Meet Su Charles, the latest American Idol hopeful from Denver

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Denver, meet Su Charles (aka SuCh), the latest American Idol hopeful from our city. Aside from having an exceptional voice, Charles has quite an inspiring story. The child of Haitian immigrants, Charles was born in Boston to a pastor and a school teacher. Raised in Long Island, New York, Charles began singing very early on in the church and by the time she was fifteen, she earned a spot with Grammy High School Jazz Ensemble as one of the only non performing arts school students.

Charles was invigorated by her experience with the Grammy ensemble and sought to pursue a life of singing. Dissuaded by her parents, she ended up going in another direction. "As with most immigrant families," she explains, "the American dream isn't really about following your dreams, but getting a good paying job and achieving stability. I ended up giving up and earned a bachelor's degree in nursing."

Well, not exactly in that order. Before she earned those credentials, she completed a degree in Exercise Science at La Sierra University and moved to Chicago with her husband Jodel for a short time. The couple later moved to Denver in 2006 when Jodel landed a job as a computer engineer in the Mile High City.

Before embarking on her nursing career, Su worked as a PT aid at National Jewish, but then decided to pursue nursing when she realized the physical therapy field was fairly saturated in Denver. After earning a nursing degree at Regis in its accelerated program, Su worked as a nurse at Craig until 2010.

That's when Su and Jodel, also the child of Haitian parents, headed to Haiti for nearly a month-long stint working as first responders after the tragic Haitian earthquake. Jodel's parents, both doctors who still live in Haiti, pleaded with the couple to bring medical supplies, and they of course obliged.

While there, Su experienced the devastation first hand and began to contemplate the fragility and brevity of life. "The loss of life, sheer devastation broke my heart and changed me," Charles says of the epiphany that altered her course. "I realized life is too short for me not to be doing what I love."

And what she loves is singing. So with that notion in mind, she started heading in that direction. At first, she began performing at various benefits she and Jodel had organized through Renewal for Haiti, the non-profit the two co-founded. But then, after giving birth to her son Saël Arcani (literal translation: beyond destined for greatness) nearly a year ago, Charles actively began pursuing her passion in earnest.

In April, she gave X-Factor a go and made it through the early rounds before eventually being passed over for whatever reason (and they wonder why that show is struggling). A few months later, she attended the American Idol auditions at what was then Invesco Field and received a call back to the Aspen auditions, whereupon she earned a golden ticket to Hollywood with her rendition of "Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin. Evidently, she earned a nod from all three judges, Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.

"I told them I was the 'black Barbra Streisand,'" Charles recalls. "They were like, "Um... nah! More like Aretha Franklin, sweetie!' and then proceeded to give me three yeses! Definitely the highlight of my life."

Where she goes from here, of course, is anybody's guess. Regardless, Charles has the steely-eyed determination of somebody who's going to make her mark one way or another, with or without some television show. She's so determined, in fact, that's she taken a leap of faith and stepped away from nursing to completely devote her efforts to singing and making music full time.

To that end, in the time between her Aspen call back and this week's Hollywood rounds, she's enlisted a vocal coach, been actively working on recording an album and has already filming a pair of videos. So however this thing with Idol turns out, something tells us you'll be hearing a lot more from this talented young lady in the future.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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