What do a potato farmer in Aroostook County, a retired secretary in Standish, a second-grader from Freeport and a conservative talk radio host in Portland all have in common?

They’re all rooting hard for a 22-year-old singer from Cumberland named Julia Gagnon, who has a pretty good chance of winning “American Idol” and launching herself to musical fame.

“We don’t agree on everything, but we can all certainly agree on Julia. She is making Maine very proud,” said Ray Richardson, 62, who hosts a morning talk show on WLOB in Portland and has been devoting big chunks of air time to Gagnon’s story. “Thank God for her. In this crazy political climate right now, she’s a breath of fresh air.”

Since Gagnon first appeared on “American Idol” in March, she’s united Mainers in a way few other people have. Fans are drawn to her soulful, passionate vocals and her warmth in interviews and on social media. On Instagram, she’s asked fans to be kind in their posts about her and her fellow contestants. Many Mainers are heartened by her personal story, which includes being adopted from Guatemala, facing bullying and harassment for her looks while growing up in Maine, and finding her birth mother when she was 18.

North Yarmouth Academy second-graders Lina Shingiro, left, and Annabelle Lavertu chant “Honk if You Love Julia” in support of NYA alum Julia Gagnon on Main Street in Yarmouth Wednesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

On Monday’s episode, Gagnon advanced to become one of the ABC show’s seven remaining contestants, out of the thousands who auditioned this season. Winning or even being a finalist on the show has catapulted many singers to fame and successful musical careers, including Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Phillip Phillips and Jennifer Hudson.

“American Idol” contestants advance by garnering votes from viewers all over the country. So the fact that a singer from one of the smallest states is doing so well is a source of pride for Mainers and a testament to Gagnon’s broad appeal nationwide. No Mainer has ever come close to winning “American Idol,” which has been on since 2002. Gagnon will next appear on the show at 8 p.m. Sunday, when America will vote for the top five. On May 12, that group will be whittled down to three finalists, with the winner likely chosen May 19.


“I think it’s pretty cool because you don’t really see many people from Maine on the show. And Cumberland is such a small town, you don’t really hear anything about it,” said Annabel Carter, 14, a freshman at Greely High School in Cumberland, as she picked up some snacks Tuesday afternoon at the Cumberland Food Stop. “I didn’t watch (‘American Idol’) before she was on.”

Greely High School students Annabel Carter, left, and Rachel Scheib talk about Julia Gagnon on Tuesday at the Cumberland Food Stop. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Gagnon’s story was a revelation to Zoe Collins, 17, of Cumberland, because it’s so similar to her own. Zoe is a junior at North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth – where Gagnon graduated from – and she was also adopted from Guatemala. Like Gagnon, Zoe said she has been made fun of for her looks at times and was shy about standing out. After Gagnon’s successful audition for “American Idol” aired in March, she attended an assembly in her honor at NYA, and Collins got a chance to meet and talk with her.

“I just connect with her so deeply. When I met her, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so kind. She’s so understanding,’ ” Zoe said. “Meeting her boosted my mood and made me feel better about myself. I feel like with each of her performances, she’s become way more confident. I’m really proud of her for that.”

Zoe Collins of Cumberland, a junior at North Yarmouth Academy, has bonded with Julia Gagnon over their shared background – they were both adopted from Guatemala. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In the northern Aroostook County hamlet of Cyr Plantation, Brenda Deveau has been faithfully watching Gagnon’s performances a day late, on ABC.com on her phone. The TV antenna on her house blew off in a storm earlier this winter and her husband, a fifth generation potato farmer, hasn’t gotten around to fixing it. She always makes sure to vote for Gagnon as much as she can – up to 30 times a week on three platforms: text, the web and the “American Idol” app.

Deveau said she had heard from her daughter that someone from Maine was on “American Idol.” So that piqued her interest. But Deveau became a huge supporter when she heard Gagnon’s story, about being bullied and overcoming her shyness. Gagnon has said she was so worried about standing out that she wouldn’t sing out loud in her grade school chorus and just mouthed the words instead.

Gagnon’s story resonated with Deveau because, more than 30 years ago, her sister was bullied for being gay and eventually committed suicide.


“So to hear (Gagnon’s) story about not having confidence and then seeing her blossom into this beautiful butterfly, is really amazing,” said Deveau, 67.

Julia Gagnon, in the yellow dress, on Monday’s episode of “American Idol,” when she became one of the final seven contestants. Disney/Eric McCandless

Alice Grover, a retired secretary from Standish, has been watching “American Idol” since it started 22 years ago and can’t recall anyone else from Maine doing as well as Gagnon. She was immediately captivated by Gagnon’s voice. She hasn’t loved every song Gagnon has sung but loves the way she sings. She was especially awed by Gagnon’s version of the classic “Over The Rainbow” on Monday’s episode.

Grover, 77, says she votes for Gagnon each week as much as she can. But since she’s “kind of a dinosaur” when it comes to technology, she only votes by text (a maximum of 10 votes allowed), not online or with the app.

“From week to week, she’s been coming out of her shyness, and her voice is one in a million,” said Grover. “I think she could sing anything and make it sound good.”

First- and second-graders at Gagnon’s alma mater, North Yarmouth Academy, were making signs of support for her on Tuesday, including some that said, “Honk if you love Julia.” On Wednesday, a dozen or so went out – with teacher supervision – to a sidewalk on Main Street in Yarmouth, held up their signs to passing cars and got lots of honks.

“I’m rooting for her because I think she’s really good at singing, and she’s really unique compared to the other contestants,” said William Cashman, 8, of Freeport. “And I think it’s really cool that she went to our school. ”


North Yarmouth Academy second-graders Rhea Marotta, left, and William Cashman react as a passing vehicle complies with their North Yarmouth Academy classmates’ chants of “Honk if you love Julia,” on Wednesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

People have organized watch parties around the state to share the joy of watching Gagnon with others. There’s one scheduled for this Sunday at the Outlook Tavern in South Berwick, the town where Gagnon’s father, Jim Gagnon, grew up. Reservations are required. The Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell, where Gagnon won a contest called Central Maine Idol last summer, invites people to come watch each of her episodes when they air, declaring it “Julia Gagnon Night” at the pub. The Salt Yard Bar at the Canopy Portland Waterfront Hotel is holding a watch party this Sunday as well.

While Mainers are hoping Gagnon makes it to the final episode, the producers of “American Idol” are already preparing for that eventuality. In an email to Cumberland Town Council members, Town Manager William R. Shane said a producer working with the show called the town office to ask for help arranging a homecoming segment if Gagnon makes the finals.

Shane wrote that, if Gagnon makes the top three, she would come home to Maine on May 13 and 14. The plan is for Gagnon to appear at the Cumberland Fairgrounds and sing a couple songs on May 14, with Sen. Angus King and Gov. Janet Mills likely in attendance.

Information about how to vote for Gagnon during episodes can be found at idolvote.abc.com, and text votes can be placed by texting “4” to 21523. For more information on how and when to vote, go to idolvote.abc.com/#faq.

Deveau, the potato farmer from Cyr Plantation, thinks Gagnon certainly has the vocal chops to win. But regardless, she’s grateful that Gagnon has shared her talent and personality with Maine, and the world.

“I think she’s a winner no matter what,” Deveau said.

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