol. And with Aiken as a friend in the industry, she’s sure to succeed, whether she wins Idol or not.

Jesse North can be reached at

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