Merrick's Robbie Rosen may have wowed "American Idol" judges with his soulful singing voice at his audition broadcast this week, but those who know him said they weren't surprised.
The Sanford H. Calhoun High School junior has been singing locally since he was a child. A seven-time All-County musician, Rosen, 17, has starred in local musicals and sang at events across the area, including Merrick Avenue Middle School's National Blue Ribbon Celebration, according to a release from the school. His "American Idol" audition was televised Wednesday night.
"Robbie did an amazing job," said Sanford Sardo, the high school's director of choral activities. "We are just really excited. He's our American Idol."
Rosen sang an R&B-flavored version of the Beatles' "Yesterday" at his audition in New Jersey and now moves to the Hollywood rounds - when hundreds of contestants are winnowed down to reportedly 60.
Thursday, Rosen was back at Calhoun, students said. American Idol contestants often have to keep quiet during the competition. "People were congratulating him and saying how he was great and he sounded so good," said Leanne Gallati, 16, a member of the high school chorus with Rosen.
"He is one of the nicest people," she said. "He is so talented. It never gets to his head. He is such a good person and he deserves to be on the show."
Rosen was highlighted with a nearly 31/2-minute segment. He told the "Idol" audience he was in a wheelchair as a child for a severe case of hip synovitis, inflammation of the cartilage lining the hip joint. He transitioned to a walker and eventually walked on his own.
Jackson said Rosen had "crazy mad vocals," and Tyler called his audition the "best in New Jersey."
Rosen, an active member of the Calhoun Choral Program, has arranged and directed pieces for his own a cappella group, and for the Calhoun Chorale, according to the school. He was awarded the 2008 Su Peifer Award for his original "Make a Difference" composition, which also won New York State's PTA Reflections contest. He was selected for the All-County Jazz Ensemble in 2009 and 2010. He also plays baseball.
"Robbie is an outstanding student," said principal David Seinfeld. "One of the things that didn't come out last night in the interview portion . . . is that he is an outstanding baseball player and has played varsity since ninth grade and was a member of the Nassau County Championship team."
Rosen's neighbor, Vinny Valentino, said Rosen's family did not talk about the contest and "we didn't pressure them." Valentino and his three sons rooted for Rosen Wednesday night.
"He has a shot," Valentino said. "He has a great personality and it matches with his great voice."
Another Long Islander making it to the Hollywood round, a Fox spokeswoman says, is Carly Brooke Pearlstein, 21, of Roslyn. With Verne Gay
Long Island "Idol" alums
Kevin Covais (Levittown)
Just 16 when he was season five's (2006) 11th-place finalist, Covais, now 21, expanded into acting with the movie "College" (2008) and the TV movie "Labor Pains," with Lindsay Lohan, and a guest appearance on CBS' "Ghost Whisperer" (both 2009). He's upcoming in "Men in Black 3," and the Andy Dick film "Touchback." As for singing, "He's still performing," says manager Linda Rohe. "Last fall he did a benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and he's very active in foundation events. And he continues to audition for Broadway and Off-Broadway roles."
Jared Cotter (Kew Gardens and Selden)
A season six (2007) semifinalist, Cotter became a Fuse music-television personality and hosts the MSG Varsity/News12 quiz show "The Challenge." He's also a hit songwriter, co-penning Jay Sean's No. 1 single "Down" in 2009. Reached at a Sean recording session Thursday, Cotter, 29, said "Down" led to a publishing deal with music giant EMI. "I've been writing for artists like Flo Rida and Kelly Clarkson."
Joseph Murena (Smithtown)
The season four (2005) semifinalist released his debut album. "After the Storm," on iTunes in September. He performed in the Hamptons in August, and at SUNY College at Old Westbury in September.
- FRANK LOVECE