Unruh, daughter of Lyle and Lola Unruh, has been performing since she was 4 years old.
“She got involved in performing through Christmas musicals at church and also the summer drama programs that the Hillsboro Rec Commission helped with,” her mother said.
Since then, Unruh, who plans to attend Tabor College this fall, said she sings for people as often as she can.
“I perform whenever there’s a chance,” Unruh said, “whether it’s in Hillsboro at Little Pleasures, or churches or even in Hutch at its coffee shop.”
Although Unruh dabbles in writing her own music, she said she likes to perform songs made famous by other bands.
“I like to sing energetic songs,” Unruh said. “When I perform, it’s usually cover songs by bands ranging from Paramore to Foo Fighters.”
Unruh said when she heard that auditions for “American Idol” were going to be held at Kemper Arena, she knew she had to give it a try.
“When they first posted the dates, I saw that they were coming to Kansas City,” she said. “I thought it would be fun to give it a shot and see what happens.”
Not wanting to make the trip alone, Unruh asked Becky Steketee and Brittany Davis, both 2008 HHS grads, to accompany her on the trip.
“Kelsey asked me to keep her company and I thought it sounded fun,” Steketee said. “It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”
Steketee and Davis didn’t go to audition, per se. Steketee admitted she decided to audition because “sometimes they put the really bad people on TV, too.”
“It seemed like a fun idea just to go and goof off,” Davis said. “Kelsey was the only one who really tried.”
However, the price of goofing off before the “American Idol” judges is a long wait in line.
After staying the night in Kansas City, the three auditioners got up around 4:15 a.m. in order to be at the arena by 5. Once there, all participants were herded into sectioned off areas of the parking lot before being assigned a seat inside the gymnasium.
Unruh said things got a little more exciting after that—at least for a while.
“For about 30 minutes we filmed promo shoots for the show,” she said. “They had us yell out stuff like ‘Welcome to Cook County’ (referring to local ‘American Idol’ winner David Cook) or ‘Kansas City rocks’ to the camera, and then cheer afterward. They also had the crowd sing two songs they had picked to videotape.”
After that, auditioning began, but was interrupted when host Ryan Seacrest showed up to shoot some more footage.
“We ended up waiting from 9 until 5:30 to audition,” Unruh said.
The wait, as all three girls noted, had its ups and downs. They hadn’t brought blankets, pillows or entertainment devices, so they spent a lot of time sleeping on the floor.
But when they were awake, Unruh said people-watching was sort of a culture shock.
“The groups of people singing in the hallway (were really cool),” she said. “They were really getting into it and it was amazing to watch because, as we were from Hillsboro, we don’t see that too often.”
Added Steketee, “I really enjoyed all the people. There are a lot of talented people and really strong characters there.”
“We got to meet a lot of interesting people and got to hear so many voices—some good and some…not-so-good,” according to Davis.
After waiting for 12 hours, the threesome got their “30 seconds of fame” when they lined up in front of the judges.
“(Auditioning) wasn’t really fair,” Davis said. “I mean, the judges had been listening to people sing all day and you could tell they just wanted to get done and get out of there.”
Unruh, the only Hillsboroan there for a serious audition, sang “That’s What You Get” by Paramore, a band that describes itself as “emo without being whiny, or bratty.”
Steketee, on the other hand, hammed it up: “I wore a furry tail in my pants all day and sang ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ as my audition song.”
“We went up to the judges, and sang and then they told us we all have nice voices but it wasn’t what they were looking for this year,” Unruh said. “If they wanted to, (the judges) could send you on to Round 2, but if not then you had to go out the non-winner exit and leave the arena.”
Nixed in the first round of auditions, Unruh said her experience was bitter-sweat: She didn’t make the audition, but she’s glad she’s free from worrying about having to commit more time to “American Idol.”
“It disappointed me not to make it to Round 2, yet I was kind of glad,” Unruh said. “I now get to do more stuff, but if I want, I can audition again next year.”
Her mom agreed: “I thought it sounded like a lot of fun,” Lola said. “I was disappointed because I knew how much she wanted to go on and make it. But I was also relieved because (the recording industry is) a tough business, especially at 18.”
Having given “Idol” a shot, Unruh is now considering her other options for her future.
“I’d love to do musicals as a living,” she said, “but that’s really hard to get into. So I’ve been thinking about maybe even fashion-type stuff, whether it’s designing T-shirts for bands or doing costumes for musicals.
“I’ll just keep performing whenever I can.”