Michael Becker/FOX; Chris Cuffaro/FOX
The day after Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace
and Michael Sarver
became the first three season 8 contestants
to make American Idol
's Top 12, the talented trio faced the press in a conference call. Gokey spoke candidly about his late wife, who died just weeks before his Idol
audition, and says she would have been "so happy" to see him on the show. Grace talked about being a young mom to daughter Ryan Elizabeth and about how she would balance being on Idol
with her motherly duties. Sarver, also a parent to young children, gave Simon Cowell
some credit for helping him land a spot in the top 12 and talked about his working-class appeal. -- Shawna Malcom
Church music director Gokey, 28, has been an early favorite of both fans and judges, thanks to his soulful voice and heartbreaking personal story. Just four weeks before he auditioned, his wife Sophia passed away. The Milwaukee native said that while he feels more "emotionally stable now," his wife is never far from his thoughts. "I apologize to everybody if they feel like it's shoved down in their face but it's so fresh in my mind. It's only been 7 months," he told reporters. "Honestly, this is a sob story I don't want but it is shaping my life, and it's causing hope for a lot of . Now I have my mission set in stone."
Gokey laughed when asked what his wife would think of his Idol
success. "My wife would be telling all her friends, and she would be going to the store, buying clothes and trying to get herself all cute," he said. "She was spunky and so cute and she had a little attitude to herself. She'd just be so happy."
Tennessee native Grace, 21, is a young parent and said her daughter Ryan Elizabeth is her Idol
inspiration. "She watches the show with all of my family and when I come on TV, she points at it and she screams for me and says, 'Mommy!'" she said during the conference call. Grace admitted to being nervous about juggling motherhood with the demanding show but said, "it's only for a little time and as long as I work hard and dedicate myself to it, I know I can get it done because I have the best family in the world and they're going to help me out with whatever I need."
On the judges comparing her toIdol
's original champ Kelly Clarkson
during Tuesday's performance show, Grace said, "It's more than flattering. I mean it just really shook my world when they said that, in a good way. It just pushes me to do better each time now. Now I've really got to step up my game and prove to them that they're right."
If there was a surprise in who advanced Wednesday, it was the oil rig roughneck from Texas, Sarver, 29. Host Ryan Seacrest
announced that only 20,000 votes separated Sarver from another popular contestant, Anoop Desai
. Sarver admitted that Simon Cowell
's positive feedback following his performance Tuesday likely helped him secure his spot. "Simon making a plea on my behalf, I don't take that lightly at all. I take that as a compliment," he said. "I have no doubt it had an impact and I appreciate it."
Of his working-class appeal, Sarver had this to say: "I believe that real life can relate to me, especially in the economy and the day that we live. It's very difficult for a lot of , and I see it as a chance to see someone rise from the ashes. It's not that my life is bad but things are tough. And to see someone excel and succeed, I think relate to that and it's special to their hearts."
Sarver is also a father to a two-year-old son and 3 ½-year-old daughter, who he called "smart and ahead of her age. She's very excited and says she wants to go on American Idol
so maybe we have another Idol in the future."
Michael Becker/FOX;Chris Cuffaro/FOX