Back to American Idol

American Idol' finalist Tyanna Jones tells homeless kids: ‘You’re not in this alone’


Tuesday, June 30, 11:23 AM EDT
By Kevin Hogencamp, Contributing Writer

There were no songs from 2015 American Idol top 5 finalist Tyanna Jones on Monday night at the Sulzbacher Center.
Just encouragement for some of Jacksonville’s homeless children.

And hugs — lots of hugs.

“I just want you to know that I love you and am so proud of you, and that I want you to remember that you’re not in this alone,” the 16-year-old Westside High School senior, who was once homeless herself, said between hugs.

In her second visit in a week with about 12 children at the homeless shelter, Tyanna announced winners of an “I Believe” essay contest she created for them.

Everyone received prizes ranging from Toys “R” Us gift certificates to Jacksonville Suns tickets.

The essay contest winner, 15-year-old Charlonda Coleman, won two backstage VIP passes to see Tyanna and the other Top 5 finalists perform in the “American Idol Live! 2015” concert July 15 at the Florida Theatre.

“I wrote about my son — how he has made me strong and how he has motivated me,” Charlonda said.

In her essay, Charlonda also discussed overcoming self-esteem challenges associated with being a teen mom.

“He keeps me going every day,” she wrote of young Aiden, who will be 2 on July 8.

That’s exactly what Tyanna and her mother, Tamara Jones, had in mind.

“Having a contest was my mom’s idea and I thought an essay contest — something where they could share what inspires them and motivate them in a positive way –– would work,” she said.

It did.

“I wrote about how I wanted to be a singer, too, and I wanted to be on stage and shine like she does,” said Cynthia Mendoza, 10.

She says Tyanna is especially kind to the children living at Sulzbacher — “like she’s our family.”

“She so nice to us. I can’t wait to see her again,” Cynthia said.

Being able to see Tyanna and her peers perform will be “like a dream,” Charlonda said.

Tyanna was joined Monday night at the Sulzbacher Center by her mother and her sister, 18-year-old Tierra Jones.

It won’t be the last visit, Tamara Jones said.

“You’re part of our family now,” she told the children.

The sixth of 11 siblings, Tyanna was about 3 when her family spent months without a home. The family lived in a church — a story that was told on American Idol.

“The older kids now say that we didn’t know we were poor. It’s just how we were — how we lived,” Tamara Jones said in an interview Monday.

In addition to shelter, Sulzbacher’s services include street outreach, daily meals, case management support, job placement assistance and health care.

Maxine Engram, Sulzbacher’s children’s program manager, said Tyanna’s visits are as meaningful for the youngsters living in the shelter as they are fun.

“She’s gotten to know the kids in a way where they feel special,” she said. “The kids have been excited for her to come back all week. In fact, all of Jacksonville is so gracious to Suzlbacher’s children.”

After performing two weeks ago in Connecticut with American Idol judge and Grammy winner Harry Connick Jr., Tyanna has enjoyed an extended visit home.

She is slated to leave today for Tampa to begin rehearsing for the 38-city American Idol tour.

“It’s nice to be back in Jacksonville, and it’s nice to be able to give back to a community that has been so supportive of me,” she said.

The tour kicks off July 7 in Clearwater and concludes Aug. 28 in Riverside, Calif.

Tamara Jones says she her family hopes to move soon to California to better enable Tyanna to continue her career.

Tyanna then hopes to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston.