By Sally Tippett Rains
UPDATE: Sunday night April 26 is the first public vogte on American Idol 2020. They will narrow the field down from 20 to 10, so now is the time to watch and get your vote in.
CLICK HERE for American Idol website to find out how to vote.
Here are the top 20:
The ‘American Idol’ Top 20 List
- Nick Merico, age 24 from St. Louis, Missouri
- Aliana Jester, age 19 from Tampa, Florida
- Arthur Gunn, age 22 from Nepal and now in Witchita, Kansas
- Cyniah Elise, age 18 from Atlanta, Georgia
- DeWayne Crocker Jr. age 21 from Pensecola, Florida
- Dillon James, age 27 from Bakersfield, California
- Faith Becnel, age 20 Kenner, Louisiana
- Francisco Martin, age 19 from San Francisco, California
- Franklin Boone, age 28 from Durham, North Carolina
- Grace Leer, age 29 from San Francisco, California
- Jonny West, age 23 from Wildoma, California
- Jovin Webb, age 29 from Baton Rough, Louisiana
- Julia Gargano, age 22 from Staten Island, New York
- Just Sam, age 22 from New York City
- Kimmy Gabriela, age 18 from Queens, New York
- Lauren Spencer-Smith age 16 from Vancouver, Canada
- Louis Knight age 19 from London, England
- Makayla Phillips age 17 from Palm Desert, California
- Olivia Ximines, age 16 from Riverside, California
ORIGINAL ARTICLE – POSTED APRIL 13, 2020
Everyone has been so fixated on COVID-19 coverage that the local St. Louis media hasn’t given much attention to the fact that one of the Top 20 contestants on American Idol is originally from St. Louis and has family in the area.
The handsome standout, Nick Merico who wowed the crowd in Hawaii has ties to St. Louis and lived here as a child.
In 2019, he made it through to Hollywood and then withdrew for personal reasons. This year he is back and letting his voice speak for itself– and that voice is gaining him fans.
Merico gained a lot of attention starting when he was a contestant on Idol in 2019 and Katy Perry openly flirted with him. On one show she said, “Nick, you know you’re like, a handsome gentleman, correct? You’ve heard it once or twice?”
Nick Merico was born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield and lived nine years in St. Louis before the family moved to South Florida due to his dad, Fredy’s job, where he spent more time before moving to California his current home. Some media websites have his birthplace as Argentina, but it was actually his dad who was born there.
Cheryl and Fredy Merico along with Nick and his sister Alexa, who is two years older, lived in Manchester and Webster Groves until Nick was nine in 2004. He attended Pierremont Elementary in the Parkway School District until the third grade. Alexa is a fashion photographer in Miami, and according to Cheryl “is very creative and talented as well.”
“We still have connections to St. Louis with my brother and sister-in-law, cousins, nieces and nephews there, and we are Cardinals fans” said Cheryl. “We always came back to St Louis for family events and to visit Nick’s grandmother every year until she passed in 2009.”
“Nick played soccer for St Joe’s Catholic Church in Manchester for a couple of years before we moved,” said Cheryl Merico. “His Dad Fredy was the coach. He also was in Boy Scouts and played baseball for a couple seasons.”
Fredy Merico is now an entrepreneur, who owns a company in Pembroke Pines, Florida, about a half an hour from Miami.
Fredy and Cheryl flew to Hawaii for Nick’s performance and he dedicated a song to his mom.
The Mericos got a lot of screen time on Idol that night, and it was obvious how proud of him they are. Cheryl was interviewed on the show.
Nick’s aunt and uncle, Steve and Maria Rodgers O’Rourke (shown left) and their daughters –who live in St. Louis –are excited to watch Merico compete. Steve and Cheryl are brother and sister and their children are cousins who spent time together growing up.
“My sister Cheryl and her family lived in St. Louis until moving to Miami,” said O’Rourke. “Our mother, Doris O’Rourke had also lived in St. Louis after moving from Jefferson City when our father passed away; and we were all pretty close.
“Cheryl’s daughter Alexa and our daughter Abigail were born three months apart and grew up together, and were pretty close until they moved away.”
The photo shown right was taken at a family reunion in St. Louis in 2006 with his cousins: Jered O’Rourke, Nick, Casey O’Rourke, and Corey O’Rourke.
“Since he is my godson, he always held a special place in my heart, and I was particularly pleased when I discovered he had a gift for music,” said Steve O’Rourke.
“Nick started singing at the age of 10 when his teacher asked the class if anyone could sing the Star Spangled Banner,” Cheryl remembered. “Nick’s friend volunteered him and his teacher was so impressed, she made him sing for the music teacher.”
After that, he joined the chorus and did his first solo in front of an audience. The teacher recommended he get a vocal coach and that was the beginning of his singing career.
“Nick got into voice lessons, and I was particularly impressed with his pre-pubescent rendition of The Sound of Music when he was 10,” said O’Rourke.
Cheryl respects her brother’s ability to recognize talent.
“My brother Steve and my dad, Jack O’Rourke who passed away in 1999, both played the piano by ear and sing, so you could consider that Nick came from a musical family.”
O’Rourke remembers that rendition of The Sound of Music .
“While I could tell that he was incredibly nervous, his voice was spot-on in the performance,” he said. “As he got more experience, he slowly warmed up on stage, and when our family visited them in Miami in 2006, Fredy asked if I thought Nick was really good. Since I have an ear for music, I could tell him with absolute certainty that Nick has the gift.”
O’Rourke feels Nick inherited the musical talent from Jack– Nick’s grandfather– and is happy to see it carry into the next generation.
“I have certainly celebrated my gift for music in piano, choir and theater, and wondered if either of our daughters would be born with the same ability,” O’Rourke said. “So it was particularly exciting to see that clearly Nick also inherited his grandfather’s ability, along with his father’s good looks!”
When his grandmother Doris (Grandma Dodie, wife of Jack) passed away in 2009, the 12-year old Merico sang Josh Grobin’s Your Raise Me Up at her funeral, and drenched any remaining dry eyes. He later sang Ave Maria a cappella.
“That lifted every soul in the hushed mausoleum,” said his proud uncle. “Words can’t describe what an endearing act of love and tenderness this young boy bestowed on his grandmother. And he’s continued to impress people all along the way.”
Nick was homeschooled through most of high school but was able to attend Flanagan High School in Florida, the first semester of his Senior year where he was on the soccer team and the debate team. He still loved soccer dating back to when his father was his coach, but singing was what really stole his heart. He started singing in competitions.
“Soon he was singing on TV shows and winning singing competitions,” said Cheryl. “He really started to get national notoriety when his video It Will Rain went viral on YouTube with over 10 million views.”
As happens with many youthful singers at the age of 15, shortly after that video was released, he hit puberty and his voice changed.
After realizing his singing voice had changed, he decided he would try acting and was able to secure an agent in Los Angeles. Soon he got the call.
He got the lead role in the Nickelodeon series Every Witch Way within a year. IMDb describes it as “A teenage girl deals with moving to a new town, growing up and falling in love, all while realizing that she’s a witch.”
Merico played the character Daniel Miller on the show that was nominated for Best Kids Show at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards but did not win. His parents snapped the picture, shown right, on the red carpet at the Awards in 2015. After the show ended Merico really wanted to go back to music as his career choice.
He moved to Los Angeles in 2017 and in 2019 tried out for American Idol, telling the judges last season that “At the bottom of my heart I knew music was always what I wanted to do and that’s where my soul lies.”
That brings him to today. American Idol has not received as much of the hoopla as in past years just due to the overshadowing of news about the pandemic, however it is on and at the time, taped versions are still showing. They have not gotten to the live part yet.
The live shows are expected to premier towards the end of April where Merico will need the audience votes to continue on in the competition.
His good looks have at times hindered his appearances as all three of the judges have mentioned it –and Lionel Richie actually told him he didn’t like him.
“All right, Nick. We have a problem,” he said on one show. “OK, a big problem, honestly. Namely, I don’t like you. For some weird reason, it’s not sitting well with me. I don’t like your attitude. I don’t like your voice. I don’t think you are going to make it in Hollywood.”
Why would a successful star like Richie sink to such levels of humiliating him on national television? Richie explained it to him on the show this way, “I want you to understand what it feels like when people don’t adore you.”
In a subsequent show, in Hawaii, Richie changed his tune and told him he did like him. “I went from not liking you to really appreciating you” he said.
His uncle Steve O’Rourke noticed all of this.
“Frankly, I didn’t like the way they portrayed him early on – that he needed to be humbled somehow,” said O’Rourke. “And yet I love how he’s responded to that in a positive way, somewhat humbly acknowledging how hard he’s worked and how much he wants to earn his place.
“When he originally auditioned last year, I thought he handled Katy Perry’s flirtatious advances very modestly. Then when he came back this year, they made him out to be cocky and arrogant. That’s really not Nick, so it was challenging to see him portrayed as such.”
If any of those issues bothered Merico, he didn’t show it, and in fact addressed it respectfully saying, “I have to be very modest and grateful for everything and I appreciate the judges for bringing that to my attention, because I feel like I’m more grounded.”
His television portrayal of being full of himself does not go with what he actually does in real life. For the past several years Merico has been involved in various philanthropic organizations, but one touches his heart the most.
“He was involved with Smile Train for the past several years and went to Brazil to promote the organization and meet the people involved,” his mother said. “He really took the cause to heart as he got to know many of the kids and physicians involved and has pledged to donate a percentage of his earnings to help fund their organization.”
These photos show Merico interacting with the kids, which is what he enjoys doing. The Smile Train website describes the charity’s mission as: “A baby with a cleft is born every 3 minutes. These babies can experience isolation and often face prejudice in their communities. No child deserves to feel like an outcast.”
The charity helps the children with the gift of cleft treatment surgery.
Merico got involved in Smile Train because of a friend of his father’s in Brazil who works in the Ministry of Health. They asked Nick to be a spokesperson for Smile Train to help raise funds because at the time, he was on the Nickelodeon show.
“Nick went to Brasilia and did a benefit concert at the city hospital and spent hours with the kids and the doctors who perform the surgeries to fix cleft palates,” said Cheryl. “He toured different hospitals around town and fell in love with the project. That was when he dedicated a percentage of his earnings to help the cause.”
Merico does not let the distractions of Katy Perry crushing on him or Lionel Richie picking on him keep him from what he set out to do this season on American Idol.
“Nick is up to the challenge to show the world he is not an egotistical and arrogant person,” said Cheryl. “He is just a guy who wants to give his voice and music to the world and that his confidence in his craft/talent should not be confused with cockiness.”
Meanwhile as Merico is fighting to advance on the show, his family around the country is proud of him.
“It is somewhat stunning to see your nephew on American Idol,” said O’Rourke. “Of course, our family all watches the show, including my wife’s family, to celebrate his appearances over the past several months. Our other siblings– Dan in Columbia, Missouri and Mike in Plano, Texas– are watching too, so we are texting each other during the show. I am so proud of him and pleased with his performances.”
O’Rourke remembers his family visiting Merico in Florida and attending a party at the home of rapper, songwriter and record producer Sean Kingston. (shown in photo, left)
Here is a YouTube video of Nick Merico’s performance in Hawaii with pictures of his parents and comments from Cheryl.
Sunday night’s episode of American Idol, which aired as they all are airing on ABC at 7 p.m. central time was a “This is Me” show with no contestants being eliminated.
Before the COVID-19, the show was airing new episodes on Sunday and Monday but the schedules have been changed to conserve the pre-taped shows. It’s not been determined what will happen after April 19—if the show will resume production or how it will proceed.
One thing is for sure, when it gets started up and the audience starts voting, Merico will be hoping for old friends from St. Louis to remember him and his family hopes to call on their friends to keep him coming back.
Photo Credits: Cheryl Merico, Steve O’Rourke, Nick Merico Facebook page