American Idol with a Long Island accent
Smithtown singer hopes to wow judges
BY TOMOEH MURAKAMI TSE
February 19, 2005
Visitors to the First District Court in Central Islip might have heard the voice in the hallways, singing out a colleague's name. Or at the Long Island Ducks stadium, belting out the national anthem.
Now the entire country gets to hear the voice of Joseph Murena, 26, part of this season's "American Idol," which has a distinctly New York flavor.
Of the 24 finalists, four are from the metropolitan area. Murena is the only one from Long Island.
Murena, of Smithtown, an assistant clerk in the court's criminal division, flew to Hollywood five days ago and has been rehearsing with other hopefuls for the program's first live show this year, at 8 p.m. Monday on Fox.
"It's really overwhelming," Murena said in a brief phone interview Friday, arranged by a network publicist, from the show's Hollywood studio. The judges, Murena added, "have been really, really nice. Every season, I've always agreed with everything Simon [Cowell] said, so now to be up there, I have to take his punches."
Belinda Barrett, Murena's supervisor at the courthouse, where his mother and cousin also work, said the whole office has been "crazed."
"I mean, we still of course do our work, but everybody is buzzing about Joe," Barrett said.
Murena, a 1997 graduate of Smithtown High School, said he was inspired as a toddler to pursue a singing career after hearing his cousin, Barbara Jean Harlin, 46, of Blue Point, perform with her band in his backyard at a family party.
"I remember watching her at that moment and knowing that that was what I had to do with my life," he said.
Harlin accompanied Murena to Las Vegas last fall to audition for "Idol."
"He's got that 'it' factor," Harlin said. "I know singers. I've been around them for a long time and I've listened to a load and I've never ever heard any male singer with the qualities that this kid has."
His mother, Patricia, said family and friends will gather in front of the TV Monday night. "He's really great," she said. "Not because he's my son; I always take myself out of that and put myself with everybody else."
In his early 20s, Joseph Murena headed to Harlem and stood in line to perform at amateur night at the Apollo Theater. He was later selected to appear on the syndicated broadcast, "Showtime at the Apollo."
"I was like, if I get booed off stage, I'm never going to do it anymore," he said. "And if they don't boo me, I'm going to go full throttle. And it's been full throttle ever since."
Since then, Murena has acted in a local musical, won the nationwide, all-night karaoke contest in 2002 held by "Good Morning America" and sang in a concert in Centereach, he and his mother said.
Several years ago, he won Long Island Idol, sponsored by the radio station "Party 105" (WDRE-FM), and was flown to see "American Idol."
"He's been all over. It just didn't click yet. I feel this is his biggest break," Patricia Murena said. "Now, everybody will get to see him."
Today, the "Offline Street Team" went around town, posting flyers and what not. We posted them in the major food stores and around various places. More of us are going to be doing the same next Monday morning. However, having Joe on the front page of Newsday is worth like 60,000 posters!!!
Tomorrow the men doing their taping. I have a friend, janetplanet who will be attending and giving me some feedback on how Joe did! I can't wait! I'm going to his house to watch it on Monday with his friends and family. GO JOE!
It's going to be JOE-a-LICIOUS,