VCU student first in Richmond auditions to advance to next round of 'American Idol'

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Joi Hamm, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University and a specialist in the U.S. Army, was among a handful of "American Idol" contestants who advanced to the next round of auditions this week when the singing competition's bus was in Richmond.

Hamm – a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist with the Army – sang Etta James' "At Last," earning her a spot at the second round of auditions, which will be held Aug. 10 in Kansas City, Missouri.

"I sang 'At Last' because it's a pretty short song and I thought I could get the judge's attention pretty quickly," Hamm said. "And also because it really brings out my voice. I like to sing high notes."

The chance to audition for "American Idol" in Richmond drew an estimated 6,500  hopefuls to Bank Street in front of the state Capitol on Monday. Hamm camped out the night before.

"We'd been outside since 1 a.m.," she said. "That was a really, really good thing because by, like, 5 a.m., there was hundreds of people outside already. The auditions started at 9 and I auditioned at 9:30."

Hamm was the first contestant at the auditions to be selected for the show's next round.

Hamm, who is from Richmond, is a psychology major in the College of Humanities and Sciences. She said she's loved to sing since she was little, and also enjoys writing music.

"Being able to sing and do 'American Idol' is like chasing my dream. It's something that I've always wanted to do," she said. "Even though school's always been really important to me – that's always been No. 1 – but now that I have this opportunity to do 'American Idol,' I feel like it's a good time to take it."

Hamm's mother, Taliah Elder, a quality assurance inspector in VCU's contract administration office, is raising funds to help send Hamm to the audition in Kansas City. For more information, she can be reached at


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