Off-Grid girl on American Idol

Move aside Taylor Swift - new kid on the Hollywood block trains horses and lives in mountain straw bale home
Aw Shucks charm and Hollywood beckons
All the way from a remote mountaintop 6 miles from Crawford CO, Jeneve Rose Mitchell didn’t think she was ready to take her small-town voice to the biggest of stages, but the final season of “American Idol”has made the 15-year-old a national face.

Jeneve has lived for the past eight years in a straw bale home with no running water or electricity.

“We can’t get power lines up there,” she tells the TV audience, “so we use kerosene lanterns. Twice a week, during ‘American Idol’ season, we turn on a generator to get the TV going.”

Jeneve’s quiet corner of elk wilderness where she spends much of her free time training horses and playing music, is “definitely lonely sometimes,” she admits.

“Me and my mom and my dad pretty much fend for ourselves on our ranch. Sometimes we go (back)packing. We are big campers.”

Her mother, Jenny, is a heath care provider and operates a local family clinic. Jeneve’s father — who also serves as her vocal coach — is a carpenter. He built the family’s home by hand using straw bales and mud from the mountainside.

With a cello draped across her body — you’ll have to see it to believe it — Mitchell stood out in a crowd of nearly 10,000 this fall in Denver and was selected to play in front of “American Idol” judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.

Not only did Mitchell secure a spot in front of the trio of musical stars, she’s also likely to appear in the premiere episode of the 15th and final season of “American Idol” airing Wednesday, Jan. 6, on Fox. The second night of the premiere airs on Thursday, Jan. 7.

In advance of the premiere, Mitchell spoke in a telephone interview about her decision to audition for the show, her musical background in Crawford and the rather unorthodox way she grew up watching “American Idol.”

Melinda Mawdsley: Thank you so much for your time. This is the final season of “American Idol.” I’m guessing that helped push you into an audition.

Jeneve Rose Mitchell: Yeah. I’ve always wanted to try out for “American Idol” but was going to when I was older and more polished, but since this was the last season, I decided to just go for it. I pretty much grew up watching “American Idol.” We turned on the generator up here just to watch “American Idol.” Otherwise, we don’t have power up here.

Mawdsley: Um, what? Where do you live?

Mitchell: I was born in Las Vegas and lived there until I was 7. My parents bought a bunch of property on a mountain near Crawford five years before I was born. My dad grew up near here. When I was 7 we moved here. When we moved here my mom had my dad build her a clinic.

Mawdsley: Is your mom in health care?

Mitchell: Yes, a primary care provider (at Needlerock Family Health Clinic.) There’s a lot of ranches around here and people get hurt a lot. (Jeneve Rose’s mother Jenny Mitchell is a family nurse practitioner and was nominated for the National Rural Health Practitioner of the year award in 2011, according to needlerockfamily.com.)

Mawdsley: Does your family ranch, too?

Mitchell: We have a ranch thing going on, mainly horse training.

Mawdsley: So you grew up singing around Crawford?

Mitchell: I got gigs around like at festivals or birthday parties, but nothing big at all. I was trying to advance in my career so I did some performances for my mom’s health clinic and did benefit concerts and raised about $15,000 for my mom’s health clinic.

Mawdsley: But you’ve never auditioned in front of a national audience before?

Mitchell: This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this.

Mawdsley: Tell me more about the audition process. How many stages did you have to go to before appearing before the three judges?

Mitchell: Some people go through a cattle call, which is a couple months before you actually go to see the judges. Some people have their first audition through Skype or video. I did the cattle call. I went to a giant place and played for people one by one in Denver. That was July, maybe. I had to go through about four auditions in the cattle call spread out over two days. I sang different songs each time, but that was not required. I thought if the producers heard a couple different songs they would think that was cool.

Mawdsley: What did you sing?

Mitchell: For the first couple of auditions I sang “Chainsaw” by the The Band Perry. Then I sang “Boondocks” by Little Big Town.

Mawdsley: So you’re a country singer.

Mitchell: Yeah, but I change up my style a lot. … I was playing in front of producers, and they decided right there whether I was going to go on and see the judges. One of the producers said, “You are going to see the three famous judges.” I knew that it was going to go well, but I was just excited to be there.

Mawdsley: When did you audition before the judges?

Mitchell: It was in Denver in September.

Mawdsley: Obviously, people want to know, how were the judges?

Mitchell: Before I went to see the judges, I was really nervous. As I walked in there, they really were nice and they greeted me with a smile as I stepped in front of them and were really welcoming. They had a lot of good critiques, and I feel like they improved my musicianship just by going in front of them.

Mawdsley: Obviously, you can’t go into much detail about how the audition went, but how long were you in front of them?

Mitchell: I was in front of them, it felt like a long time. I actually did about three quarters of a song and three quarters of another song.

Mawdsley: How many times did you rehearse in front of the mirror before that audition?

Mitchell: I don’t really rehearse in front of the mirror, but I do a lot of practicing every day. I just practice at home. My dad is my vocal coach. I taught myself all the instruments I’ve learned. The more time I spend with them, the better I get.

Mawdsley: What do you play?

Mitchell: I play the strings: string bass, violin, cello, banjo, guitar and harp.

Mawdsley: You taught yourself all those instruments? Did you take one with you?

Mitchell: Yes. I took the cello to my audition. It was a blast. My dad made a strap so I can wear the cello like a guitar with a technique called chopping. It’s really groovy. It’s really hard to explain.

Mawdsley: I bet the judges hadn’t seen that before. Did you do special things with your voice in preparation, like really avoid sick people? Drink lots of water? Stop talking?

Mitchell: My voice, and I don’t know why, doesn’t tire out as easy as other people’s voices I see. Instead of stop talking, I try to talk smoothly. I drink lots of water, tea, chew on ginger. I really just tried to be routine, do warm-ups all the time, as much as I could. That’s pretty much it.

Mawdsley: Through all those years of firing up the generator to watch “American Idol” what stands out to you about the show? Why do you love it?

Mitchell: I really love that the judges in the past have always tried to support the contestants as much as they could and help them grow. People who have no background (in performance) but have a talent can have a chance to show it.

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