APU's “American Idol” Contestant Jessica Cabral Shines

by Rachel White

Azusa Pacific University senior Jessica Cabral describes the moment that Jennifer Lopez reached across the “American Idol” judges’ table and handed her a golden ticket as an out-of-body experience. “It was truly unbelievable. I was in shock,” Cabral said. “It felt like everything in my life led me to that moment.”

A fan of the show since childhood, Cabral faithfully watched each season drawn to the talented performers who shared her God-given gift for singing. For Cabral, music is woven into the fabric of her DNA passed down through generations of professional, classically trained vocalists. Her large family moved from Brazil to America when Cabral’s mother was five months pregnant with her, and like a Brazilian version of the von Trapps, their a cappella choral group, comprised of her parents, siblings, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, performed at churches across the United States.

“I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. I’ve never known anything different,” she said. By 7, Cabral, with microphone in hand, took the lead on stage singing with a 200-member choir as backup. At 12, she found herself in studio recording a gospel song, her rich, velvety voice sounding much older than her years. Thrust into the spotlight at such a young age caused internal conflict for Cabral who often felt she didn’t have a choice. That coupled with heightened attention came unwanted consequences, including rejection and criticism by some of her peers.

“I had a love-hate relationship with music,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t run away from it entirely, but I wasn’t sure I wanted my identity so wrapped up in my singing.”

Cabral credits her decision to attend APU as transformative, where God revealed His plans for her life. “Initially, I felt God wanted to grow me in a different area, so I took my focus off music for awhile and became a Christian ministry major.” That space enabled Cabral to realize her true identity came not from her talent, but rather from her relationship with Christ. She grew attentive to His call and followed in obedience. Securely anchored in her faith, Cabral joined University Choir and Orchestra (UCO), APU’s Gospel Choir, and the gospel chapel band. She also began serving as both a high school ministry director and worship leader at Bethany Church in West Covina.

With life falling into place, Cabral decided to audition with her boyfriend, Jonathan Llizaliturri ’15 for “America’s Got Talent.” While their musical act didn’t make it through, Cabral received a surprise call a few months later from one of the show’s producers who also produced “American Idol,” asking her to audition for its 15,th, and final season.

Cabral seized the unexpected opportunity and traveled to San Francisco for the West Coast auditions, where after performing a moving rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Brand New Me,” Keith Urban, Harry Connick, Jr., and Lopez praised her vocal ability and sent her through to Hollywood Week. Amid the grueling practices and intense pressures that followed, Cabral found herself in good company.

Fellow APU student, chapel worship leader, and UCO member Melanie Tierce, had wowed judges with her audition song “Rise Up.” The two friends connected over coffee to discuss their “American Idol” experience. “Sharing this journey with Melanie makes it even more special. When people hear her sing, they see her faith on display. She radiates Christ.”

Cabral said that being one of two “American Idol” contestants selected from Azusa Pacific this season affirms the caliber of not only APU’s School of Music, but also the university as a whole. “APU has shaped me in every way, from faculty and mentors who pour into my life offering support and guidance, to the friendships I’ve formed with other students who demonstrate what it means to love others and love the Lord,” she said. A vital component of Cabral’s success stems from the relationships she has forged with alumni. “APU’s vast network of successful music industry professionals serves as a major resource for current students. My APU connections helped me get my foot in the door, which includes an opportunity to sing with Grammy-Award-winning Christian recording artist Israel Houghton,” she said.

As for “American Idol,” Cabral views the show as a platform for her to share her faith and music with the world. “God has called me to shine His light. I’m excited to see how His story for my life unfolds.”

Rachel White is the associate director of public relations in the Office of University Relations at APU. rewhite@apu.edu