Former Brooklyn shelter resident shines on American Idol

March 22, 2021 Jaime DeJesus
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A former Brooklyn resident of a homeless shelter is going to Hollywood.

Canarsie native Vahhley Hernandez, 23, appeared on the longtime hit television singing competition American Idol March 14 and got her golden ticket to Hollywood to be featured in the next round.

The journey to the show hasn’t been an easy one for Hernandez.

For eight months, she was living in a homeless shelter with her two-year-old son MJ. She switched from a Bronx residence to a Brooklyn one in Brownsville.

While in the Bronx, the director of the shelter knew that Hernandez sang and asked her to sing for a fundraiser. 

“The next day she was driving and heard on the radio that they were having auditions for American Idol,” she said. “She was telling me you should sign up and audition. This is my calling and that I have a beautiful voice. She encouraged me to audition for the show.”

Between the encouragement she received and the love of her son, she decided to give it a try.

“At first I was taken aback by the situation,” Hernandez said. “I always wanted to do American Idol, but i didn’t know if i could actually do it. After a while, I signed up and did the preliminary  round at the virtual auditions and I got through to the television round.”

Hernandez started singing when she was 4 years old. One day, she was in the living room watching the movie “Annie” and her mom told her she just started singing one of the songs while she was cooking in the kitchen. She went into the living room, asked her to sing it again.

(ABC/Christopher Willard)

“We ran to Toys R Us at the time, and she bought me a Barbie karaoke machine,” she recalled. “I was still young so I never did shows at a young age. When I was 11, I performed at the Apollo Theater three times.”

She also performed at several fundraisers. 

Later, she stopped performing due to personal reasons.

“I like to sing a lot of ballads,” she said. “I did ‘One Moment In Time’ by Whitney Houston for the audition. I’ve been singing it since i was young so it felt like the right song to sing with what i was going through, it related to my situation.”

The judges were impressed enough to send her to the next round.

I’m still in shock a little bit,” she said. “After the episodes aired, I kept seeing followers getting bigger [on social media]. People were texting me from London and Canada saying I was amazing, I have their support and it’s overwhelming and I’m so happy.

Hernandez was previously married to her son’s father. After they separated, she went to live in Brooklyn with her mom. 

“She wanted me to be the best person I can be and didn’t want me to depend on her all of her life,” she explained. “My mom said she wanted me to get my situation together and said the best way to do that was to go to a shelter. The shelter can help me get an apartment, job and stuff. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I took on the challenge. I’ll do the best I can for my son.”

One of the highlights was when judge Katy Perry gave her son some snacks and Lionel Richie gave her some sound advice.

“He said, ‘When you win, you win. When you lose, you learn’ and I want to get a tattoo of that.

UPDATE: Hernandez responded that she was sent home following the episode on March 21 via Instagram.

“This may be the end of the road for American idol but it’s not the end of the road for my singing career or in life,” she said. “I’m gonna continue to strive to be the best mother that I can possibly be. When you receive downfalls you get right back up.”

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