Hello to Hollywood: Local singer enjoying fame on American Idol

AMERICAN IDOL: Chicago Auditions: Contestant (Lazaro Arbos) on AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, Jan. 17 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

AMERICAN IDOL: Chicago Auditions: Contestant (Lazaro Arbos) on AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, Jan. 17 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

Lazaro Arbos, Facebook photo.

Lazaro Arbos, Facebook photo.

Video from YouTube

Fame is something that Naples area resident and "American Idol" contestant Lazaro Arbos is still getting used to.

The 21-year-old, who said he didn't have many friends in high school, has gone from 90 followers on Twitter to more than 13,000 after appearing on the show.

"Every time that I go out to the market … they recognize me, and they take pictures," said the 2009 Gulf Coast High grad.

Arbos auditioned in Chicago for the reality TV singing competition, and the judges gave him a golden ticket to Hollywood Week, which airs on FOX starting tonight at 8. More than 250 contestants are still battling to be the next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. Only 40 singers will survive the next round of cuts.

But Arbos' talent and compelling personal story have already made him an overnight sensation.

When Arbos speaks, he often stutters. When he sings, the stutter disappears.

He has an unmistakable speech impediment, but he manages it. When Arbos gets caught up in a repetition, his eyes grow a little wider, and he pushes through until he finishes his thought or finds an appropriate ending. Then Arbos carries on conversation until the next time he has to slow down.

His stutter is something that the media and "American Idol" have emphasized after his breakthrough audition.

The focus does not seem to bother Arbos, though he wants people to know he has other sides to him.

"It's part of me, and it's part of who I am as a person … and it's helped shape my singing voice as well. I don't mind when they ask me about it or when they talk about it," Arbos said. "But I do like it when they compliment me on my voice and not just that part."

Arbos is the latest of many Gulf Coast High School students who have continued in the arts, according to Scarlett LaVite, director of the drama department. Casey Weston, a former contestant on NBC's "The Voice," was in the school's production of "Annie" with Arbos, LaVite said.

"I don't know what it is in the water here, but they can sing," she said. "It's just amazing."

The "Idol" judges' reactions to his singing voice brought Arbos to tears after his audition.

"I haven't sung often and I haven't done a lot of shows, which means I haven't gotten a lot of feedback from people to build up my confidence … so when they told me I sounded good … it kind of made me really emotional," Arbos said.

Advancing in the competition means he is going to have the chance to tell more of his story.

And just like that, his life changed.

"It's kind of wild," he said.

His smartphone buzzes every few seconds with emails, text messages and social media notifications. The interview requests from national and local media have been coming in at a steady pace.

And his friends are promoting him locally as well.

Jason Gibson, owner of the Rita's Italian Ice near Coastland Center in Naples, said he personally hired Arbos last year to help him scoop ice cream at community events such as high school football games.

Though the "American Idol" contestant no longer works for him, Gibson still treats Arbos like a part of his team.

Gibson said that whenever he has a chance, he tells people that he has a former employee on the show.

"I'm telling everybody. I'm telling all of my customers. I'm trying to get him as much support as possible," Gibson said.

Arbos said he appreciates the support he has received, but the outpouring still surprises him at times.

"When you want to be a singer, you kind of have to expect to be a hit, expect to be liked and expect to be big," Arbos said. "But I didn't think it would get this big that fast."

He said that in high school he was close with the faculty and staff but had trouble making friends with other students.

"I wasn't known," he said.

Anabel Lopez, a secretary at the Gulf Coast High School guidance office, worked with Arbos when he was a student aide. She said she thinks Arbos probably found adults more patient than his peers.

"We would listen to him. We wouldn't rush him to talk. I would never try to go ahead of him," she said. "I would let him tell me what he wanted to say."

Arbos said he didn't worry about having friends and just kept dreaming of one day being a renowned singer.

"Through that time I always said, 'I'm going to move to L.A. and become what I want to,'" he said.Lopez described Arbos as "bubbly" but driven. She said he would often mention to her what he wanted to do in the future.

"I remember one of the things he would always say is that one day we would see him on TV," she said.

Now that he's made his dream come true, Arbos has inspired people at his former high school, according to Lopez.

"We are so proud of him here — that he wasn't scared," she said. "We applaud that so much."

Arbos said he's going to stick with music because it is an outlet for him.

"I love to sing and … I love to express myself without the speech problem," he said. "And I love how I can tell things in the song that I wouldn't normally tell people."

And he is glad his involvement with "American Idol" is bringing national awareness about stuttering.

"Just because you can't communicate a certain way doesn't mean you're less (smart)," he said.

Arbos, who was born in Cuba, said his stutter started to show up when he was about five or six years old.

"When you're five, you think that is the end of the world," he said. "When it first began, I was really self conscious about it, and that's normal because at five you haven't built that much character. So it's normal to be self conscious at that age."

He and his parents arrived in Collier County when he was 10 years old. He said it was around that time that his stutter got worse.

Arbos only spoke Spanish, so he had to learn English while dealing with culture shock and the changes in his speech, too.

"It got really bad at that age," he said. "With speech coaching, it got a lot better."

Arbos still resides in Golden Gate Estates with his parents and his grandmother. He said his large extended family is protective and close-knit.

"I think that when you get all … of these things going on, you kinda just get lost and you kinda forget where you are," he said. "But I think that having such a big family that is so down to earth … will definitely be a good thing."

LaVite said that no matter how Arbos ultimately does on the show, he's already won.

"I think Lazaro is touching the hearts of a lot of people," she said.

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