If you remember Zach D’Onofrio’s first appearance on ABC-TV’s “American Idol” in 2018, we have news for you.
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
The kid that gave socks to the judges, danced with Katie Perry (see photo on next page) and then wowed with his voice — when it transformed from Kermit the Frog to Frank Sinatra to earn a golden ticket — is now older and wiser and back on the show.
The Wiregrass Ranch High graduate, who now attends Florida Southern College, will appear on the audition shows in the coming weeks. He did not appear in the season premiere, which aired locally on Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. on WFTS-TV, or the second episode. He hasn’t been told when his episode will air. But he did leave a teaser on his Instagram this weekend.
So, what happens this time? A lot.
But we can’t tell you.
Just like last time, Zach has been sworn to secrecy until the episode airs. His family, a good friend and his girlfriend know, and we are privy to a few of Zach’s twists and turns this time around, so we could tell you, but then we’d have to…well, you know how the saying goes.
Zach’s return to “Idol” actually began in August when he signed up for Zoom auditions. The producers instantly recognized him, and he sang “No Fire” by S. Grant Parker while playing the ukelele, and the following round, sang the same song and also played piano while singing “Places We Won’t Walk” by Bruno Major.
Zach wasn’t sure he had passed, especially when August passed, and so did September. Then, a friend received a rejection email, so Zach thought he might still be alive. In mid-October, he finally got word that he was headed to Ojai, CA — which is in Ventura County about 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles — for live auditions the first week of November, and mum’s been the word ever since.
“It’s kind of fun keeping the secret,” Zach says.
Although it was his second time in front of judges Lionel Ritchie, Luke Bryan and Perry, Zach says he still felt a little trepidation about his second chance.
“I was pretty nervous seeing the judges again because it’s been so long,” he says. “When I walked out, they were like, ‘Oh, we know Zach.’” He sang “Golden Slumbers” by the Beatles.
“And, that’s pretty much all I can tell you,” he says, chuckling.
A lot has changed since Zach, then a squeaky-voiced 16-year-old who had only started singing a year before, was cut following the first competition in Los Angeles.
He returned to Wesley Chapel, won a few singing competitions, graduated from Wiregrass Ranch and was accepted into the University of South Florida, where he was going to study biomedical science and become a doctor one day.
But, “American Idol” had awakened something in him. He wanted to hone his singing skills. He wanted to help make music. He wanted to follow what had become his passion.
After one year at USF, Zach, now 20, transferred to Florida Southern and is now a music management major. He says he would like to manage artists one day, help them with auditions and, of course, cut his own first album.
“I think only reason I wanted to be a doctor was because they make a lot of money, but would that make me happy?,” Zach says. “(Being on) ‘American Idol’ made me happy. Singing made me happy. I liked the performing and talking to fans. So why not commit to music fully?”
Why not try “American Idol” again?
The last thing Zach told us in 2018 after his surprisingly quick end on the show was that he was encouraged by fellow contestants to try again — and he told them he would. And, that thought has always stuck in his head.
His girlfriend, Catie Turner, was on the show with Zach in 2018 and finished sixth. While she can’t compete again, she never stopped encouraging Zach to try.
“It’s always been kind of stuck in the back of my head that I would go back and try again,” Zach says. “It was inevitable. I want to prove to myself that I can do it again. My goal was to make it farther this time than last time.”
Zach says being in California during the pandemic was concerning, especially making the trip out there. But, with Covid-19 tests every other day, and the threat of being sent home if you tested positive, Zach says the auditions were smooth. Each contestant was encouraged to stay confined to their room.
“It was kind of like house arrest,” Zach jokes. “But I felt safe the whole time. Everyone wore masks. You won’t see people wearing them while on stage, but anyone who wasn’t singing at the time had masks on.”
Zach says people still recognize him in public as the “American Idol,” though most seem to remember his affinity for socks. But his “socks appeal” is gone, and this season’s version of Zach might be best described as “sweater late than never,” as he makes his return with a different style.
As for the rest, Zach says you’ll have to tune in on Sunday nights.