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Syesha encourages Sugg Middle students to follow their dreams

Students at Sugg Middle School were treated to an impromptu visit from local celebrity Syesha Mercado, a top favorite on last season’s “American Idol” show.

The appearance was supposed to be a surprise for students, but before the singer appeared in the gym Friday afternoon, the news was discovered and it spread like wildfire, school staff members said.

Both students and staff — many of whom followed Mercado during her time on “American Idol” — were eager to see the star perform again. Several of them attended Thursday night’s Amer-I-Can benefit concert at the Manatee Convention Center where Mercado was the main attraction. Others who weren’t so lucky were thrilled to see her live and in person at the middle school.

“I saw her at Booker High School last year,” said 13-year-old eighth-grader Sydney Bernard. “This is the second time I’ll hear her sing. She’s really good.”

Mercado — dressed in a short black and red dress, sporting the same up-do from Thursday’s concert — performed an a capella rendition of “My Halo” at the students’ request. Afterwards, she spoke to the young audience about keeping a positive attitude, having positive influences in their lives and following their dreams — things she has done in her life.

“Everyone here totally has the opportunity to amount to really, really great things,” she said. The 22-year-old said visualizing their dreams will also help them achieve giant feats.

“You can do it, whatever you put your mind to, you can do it,” she said. “I know it’s cliche, but you can do it.”

Principal Willie Clarke was glad to hear Mercado encouraging the youth.

“She really wanted to say a few positive words to the students,” he said. “It takes a big heart to do that.”

As Mercado sat in the middle of the gym speaking to students, her sister, Xtavia Bailey, was at her side. Bailey is a facilitator for Amer-I-Can, the gang prevention and character development program that has been threatened by budget cuts in Manatee County. Mercado gave T-shirts to Bailey’s class, which had the opportunity to briefly mingle with the hometown star after the special school assembly.

Mercado also answered several American Idol-based questions from the crowd.

Since she’s been in her old stomping grounds this week, things have been hectic, she told the Herald. But a good hectic.

“It brought back memories to when I actually came home when I was on tour with the Idols,” she said. “We were all in a small room and I was signing autographs. We were going to a meet and greet after the show and everyone was bombarding me and it was so crazy. It was the same way.”

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.