American Idol this year has connections to two issues dear to my heart: the craniofacial disorders known as cleft lip and palate kids and the cyberbullying they often experience. The connections include a young singer from greater New Orelans, Cameron Richard, and the father of the A.I. winner of last year’s runaway hit show Nick Fradiani.
Cleft lip and palate.
‘A Raceland teen who won over the hearts of many across the country on “American Idol” is bringing attention to Cleft Palate Awareness and Prevention Month
by sharing his own experience.Cameron Richard appeared on the final season of the hit television show. He wowed the judges with his performance of Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love.”
Now that “American Idol” has come to a close, Cameron is putting his focus on cleft palates with the help of Ochsner Hospital for Children.
Cameron was born with a cleft palate and shortly afterward was treated for a severe case of respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis, which nearly killed him, the hospital said. He underwent surgery to repair his cleft palate at 10 months old and spent the next year in an out of the hospital for unrelated illnesses.
“It was like we were living at the hospital. It felt like forever,” said Cameron’s mother, Tina Richard. “But the staff at Ochsner Hospital for Children treated us like family.”
Cameron, now 16 years old, was told speech would be his greatest challenge and that he would need therapy for years. He thrived without the speech therapy and picked up a love of music.
Some of Cameron’s inspirations include Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson and The Beatles. He also enjoys Justin Timberlake and Rihanna.
He took that passion to “American Idol.”
“Getting the opportunity to perform in front of some of the biggest stars in Hollywood was a dream come true,” Cameron said. “The experience will be something I will always remember, and I’m honored my story is inspiring others to follow their dreams.”
After “American Idol,” Cameron spent the summer with events across Louisiana and the country. He will be a junior at Central Lafourche High School this fall, plays soccer and was elected junior class president, Ochsner said.
The hospital said Cameron has never shied away from the condition he was born with. He participates in National Cleft Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month every July, joining forces with specialists, support organizations, advocacy groups and affected individuals.
Cameron’s pediatrician, Dr. Daniel Bronfin, said it’s not typical for cleft palate patients to not require speech therapy. Bronfin leads the Ochsner Craniofacial Team, a interdisciplinary team of 10 clinicians who have expertise in caring for the children.
“Despite multiple evaluations by speech pathologists, Cameron never required speech therapy. That was not expected, but Cameron has proved expectations wrong through sheer determination,” Bronfin said.’
Cyberbullying and bullying.
The second tie-in to American Idol is the recent news that A.I. winner Fradiani’s father is involved in a project called “Speaking-out-and-standing-up-to-bullying-through-song.” Here’s the scoop:
“Enough’s enough with kids being mean,” Jill Nesi said. She’s spending seven days a week writing songs about bullying. The four-time Emmy nominee has been holding auditions for an upcoming musical, along with Nick Fradiani [Senior, the A.I. winner’s dad.]
Many of the kids involved are bully victims. Lines in the songs send messages like, “it doesn’t have to be this way, the mean and hurtful things they say.”
Tyler Altomari, 13, of New York says for years he’s been called “baby, cry baby, gay, f*****, and things like that. It’s just not acceptable. It just makes me feel like I’m less than I am.”
His older sister, Dominique, 15, says, “The biggest struggle is to not go down to their house and give them a piece of what I want to say.”
She was excited to hear about Nesi’s musical in the works, “Stand Up and Speak Out.”
Nesi has been reflecting on all the bullying stories she’s heard, and writing songs about it. “I had such a reaction from parents,” she said.
The Altomari’s parents wasted no time driving Tyler to Connecticut for an audition. Dozens of kids and a few adults will take the stage in November for a fundraising showcase of the musical.
“We’re casting it as songs, not parts. Once we do the actual musical, a lot of the kids that tried out will definitely have a foot in the door,” said Nesi.
Nesi has hired several people to help in the production including Greg Nobile, a Tony Award winner from Branford and Nick Fradiani Senior. Fradiani admits with his busy schedule, he was hesitant, but Nesi’s talent and passion won him over.
“This was something special and for me it was different because I don’t really co-write songs with people,” he said. Fast forward a few months, and they’ve already written two songs together.
“There’s certain things we don’t want to say in the musical like suicide,” Nesi said. “We don’t want to give kids any idea.” The musical will highlight that there is help for victims and they don’t need to live in silence.
“You read between the lines and listen to the songs, you’re going to hear what we’re trying to say,” Fradiani added.”