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'Idols' of the King
Nice guys don't necessarily finish last; maybe third. And, in Yamin's case, missing the finals -- and the king's throne -- didn't mean being out of the money or being kept from the roundtable's riches. A third-place finish? He's just beginning.
The sweet-sounding singer with the snaggletooth smile and snip-style haircut is part of the "American Idol" summertime tour stopping off in the Philadelphia area next weekend, with a July 22 date at the Wachovia Center before heading south the next day to Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.
This is by far no bored walk from rookie to raging star, and fame travels well for the Los Angeles-born performer, turning 28 next Thursday.
In a way, this tour date is a new birth date for a young man whose personal battles may make him seem older than his actual years. With 90 percent hearing loss in his right ear, he welcomes the sound of applause and appreciation probably better than most, as well as life's sweetness since becoming an insulin pump-wearing Type 1 diabetic at age 17.
The high school dropout with a GED has dropped the "bomb" on his hometown of Richmond, Va., where he has 'em dancing in the streets since seemingly coming out of nowhere to make "Idol" time his time this past season. And his stardom has meant some star-spangled flag-waving by and for his Mom, Claudette Goldberg, herself an "American Idol" winner as most charming fan/family supporter.
It's the American Dream with Iraqi Jewish roots, which is where Yamin's sabra father's family comes from. And roots is what the rest of Yamin's Jewish relatives have been doing since text-messaging the world's minions that Elliott's a winner.
In one of the stranger mass-marketing appeals ever associated with the famous Fox series, Jordan Shenker, exec director of the Weinstein JCC in Yamin's hometown, mass e-mailed a message of support from the singer's rabbi, trading on the boyish "Idol" wannabe's Jewishness:
"There is a nice Jewish boy from Richmond, Va., Ephraim Yamin, who needs all of our help," went the forward and aggressive missive forwarded from Yamin's congregational rabbi.
"If you have watched the show, I am sure that you have noticed that Elliott is different from all the other candidates. His humbleness and sweetness is evident, even through the lenses of the camera.
"Every time he throws a kiss to the audience, or winks, it is to his mother, who was deathly ill just a few months ago.
"Elliott has beaten all odds to make it this far. He is deaf in one ear, has battled diabetes since childhood, and was raised by a single parent with very little financial means.
"Elliott has already made sure that his good fortune will be shared by many as he has agreed to be a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association for children with this disease."
The e-mail mitzvah was not a letter-perfect campaign -- he didn't win -- but it may have added to Yamin's mail appeal. And just listening to the boy born Ephraim -- Elliott's his middle name -- leaves no mistake that nice guys have a voice all their own.
Add to his many talents ... "knitting." "It was really flattering to have been involved in such a close tight-knit race," Yamin relates of being beaten by less than a percentage point, the difference between him and the top two, Katharine McPhee and ultimate "Idol" Taylor Hicks.
But "I was prepared for it."
But was he prepared for caustic Simon Cowell to turn all creamy with such praise as,"Potentially, you are the best male vocalist we've ever had"?
"It hit me like, 'wow,' " says the overwhelmed vocalist. "I can't believe that he actually said something that awesome to me."
It was potentially head-spinning -- in a non-Linda Blair kind of way, of course. "I'm used to being labeled as the person, or the kid, with a lot of potential, and I feel like I'm reaching that every day that I live."
Tears on his pillow -- that's one song he didn't sing, although it might have been appropriate given the lovefest that filled the hall the night he lost. "I'm emotional; it kind of runs in my blood, and my family's blood," he says of reaction to the great run he had on "Idol."
"Maybe I was viewed as a kid that came from nowhere. I guess [audiences] know that I've maybe beaten a few odds here and there, and I think people can identify with that. They can relate to that. It's real."
Reality-TV at its best? And what reeled in viewers more than watching Paula Abdul abdicate any sense of impartiality, her tears streaming as Yamin would tear through his nimble numbers.
"I just think she loves my voice and enjoys my singing," says Yamin. "And I think she just likes me as a person, and the feelings are mutual. She's just a sweetheart, man."
A cosmic, karmic connection to ... kasha? "She's likeable; she's got a big heart, like I do. And we're both Jewish, too."
A Sephardic former cheerleader cheering on an Iraqi Jewish contender? Only in America; only on "American Idol": Send over one big bowl of blintzes for two. "You know how us Jews [are], we kind of have a bond at birth."
Maybe that explains why the at-times incoherent Abdul always looked like she'd just witnessed a bris at show's end.
What everyone is witnessing now is the birth of a star. And Yamin's been in the mood to reach that status since, well, since his early powerful performance on the show of "Moody's Mood for Love," which he calls "one of the transitional stepping stones."
Step right up now, to the stage of Wachovia and Boardwalk Hall, and see a young man who homes in on family feelings, citing one of his best memories post-show -- getting "to see my mom and hug her and give her a big old kiss. She was tickled with pride. Saw my brother, gave him a big hug and kiss."
Losing wasn't a kiss-off to fame, but a beginning. Just don't expect Yamin to include "Easy to Be Hard" in his hard-rock repertoire. (Actually, he relates, his first album will most likely be R&B.)
"Why not be happy? What's there to be upset about? This is just the best thing I've ever done in my life for myself, for my family. "
Certainly, it's a better prescription for success than the job he held just before going on his "Idol" audition: Working at a local pharmacy. TV as tonic? "Before this contest started, I was lost. I was still trying to find my way as a human being," he says.
Now the tune he's singing is different: "I've actually followed through with something for a change, it's just a very humbling experience."
Humble and haimische; and forever the nice Jewish boy. The son will come out tomorrow? No, he's here for her right now.
"She's been as big an inspiration to me as anyone," he says of his Mom, his hero. "I've always strived to -- I think all of us, as sons and daughters -- we always strive to make our parents proud. I've always wanted to make her proud."
The kid kvells: "And I think I'm doing that now."
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