WILMINGTON — For as long as Susan Teoli can remember, her daughter, Mary, enjoyed singing. She sang everywhere. Susan and her husband, Jim, thought Mary was really good.
“But then to us, you know parents,” she said.
One day a few years ago at the Anna Marie Dance Studio in Brandywine Hundred, where Mary was a student, Susan was waiting to pick her daughter up when she heard singing emanating from a hallway. She found out that Sonny Leo, one of the instructors, also gave singing lessons. Teoli asked if Leo would listen to Mary and give his opinion.
“He was like, ‘Where have you been hiding her?’ Miss Anna Marie (Leo, the dance studio owner) called her a young Ethel Merman,” Susan Teoli said.
Mary Teoli has been singing for other people ever since. Earlier this summer, the rising junior at St. Elizabeth High School nearly jumped to the front of the line for the next season of “American Idol,” the talent-search television juggernaut.
The Teolis — including Mary’s parents and three siblings — were at Disney World in Florida in June and went to the American Idol Experience at Disney MGM Studios. Each day, someone age 14 or older earns an opportunity to try out at one of the show’s auditions without waiting in the crowds of thousands.
As Teoli tells it, contestants need to impress an initial panel, then a producer. Those selected perform in one of five shows each day at MGM. Three people from each of those five shows are chosen for a final performance. Teoli was one of the 15 to advance that far the day she auditioned.
“You get your hair done, and you get your makeup done, and you get like an hour to practice your songs on stage so that you know what’s going to happen,” she said.
“Whoever wins that show, they get this dream ticket. It’s a pass to go to the front of any ‘American Idol’ audition anywhere. That’s a big deal.”
The winner, selected by the audience, was a woman from Louisiana. Teoli finished second.
“There are so many people who try out, and only 15 people even get on the show, I felt really good about being in the last two. It made me want to try the real ‘American Idol,’” said Teoli, a north Wilmington resident.
Mary and her parents thought about traveling in July to Pittsburgh, the closest this summer’s “American Idol” auditions came to Wilmington. But, her mother said, Mary decided to concentrate on her schoolwork. The family had to consider how much school she would have missed had she advanced to Hollywood, the next American Idol step after the audition rounds.
Teoli began singing on stage as an eighth-grader at St. Elizabeth Elementary School. She performed in the high school musical, earning the Benedictine Performing Arts Scholarship. She has been a fixture since on stage, at various Vikings athletic events and at Frawley Stadium, where she occasionally sings the National Anthem for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. This past spring, she was the lead in the school’s performance of “Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida,” which is based on an Italian-language opera.
During her freshman year, she was at a volleyball game shortly after the school’s variety show. Someone asked her to sing the anthem. That carried over to basketball and football.
“I sang at the state championship game at Delaware State, and I also sang at the Bob Carpenter Center for the boys’ basketball playoff games,” she said.
She appreciates the support she receives from fellow students and staff at St. Elizabeth’s, where she is also a member of the field hockey team.
“That’s just the kind of school it is,” she said.
In addition to her singing and sports, Teoli volunteered this summer at the Ministry of Caring’s Guardian Angels Child Care in Wilmington. She spends a few hours there every day.
“I help them write and color and give them lunch and read books and stuff. It’s fun. It’s tiring, but it’s fun,” she said.
Bitten by the show business bug, Teoli knows what she wants for her future. “I definitely want to pursue a career in performing. I want to be in New York, definitely. I love New York. I really want to be on Broadway.”
But she would not mind if she took a circuitous route to get there. She hopes the dream will kick off with a golden ticket and the words, “You’re going to Hollywood!”