Modesto's Effie Passero may have ended her "American Idol" journey Monday night, but her musical journey continues.
The Downey High School graduate was not selected to move on to the Top 14 and voting rounds of the ABC reality competition, even though she received on-air praise and applause from the celebrity judges. The 26-year-old Modesto native called the whole experience "humbling and validating and just totally great," in a phone interview Tuesday with The Bee.
But while her "Idol" adventure is finished, the hard work has just begun.
"As soon as it was over I was ready to work. I was ready to use this platform and keep this momentum going. For the past month I've never been busier in life — networking, working on an album, meeting really, really incredible alumni from the early seasons (of 'American Idol')," she said. "I feel like this show has definitely at least put my name in people’s mouths right now, which is really cool."
Passero has known the outcome of her Top 24 performances for the past month and a half. But she was unable to share the results until the last of the previously recorded shows aired Monday night. The round was also the final one where the celebrity judging panel of Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan made the elimination decisions.
For the past two and a half months, Passero and the other contestants have been sequestered in a hotel in Los Angeles while the early rounds of the show aired. The series was rebooted on ABC this year, two years after it ended its 15-season run on the Fox channel. That closeness built a bond between the contestants.
"The most surprising thing about the whole thing was the camaraderie that was amongst the contestants. We were so close, and are still close," she said. "You always think with a reality show the claws are out, but it really wasn’t like that. There wasn’t a mean person in the entire cast and production. They were all really nice people and there was positivity everywhere."
The mechanics of being on reality television have made for some life changes for Passero, who had been working as an assistant property manager since moving from Modesto to Los Angeles last summer. She had to resign from her job after taking a two-month hiatus for filming, instead living on the $200-$250 a week food per diem the show provides contestants. And she gave up her apartment while she was living in the hotel.
Since then she has been couch surfing with friends. She is currently staying with her record producer while she works on her first full-length album. Passero was one of the few contestants to successfully sing an original song this season, which she performed during her audition.
"I am really happy with myself that I took that leap and did an original song. My fans are scouring my musical collection now. Now while all these other people are singing covers, my fans are expecting more original music and can't wait to hear my original music," she said.
Her upcoming album, called "Better," will be originals and an entirely separate sound for those familiar with her music from her days gigging around Modesto and her recent "Idol" performances.
"(The album) is about not being bitter, just being better. Don’t let these experiences that happened to you shape you and hold any nasty energy inside of you. It’s not what anyone has heard before, it's all very chill. Kind of Portishead-y," she said.
On the show she also revealed some of her own past struggles with family, particularly her relationship with her mother. Passero hopes to have the album done by September and will be releasing singles before then for fans to hear.
For now fans can check out her YouTube page and Instagram feed, and of course they can always relive her past "Idol" showcases. On Sunday night's solo performance show, Passero sang Heart's "Barracuda."
The judges clapped along and gave Passero a standing ovation at the end. Bryan said while she didn't necessarily command the stage, he called her one of the show's best singers.
"You just sang Ann Wilson better than Ann Wilson," he said, comparing her to the Heart frontwoman.
For her celebrity duet, which aired Monday night, Passero unexpectedly sang "Diane" with rising country star Cam. She had been slated to perform "Who You Are" with pop-rocker Jessie J, but it was canceled last minute when the singer fell ill. Passero had to learn the new number in 15 minutes, a feat the judges all praised heavily afterward.
"If you can remember the lyrics in 15 minutes and handle it like you just did you’re on fire," Richie said.
But, in the end, Passero was among the final five contestants eliminated before the voting rounds begin. The New York magazine's pop-culture blog Vulture called her departure the "cruelest cut of the season."
While Passero said she isn't sure exactly why she was let go, she is grateful for the experience and the doors it has opened for her. She continues to pursue session and voiceover jobs, and has already recorded work on other projects. Her ultimate goal is to "be the voice of a Disney princess."
For now she is rooting for her former hotel roomate Maddie Poppe, but would be happy with whoever ends up winning this season.
For her Modesto fans, who knew her when she performed around town under the name Francesca Bavaro, she plans to return in the not-too-distant future for some homecoming shows. She hopes to put together concerts at the State Theatre, where she used to work, and Gallo Center for the Arts' Foster Family Theater, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Haven Women's Center of Stanislaus.
There are already plans for her to perform at this year's The Valley Talent Project, which she won in 2011. Passero has also received an outpouring of support from places she frequented and performed in Modesto like Ralston's Goat and the Tiki Lounge. Her friends and fans at the latter even filmed a video sending her encouragement for making it to the Top 24.
She said it is that support, from fans across the country and her own backyard, that has heartened her throughout.
"It’s been really cool. Obviously people are really ecstatic to have someone from the Central Valley doing big things. I'm of course not the first person from the Central Valley doing big things. It feels really nice to have your city have your back," she said.
And, she said, she hopes her success on the show reminds people to support local artists whenever they can.
"It is really, really important to support people. Go pay that $5 cover, go to the open mics, support local people," she said. "To the artists, continue to grow, continue to find your sound. You just have to find yourself."