Not too long ago, Maddie Assel, a senior at Centreville High School, got the big break every aspiring singer dreams about.
In a moment straight out of a fairy tale—or, as it happens, primetime television—Assel was singing with a street band in Baton Rouge, when a big-time music producer gave her the chance she'd been waiting for.
The producer was Randy Jackson, and he was there to give her an opportunity to audition for American Idol, a show that's launched the careers of some of the biggest stars in the industry: Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Katherine McPhee and others.
"American Idol has always been something that I wanted to audition for," said Maddie, 17. "You see all these people get their golden tickets and live out their dreams, but you never think you’re going to have that opportunity."
Watch: Maddie Assel's American Idol Interview
What Maddie didn't know was that for five months, her family had kept a big secret. Her grandmother and best friend had submitted her name and a CD to American Idol—and the producers wanted to give her a chance to audition.
The audition had to be a surprise, though, and confidentiality agreements were signed to make sure of that. In October, Maddie, who is applying at music schools around the country, flew to Louisiana under the belief that she was going for an audition at the Louisiana State University School of Music. The family was out to dinner in Baton Rouge when a band on the side of the road started playing a song she liked.
Sylvia Assel, her grandmother, then told the band that her granddaughter was a singer. Maddie then joined in singing "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," with the band. All of a sudden, she noticed cameras coming near.
"All of a sudden I heard this voice like, 'Yo, Maddie,' and I turned around and Randy Jackson was standing there," Maddie said.
The next day, Maddie got her chance to wow judges Jackson, Nikki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban with a rendition of "Oh, Darling." They unanimously decided to give her a chance, though the episode didn't air until the end of January.
The experience was exciting for everyone in the family.
"That Ryan Seacrest, he is like the nicest person you’d ever want to meet in your whole life. So sweet, so kind, so good. That’s why I told him I might kidnap him and take him home with me," said Sylvia, who came to support Maddie at the audition, while wearing Mardi Gras beads and a mask.
"He laughed and said no one had ever told him that before."
The audition was a big opportunity for the girl who'd lived most of her life in Little Rocky Run. Maddie said she'd known for her whole life she wanted to sing, even as a kid attending Liberty Middle School and Union Mill Elementary. Later in high school, she signed up to take performing arts classes at Fairfax High in addition to her course load at CVHS.
Maddie said that she's watched American Idol from the very first season. She's enjoying watching the shows with family and friends, and seeing newfound 'Idol' friends make their through the show.
"It’s definitely been crazy coming home to my town because this has been going on for so long," she said.