PLATTSBURGH- Though there's been a media blackout surrounding Plattsburgh resident and Rome native Benjamin Bright going to Hollywood to be on American Idol, his fans and friends back home are singing his praises.
Bright was featured on the Jan. 12 season premiere of Fox's American Idol where he auditioned for the panel of celebrity judges singing a rendition of The Beatles "All My Loving." The infamous Simon Cowell and the rest of the panel gave Bright the thumbs up to move on to the next round in California, and the excitement back home has only grown from there.
Diane Fox, principal of Cumberland Head Elementary School, where Bright teaches general music to grades K-5, said there's been an energy in the school since everyone learned Bright was going to be on the critically-acclaimed show.
"Everybody's talking about it. It's filling our halls. The kids, the teachers," said Fox. "We're all excited."
When Bright began teaching at the school nearly two years ago, Fox said she was impressed with both his talent and his initiative.
"He took the initiative to start our third-grade chorus. We only had a combined fourth-grade/fifth-grade chorus before," explained Fox.
Now, the school's chorus participation level is "off the charts," said Fox.
"We have over 50 percent of our third-graders - probably closer to 75 percent of them participate," said Fox. "It's great because it allows our kids to have an additional opportunity to enjoy the choral experience."
Fox said though she was surprised to learn Bright was going to be on American Idol, she wasn't surprised of the level of talent he has that got him there.
"I think we've all known he's really, really good," she said. ""There's no question - his love of music just pours out of him."
Matt Spiegel, owner of Olive Ridley's, where Bright performs on a regular basis, said he, too, isn't surprised by Bright's level of talent.
"Ben's been playing for us regularly since last summer and every Friday night he just wows the crowd," he said.
Bright's reputation for being a "modest entertainer" who plays to entertain rather than to get his name out there is what makes him star material, said Spiegel.
"He's there because of his great talent," said Spiegel. "He deserves this. He's just a good guy."
Courtenay Whitney has known Bright since early last year when she first heard him perform at Irises Caf and Wine Bar, another venue where Bright is regularly seen. She and Bright became friends and even before he was Hollywood-bound, Whitney has been one of his biggest supporters, she said.
"I'm not surprised that he made it, only because of the fact I know he is really talented," said Whitney. "And, not only is he talented, he's incredibly charismatic."
Whitney said she knew if Bright didn't completely win over the judges when he auditioned, what would put him over the top was his personality.
"He's a people person," she said.
Both Whitney's and Spiegel's daughters also attend Cumberland Head Elementary and they're also excited for the man they know as "Mr. Bright."
"The excitement was running high in my house," Spiegel said of the night Bright first appeared on television. "She was excited to stay up past her bedtime and check him out."
"She was really excited," Whitney said of her daughter. "I told her this is really big. Now, there's millions of people who get a chance to see him and what he can do."
Fox concurred, saying the spotlight on Bright is an opportunity for his students to see "it's cool to like music and for them to see it pays to follow your dreams."
"The students love him; they just flock to him," said Fox. "He puts a real energy into his class whether he's leading a song, teaching a concept or dancing silly for the students - he really meets them at their level no matter what age they are."
Bright is now currently filming in Hollywood, but, due to contractual obligations, isn't allowed to discuss his experience until filming is complete. "The Road to Hollywood," the show which is next expected to feature Bright, is scheduled to air Wednesday, Feb. 3, on Fox.