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‘American Idol’ finalist has Western New York connections

When the Elite Eight finalists on Fox’s “American Idol” started singing songs from the ’80s on Wednesday, several relatives in Western New York were rooting for 17-year-old Jena Irene Asciutto.

Yes, there always seems to be a Buffalo angle.

One of those relatives, Laurie Galbo of Wheatfield, alerted me to Jena Irene’s (that’s what she is called on “Idol”) roots.

Here’s an edited portion of the email Jena’s relative sent me: “Jena is 17 and from the Detroit area. Her roots are in Buffalo! Her grandfather, Andrew, was born and raised in Buffalo and moved to Michigan after military service. He met his wife, Irene, there and settled down. His brother also moved to Detroit. But the Asciutto family came from Isnello, Sicily and settled in Buffalo. The rest of the Asciutto clan is still in Buffalo!

“Jena’s roots in Buffalo go back to her grandfather Andrew Asciutto, great grandfather Andrea Asciutto and great-great grandparents Gandolfo and Giuseppina Mistretta Asciutto and her third great-grandparents Giuseppe and Vincenza Greco Mistretta.

“I am related to her through the Mistretta and Asciutto families. The cousins of Buffalo and WNY are rooting her on and proud of her.”

“Jena is extremely talented and I can safely say there have been no singers in our family as far as I know. There are four of us that do the genealogy in our family… She must get it from her mother’s side!”

Relatives aren’t the only ones singing the praises of Jena Irene, Tom O’Neil of the website Gold Derby reported what the judges said March 12 after Jena performed “Decode.”

“You’re the real thing, baby!” Jennifer Lopez said. “America, please get on board with this! Get on board with it!”

“Jena, good lord! There’s a ferocity about the way you perform,” said judge Keith Urban, her biggest fan. “It’s like hurtling along the edge of a cliff in a car and you’re like, ‘I don’t know if we’re going in, if we’re going to stay on the cliff’ and on and on. It’s exhilarating. I love the way you perform.”

And here’s what Detroit Free Press pop music critic Brian McCollum wrote about her late last month: “ ‘American Idol’ has turned the prime-time bright lights onto 17-year-old Jena Irene Asciutto (it’s pronounced a-shoot-oh, but she goes by Jena Irene on TV), a rock-influenced singer who has emerged as one of Season 12’s top contestants.

“And the future looks good no matter what unfolds on ‘Idol’ through the May 5 finale: The North Farmington High School senior has already made the show’s touring lineup. She’s got the attention of brand-name music producers, and her vocals could even be destined for a ‘Fast & Furious’ film soundtrack.

“A recent pair of strong performances (Paramore’s “Decode” and Zedd’s “Clarity”) has sent her up the leader-board among ‘Idol’ fans and reviewers. Jena Irene’s stock has risen substantially since she squeaked into the finals.”

So if you don’t have an “Idol” favorite to vote for this season, Jena’s relatives would like you to take the advice of Lopez and “get on board.”


While we are the subject of singers, NBC has announced that the 31-show concert tour of “The Voice” that will feature this season’s top finalists and favorite past stars will have two dates close enough for Western New Yorkers to see.

There is a July 11 date at the Seneca Niagara Events Center in Niagara Falls, a night after the tour hits Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. April 17 via and

Tessanne Chin, the winner of Season Five, runner-up Jacquie Lee and Will Champlin already are confirmed for the tour. This year’s winner, runner-up and third-place finisher also will be on the tour after they earn those spots on the season finale on NBC on May 20.


Finally, I’m not surprised by the relatively low local rating for the NCAA women’s basketball championship victory by the University of Connecticut over Notre Dame.

Nationally, UConn’s 79-58 victory had a 2.8 rating on ESPN Tuesday, making it the highest for any ESPN title game in a decade. It also was 40 percent higher the rating for UConn’s victory over Louisville a year ago.

Of course, the game was helped Tuesday because both teams were undefeated going in, their coaches hyped the game by noting how much they don’t care for each other, and, of course, there is the Notre Dame popularity factor.

Locally, the women’s title game had a 1.9 rating, which is about 25-30 percent of what the men’s semifinals received here on cable. This just isn’t a very big market for women’s basketball yet and the 1.9 actually is pretty decent by local standards.