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Francis Lewis graduate shines on ‘American Idol’ stage

Heejun Han, of Flushing, performs on the show "American Idol" in Los Angeles. AP Photo/FOX, Michael Becker
TimesLedger Newspapers

As the first Korean-American to make the finals for Season 11 of Fox’s “American Idol,” 22-year-old Flushing resident Heejun Han’s journey to fame began with an audition in Pittsburgh back in January, when he belted out Michael Bolton’s version of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?”

Han’s performance brought judge Jennifer Lopez to tears, while judge and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler remarked, “I think you’re really great — you could be the American Idol.”

Although he was ultimately eliminated from the competition March 30, he was still able to catch the national spotlight. He even got to take center stage at one of the borough’s main attractions.

Last Thursday, Han sang “God Bless America” to a cheering crowd during the seventh inning stretch at the New York Mets opener at Citi Field. In a brief phone interview prior to performing, he thanked Queens and TimesLedger Newspapers’ readers “for supporting me,” adding, “This is not the end of the rope for me — just stay tuned.”

After getting his chance to sing in front of Tyler and Lopez and being lusted after by hundreds of “Idol” hopefuls, Han advanced to Hollywood to compete among the finalists. In an introductory interview on americanidol.com he told his fans, “I couldn’t believe it — I had to pinch myself,” adding, “I think I’m the next American Idol because I’m a very hot singer.”

Han said he was inspired to do the show because he wanted to prove to the children he used to work with at Milal Mission, a Korean missionary school in Flushing for those with special needs, that if you really want something and if you believe in it, you can become someone.

Han said he used to suffer from emotional depression and credited the youngsters for helping him recover from his illness. He has also said they motivated him to audition for the show.

Seeking a better life, Han immigrated with his parents from South Korea to Queens when he was 12, and in 2005 attended Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, graduating in 2007.

His teacher, Sook Hee Son, who has been with Francis Lewis for 21 years, said she taught him Korean language arts.

“Heejun had great leadership skills and was a member of the Korean Club,” she said. “He was one of my best students.”

Surprisingly, Han never joined the chorus, and his parents were stunned when they found out he could sing.

In a final effort to stay in the competition at the Top 8 results show Mar. 29, Han performed the same song, “A Song For You” by Donny Hathaway, that got him a standing ovation by the judges at the Top 9 show the night before, when Randy Jackson remarked, “Finally, the Heejun we selected came back to us tonight.”

Lopez added, “That was the most beautiful tone, the most beautiful vibrato.”

So that night Han was given one last chance to prove himself worthy of “Idol-dom.” Host Ryan Seacrest asked him to “sing for his life.”

And sing he did. But sadly, this would be Han’s last time in the spotlight. He was eliminated after receiving the fewest votes among the finalists.

Waving and smiling, Han said his emotional goodbyes before leaving the stage. He said it did not really matter that he had not won — he got the chance to sing in front of millions of people.

Back on March 7, he crooned “All in Love Is Fair” by Stevie Wonder, causing Lopez to swoon and say, “I loved you from the first time you sang for me and I still love you now.”

Han told his fans he left the show on a high note, adding, “First thing I’m gonna do when I get home is eat lots and lots of Korean food.”

As a Top 10 contestant, he will perform in a summer concert tour after the competition has ended. Dates and locations have not been announced.

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