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Family follows dream from Fort Mill to Hollywood

Usually, it's Simon Cowell who rejects "American Idol" hopefuls, often with a flip remark, eye roll and smirk on his face.

So imagine Michelle Lampkin's surprise when Simon offered her a golden ticket to Hollywood, despite fellow judge Randy Jackson's rejection.

"Randy's crazy anyway," said Lampkin, 26, a Fort Mill resident who stood out among more than 100,000 hopefuls in the nationwide search for untapped talent.

She and her brother, Jeffrey Lampkin, were among 164 contestants who made it to Hollywood, where the best of the best compete for a shot as the next "American Idol."

In the Hollywood auditions, which begin airing Tuesday on Fox, the competition heats up.

"Expect the unexpected," said Jeffrey, 25, a music minister in Newberry. "Hollywood's going to be exciting. You're going to see that 'wow' factor and new elements."

Because of "Idol" contract restrictions, the brother/sister duo can't say how they did or whether they made it to the top 24, when viewers start voting.

"You'll just have to watch and see what happens," Michelle said. "I don't really know what they'll air anyway because they keep us in the dark."

The Lampkins passed the initial audition in Charleston in August, when they performed for a series of judges before reaching Simon, Randy and Paula Abdul. They first auditioned separately, but when producers discovered they were siblings, they asked the Lampkins to sing together.

After they performed R. Kelly and Celine Dion's "I'm Your Angel," Simon called the duo a "breath of fresh air" and Paula said they have a gift.

Randy, however, liked Jeffrey but passed on Michelle.

"You can't split those two up," Simon fired back on the episode featuring the Lampkins' audition.

With a "yes" from Simon and Paula for Michelle and a unanimous decision on Jeffrey, the sibling singers moved to the next level.

They filmed the Hollywood episodes in December and have been tight-lipped ever since.

Regardless of the outcome, the Lampkins say their journey has just beginning.

Musical aspirations

Since the Idol auditions, the Lampkins have done photo shoots for the New York Post, television spots and had more than 60,000 hits on their Myspace.com Web pages.

"Everybody wants you to add them as your friend," Michelle said, laughing at the idea that her 15 minutes of fame will end with her run on Idol. "I have so much going on right now."

To capitalize on their success, Jeffrey hired his friend Justin Cooper as publicist.

Cooper, who works for Kollage PR & Marketing, called the Lampkins "collectively inspiring, because of their roots in the black church."

"Jeffrey is more in-your-face, confident and he is a natural comedian, while Michelle is demure and mellow," Cooper wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Growing up in Manning, Michelle never had formal voice training, although she plays piano, flute and piccolo. She writes her own songs, mainly ballads and gospel-influenced tracks.

She began cultivating her voice at age 5 and got her start in church.

Introverted and quiet throughout her school years, she began to open up creatively while attending the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg and later transferred to Francis Marion University to be a pharmacist. Outside of the classroom, Michelle excelled musically by participating in her college's gospel choirs and other ensembles.

She moved to Fort Mill in 2004 to be closer to Charlotte and now works for Citifinancial Auto.

Idol, she says, opens more doors.

Crediting her musical inspirations to artists ranging from Roberta Flack to Whitney Houston, Michelle has lost weight, changed her hairstyle and grown more confident with her voice since the August audition.

She's been working on new music in the studio and is contemplating a career as a print model, Cooper said.

Jeffrey is working on his debut musical project, "You Can Make It," an inspirational album to be released this summer, Cooper said. He's preparing to complete his master's degree in human resource management in May.

Both have big dreams.

"I want to be an international gospel artist," Jeffrey said. "I want to be an ambassador for Christ. But, I also want to have my own radio show -- the Jeffrey Lampkin morning talk show, where you'll be driving down the road and have to pull over because you're laughing so hard."

The Lampkins plan to tour after Idol, but not necessarily together.

"I love singing with my brother, but we're separate entities and we have different styles, backgrounds and aspirations," Michelle said. "He's more into gospel, and I'm more a ballad, romantic singer."

Jeffrey agrees, although he considers Michelle his better half.

"She's the calm to my storm," he said. "My personality is out there. I love to make people laugh. I'm always bubbly and happy and what you see is what you get."

No matter what happens on "American Idol," the two are certain of one thing: Music will always be a part of their lives.

To see the 'American Idol' audition of Fort Mill's Michelle Lampkin and her brother, Jeffrey, visit the PopBlog! at community.heraldonline.com.

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