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"American Idol's" Syesha will sing for anti-gang program

MANATEE - As “American Idol” gears up for another run starting tonight, Manatee County School District officials announced Syesha Mercado, one of the show’s biggest stars last season and hometown favorite, will perform a benefit concert in Manatee next month.

Funds raised from the Feb. 19 concert at the Manatee Civic Center, dubbed “Follow Your Dreams," will go toward continuing the Amer-I-Can gang prevention and life skills program in Manatee schools, according Mercado’s sister Xtavia Bailey.

Bailey, an Amer-I-Can facilitator since the program’s inception in Manatee, said when she told her sister of the program’s funding problems, Mercado offered to do the concert. The event is sponsored by the Manatee Education Foundation.

With state budget cuts, the Amer-I-Can program was nearly dropped from Manatee schools, but local law enforcement and county commissioners raised enough funding for the 2008-09 school year.

But Bailey said the funding has not yet been allocated for next year. That is where the hope is her sister’s fame will help drum up funding and support.

“I told her about what we were doing here and she liked what the program does and wanted to support it,” Bailey said of her sister.

Bailey said Mercado is now living in Los Angeles and recording her first album since her nationwide fame after placing third in last year’s “American Idol” competition.

Mercado, a former student at Daughtrey Elementary and Manatee School for the Arts, also toured with “American Idol” finalists last year.

Tickets for the concert go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday. Premium reserved tickets are $25, general admission $15. Manatee County School District students can purchase tickets for $12 with a student ID.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at, and by phone at (800) 745-3000 or (866) 448-7849. Tickets can also be purchased at the Manatee County Convention Center box office (722-3244) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.