When it comes to local talent, his name is pretty popular.
A large number of people know who Jared Keim is. He's the young, aspiring singer with the smooth, contemporary-pop voice you hear at many live music events in the area.
"It probably all started at church. There was one particular guy on stage that played guitar and he was super cool and I wanted to be just like him. I'd sit back in my seat and air guitar and whatnot while he was playing. I just always wanted to do music," the 19-year-old Palmyra High School grad said. "I begged my parents for a guitar for years, finally they got me one for my birthday. I was 10. They pulled it out and set it on the ground after I opened all the things that I wanted, turned around and there it was. I started screaming and running around in circles. I was very excited."
His family didn't miss the moment either, they captured the whole moment on video. It's no surprise though. The Keim family home is decorated with a plethora of pictures of Jared and his siblings over the years.
Keim grew up in rural Hannibal, right on the borderline of the Palmyra and Hannibal school districts. His ambitions of playing the guitar were tough to handle at times, but the youngster battled through the struggles.
"It was tough. I quit a couple times. Right off the bat my mom kept making me go back and do it again. I learned from my uncle for a little bit, he's played guitar his whole life. From there I really kind of taught myself," Keim said. "Your fingers, they're not made (to play guitar), and right when you start playing stuff. You'll know where you'll want to go, but your finger just won't go there. You get that mental frustration, you get calluses and whatnot."
His left hand already suffers from carpel tunnel, but that doesn't matter, he's battling through that just like he did when it came to learning the guitar.
For a while Keim's music path was a steady trail. He was playing here and there, getting noticed and just attending school. Yet when the announcement came last year that American Idol, the hit reality music show, was coming to St. Louis for auditions, Keim's aspirations turned into determination.
"I probably didn't have that drive with go big or go home with it until the whole American Idol thing," he said. "I did a lot of school plays, I played in the band at church, but I never really had that drive to just go for it. Didn't really click in my mind that it was something that was an option."
Different from TV
Keim went through the pre-audition process in Quincy, Ill. The Fox affiliate WGEM was sending the winner to the front of the line in St. Louis. Keim won and went to the Gateway City without the worries of having to wait in line for days and hours.
Page 2 of 6 - But what appears to be a one-day process on television when the show airs, is actually drawn out over months.
"It's much different," Keim said. "The first round they call 'cattle call because it basically looks like cattle. Everyone's just being ran around every different direction, they're filling the stadium with all these people."
Contestants are sent into booths with two judges per booth. These are not the celebrity judges, these are random people working for the show.
"Four people go in and they say, 'Step forward. Sing. Step forward. Sing'. At the end they're like you go this way, all of you go this way," Keim said. "Obviously one way's good, one way is bad."
That's pretty much what those thousands of hopefuls for the Idol limelight go through after waiting and waiting. Some are just sent home, others are invited back.
Keim got the call back and was told to be the St. Louis Ballpark Hilton in two months with a number of others who got the same good news. That process also begins with unknown judges in a hotel room giving you a yes or no.
"If you get a yes on that same day you just follow the hallway down and you go in and you sing for the producers; which is like Ken (Warwick), Nigel (Lythegoe), those people. The people whose names you see on TV. When you're there they don't even look at you, they look over because (that's the first time you're being recorded)," Keim said. "That round is strictly to see what you look like on TV. If you don't look good on TV, you don't make it."
A couple months after that is when you go back and actually sing for the celebrity judges' panel; clearly putting truth to the long process often discussed when contestants say they have "come this far."
The third trip to St. Louis was the big one.
This is the trip that lead to a shot at American Idol's golden ticket to the next round of auditions in Hollywood.
"Honestly, having been through all of that up to that point, I wasn't even nervous anymore. I was more nervous standing right behind the stage than I was standing in front of them. I felt like I was looking at a TV screen," Keim said. "I thought it'd be like them pulling an act, but they were genuine people. Randy (Jackson) was cool. J-LO (Jennifer Lopez) she was pretty cool, she was real nice. Steven (Tyler) was (Jared mimics) 'hmm, hmm.' That's all he does. Ryan (Seacrest) if anybody was pulling kind of a show, it'd be Ryan, but he was a cool guy."
Of course there was that one awkward moment when Keim went in for his big audition.
Page 3 of 6 - "The only point that I got nervous, they had a little blue 'X' that you're supposed to walk to right when you came out so you're positioned in front of the camera right," he said. "I'm part color blind and the floor was blue with a blue 'X' on it. I was like where's the 'X', I can't see the 'X'."
Keim was aired in a montage of singers bursting out the door with the golden ticket that takes them to the next round in Los Angeles. But even that is a different experience in person. It's not just outside the audition room as it may seem.
"It was an interesting walk. You go into a conference room, it's split down the middle, you walk in and then you wait. And when you go out there's a set there right in front of the windows with the judges, then you go back out and there's just a wall and you go to the other side of the wall to come out the other set of doors. It was really hard not to scream going down that set because that's where the camera was when you're supposed to swing the door open and (get excited)," Keim said. "It's pretty emotional. Outside of that door, it's not just Ryan and your family. It's all families waiting for their person to come out, and it's all the other contestants that are waiting to go in. You got a big set there. I can understand how it can be super emotional because you've been put through a six-month process here where you pretty much put work on hold, you've put everything else on hold. They would call on Wednesday and tell you be there Friday."
American Idol paid to have their golden ticket winners flown to Los Angeles. Parents of minors were also flown out, but Keim turned 18 between his auditions in St. Louis and the Hollywood round. His mom had to foot the bill for her own ticket, however, that was going to happen regardless. A close family like the Keims wouldn't want Jared going through this journey alone.
"The first day you go in, you just meet everybody, all the contestants and everything which is really cool," Keim said. "You're in this room with all these people and you're like, 'One of these people is going to win.' It was pretty cool.'
Most of the time there's an appreciation for one another. The other contestants meet, wish each other luck and appear to be on each others' side. But Keim said that's not the case. It's a competitive atmosphere.
Keim recalls a moment with Colton Dixon - contestant who got far and gained popularity with many girls last season.
"When people go to try to sit by him at tables he would get up and move to his own table," Keim said. "One of my friends went over to sit by him because he had some stuff on YouTube and went to sit by him and say hey. He just grabbed his stuff and walked up and went to a different table."
Page 4 of 6 - When the competition of Hollywood week begins, it too is very organized into a two-day event.
"You go through these lines, they tell you if you're day one or day two," Keim said. "They give you this tag that has two numbers on it. The first number is what row you're in, the second is what number you are. I was day two, row 15, number three or four. There's only two days, there's only 15 rows in the second day. I was in the very last group to go out of all of them. The first day was all anticipation, they told us to just hang out, but it was raining outside and so we all just had to stay inside."
The Hollywood auditions are shown to be stressful and nerve-wracking on television, though rules set in by the people at American Idol is what may have contributed to some of the personal drama that unfolds over the airwaves.
"The second day, once we were in there, you couldn't leave. You couldn't go to the bathroom unless they told you that you could, which they usually didn't. You couldn't get water, that's why you saw a lot of people passing out," Keim said. "They said it was from all the stress and stuff, no. It was intense.
"I ended up getting done at about 10 o'clock that night, we were in there since 8 o'clock that morning. It was just, 'Step forward, step back, step forward, step back.' Everybody sang. The thing about Hollywood that's different from St. Louis or where ever you go like that is they don't give you any feedback. They just say you're staying, you're leaving. You don't know what you did wrong, you don't know what you did right."
Once again Keim got to go further.
All the remaining contestants were grouped together for a meeting that lasted from midnight till 1:30 in the morning. They discussed group day and all the rules it entails.
This is when television and reality are one in the same. When there's difficulty with a group member or just fatigue from no sleep, it's no lie.
"There was no sleep. We were doing it all night in a building across the street. Everybody was looking in windows trying to see what they looked like. They put snacks in there, so we got some water and some snacks, but it was still — it was rough," Keim said. "You could tell who really wanted it and who didn't want it. There were people in groups that were people who were like, 'I just want to go to sleep.' It was a long night."
Each group had to have a song memorized with choreography by 6 a.m.
"When I do shows and stuff or gigs, I always play by myself, but I mean I'm used to playing with other people, just not singing groups. I'm used to having my guitar," Keim said. "I started singing a line into my part, well I get to where the chord should change and the chord didn't change. I was doing something wrong and blacked-out. I couldn't tell you what I sang after that. My mom was like, 'Well, you sang something'."
Page 5 of 6 - Keim and his group members were eliminated by the judges following their group audition. He had a feeling it was going to happen.
"It was a lot of pressure. You kind of had to roll with the punches with what you were given, especially with the groups because all day long there was probably three decent groups. There was one really good one, there was probably about three other decent ones. All day long, people were forgetting words, forgetting choreography, passing out, falling off the stage and stuff. You just kind of had to roll with it," he said. "I remember looking up because my mom was in the balcony, and I remember after our slaughter of the group round, I kind of looked up at her and saw her and shook my head."
Since his time on American Idol, Keim's popularity has grown. He's getting more gigs and more opportunities to perform.
During his time in Los Angeles, he got to meet eventual American Idol winner Phillip Phillips and runners-up Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet.
"The biggest thing was I didn't really go — and it may sound bad — I didn't go to win. This was just kind of to prove something to myself. I know that I've got talent obviously, but I didn't really know what I could do with it and know where I could go with it," Keim said. "What bummed me out the most as I was walking out, I wasn't thinking about me, I wasn't thinking about the six months I just wasted. I was thinking there's so many people at home writing on my Facebook, 'You're going to win,' so many people saying, 'You can do it,' 'You're the best,' kind of stuff. And the hardest part was going home knowing that I didn't make it, but still not being able to tell people until it showed on TV."
Keim was bound by a $5 million fine if word got out before the show that he was eliminated, so it wasn't hard to keep quiet.
Is American Idol in his future?
"I told myself I would (try again), I still think I might, maybe in the future. I just don't really know how the future of American Idol's looking with the new people that are on there," he said. "It appears more like a show instead of them actually looking for something real."
Keim is under contract with American Idol until May, after that he's free to venture out and try other things. The world may see his name in lights one day, but until then, he's just going to take his time.
"Maybe, I don't know. God willing, I'd love to play for hundreds of thousands of people. I'd love to have shows and tour the world and do what I love to do," he said. "But if that's not my plan is or if that's not what God's plan is for me, then I'll be content with just playing weekend shows. I'll be content with just living somewhere I can do music when I'm able to."
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