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myfina in mcorkrey

'American Idol': Sandy singer cracks the top 36

Megan Joy was at a crossroads when she decided to audition for the nation's No. 1 television show, "American Idol."

The 23-year-old Sandy woman was going through the pains of a divorce and raising her 2-year-old son, Ryder, when she tried out at the EnergySolutions Arena in downtown Salt Lake City last summer. That launched a miraculous journey that has taken Joy all the way to the top 36 contestants in season 8. She is one of two Utahns to make it this far in the megahit singing competition; the other is Taylor Vaifanua, a 16-year-old from Hurricane.

Joy -- previously known as Megan Corkrey but now going by her middle name -- will perform before the nation for the first time when the second set of 12 singers debuts Wednesday at 7 p.m. on KSTU Channel 13.

Joy has wowed the judges and viewers with her Amy Winehouse-like jazzy vocals. Not bad for someone whose only formal training was from a vocal coach she had for two weeks to prepare for a high-school choir performance.

"It feels incredible and exciting. It's wonderful!" she told The Tribune on being near the top of the nation's highest-rated show. "I just had a picture in my mind on where I wanted my life to go. I wanted a change."

The Taylorsville High School graduate's first accomplishment in her "Idol" experience came early -- she got a big thumbs-up from the usually crusty and critical judge, Simon Cowell, who liked her rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in her first audition.

"One of my favorite auditions, because you're different," he told her. "You are one of the few I'm going to remember. I like you. I like your voice."

"It was mind-blowing to get the feedback from Simon," she said, looking back on that day in September. "I never imagined it. I was expecting the worst."

Perhaps most astonishing is that Joy was never trained or took singing lessons and considers herself "blessed I was just born with talent."

"I give my mom all the credit in the world," she said about her mother, who was a singer through junior high and high school. "She taught me everything I know."

With some 20 million viewers expected to tune in next week, Joy said she's a nervous wreck, but she hopes to take it all in stride.

"My strategy," she said, "is to have fun and enjoy the opportunity to sing to America. And soak it all in."