You know her from Modesto Performing Arts and Townsend Opera and The Valley Talent Project. Now everyone else will know her from “American Idol.”
On Sunday Modesto native Effie Passero will begin her journey on “American Idol,“ when the hit singing competition returns to television. A prolific local performer, Passero (who formerly went by the name Francesca Bavaro) will audition before the panel of celebrity judges in the upcoming season on ABC.
“It felt surreal to be there, for sure. It was really cool to be surrounded by so many people who want the same thing — to be seen, enjoyed and have your music reach millions of people,” said the Downey High School alum in an interview with The Bee Friday. “You see all these dreamers. It was such an amazing vibe in the room.”
While Passero’s performance won’t be featured in the premiere episode, she does appear briefly in a clip near the start of the show. Her audition in front of this season’s judges — pop superstar Katy Perry, soul legend Lionel Richie and country hitmaker Luke Bryan — will be aired in a later episode.
The singer-songwriter had unsuccessfully auditioned once before the for popular reality competition about 10 years ago. But her first “American Idol” experience went by without any airtime.
The series left the air after 15 seasons on Fox in 2016. It was revived this year, this time on ABC, with a new slate of judges. Passero said she was particularly excited to meet, and get feedback from Richie, who she listened to while growing up. She also called meeting Perry “cool,” but confessed she didn’t know Bryan’s music.
“It was such a big moment to be able to sing in front of these legends and one of the people you respect the most,” she said.
Passero said she hadn’t thought about auditioning until one of the tenants at the home owners’ association where she used to work kept bragging about his contacts on the show. In part to prove him wrong, she emailed in an audition with clips of her performing. She didn’t expect to hear back. But 20 minutes later she got a reply.
She auditioned at the show’s Los Angeles tryouts last November. Passero had moved from Modesto to LA this past June to pursue her singing career. She calls Idol the show “that started it all” and hopes to inspire others with her appearance.
“Maybe I could be the next Kelly Clarkson, someone I watched and admired growing up, for someone else,” she said.
Still, the 26-year-old performer said she doesn’t expect to win the series, like Clarkson. Instead she wants to meet people in the industry and network, with the hopes of doing more session work. Ultimately she said she would also like to do voiceover acting work for Pixar and Disney.
Passero began singing at age 5, after her family had moved to Florida. She continued when her family returned to Modesto when she was 11. She spent two summers with Modesto Performing Arts and did several shows with Townsend Opera and the Downey theater department. After graduating from Downey in 2009 (where she went by the name Francesca Heyward), she attended California State University, Fullerton where she studied opera and theater.
She moved back to Modesto when her mom had a medical emergency and continued to perform regularly in the region at venues like the Gallo Center for the Arts and State Theatre. In 2011, she took home the top prize at The Valley Talent Project (formerly known as Valley’s Got Talent). She performed solo shows and with the gypsy jazz ensemble Hot Club Faux Gitane locally.
The name change since moving to LA was a way to reinvent herself.
“I wanted to stand out a little bit; I wanted a quirky name. ‘Effie’ came from Fe, which is the periodic symbol for iron. So it’s a play on words too because I’m tough as nails,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean she has forgotten her Modesto roots. Most of her family and friends still live in the city. Several friends went down to LA to watch her audition. They are also helping her rally support via social media for her appearance on the show. She is asking people to use the hashtag #effiesaurs to support her. It comes from her love of dinosaurs, which includes the large tattoo of a Velociraptor skull on her left forearm.
“This is like the perfect example of its takes a village — I’m not doing this by myself. It takes a village. My brothers, my family, my fiends have been there every step of the way,” she said. “They are all standing up to have my back and promote for me.”
And she has kind words for the foundation Modesto’s arts organizations gave her.
“They definitely had a huge impact on my growth not only as musicians but as a person. Musical theater kids always have it tough growing up. But there were so many outlets to perform,” she said. “It’s never more important to keep arts around for everyone.”