Tonasket's got Terri

“It was totally impromptu, but that’s what jazz is about — being inspired and in the moment.” Terri Orford, Tonasket contestant on America’s Got Talent

Local singer goes from New Orleans to Facebook to America’s Got Talent

Terri Orford glows with anticipation as she waits to hear back from America's Got Talent. Katie Teachout/staff photos
Terri Orford glows with anticipation as she waits to hear back from America’s Got Talent. Katie Teachout/staff photos

TONASKET – Terri Orford was on vacation in New Orleans, sitting in a jazz club with her husband Andy when he informed the band his wife had talent. The next thing she knew, she was onstage in the jazz capital of the world, wooing the audience with a rendition of ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline. Orford hadn’t previously met the musicians, let alone rehearsed with them.

“It was totally impromptu, but that’s what jazz is about—being inspired and in the moment,” Orford said.

The moment was captured on video, and when it went on Facebook, Orford was approached by a stranger and told she should audition for ‘America’s Got Talent.’ The NBC summer series, now in it’s 10th season, held auditions for the first time in six years in the Seattle/Tacoma area Feb. 9, so Orford and her husband hit the road. The Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center was their target, where acts began lining up at 6 a.m.

“We got there as soon as the doors opened,” Orford said. She was given a number and told to wait in a holding/rehearsal room with about 150 of the 1,000 acts signed up to audition.

“I thought I had it all together, but you sit in the holding room and wait for them to call your number, walking around practicing out loud and trying to tune out all the other singers rehearsing,” said Orford, who called the experience a performance of its own, which “helped work out the nerves” for the next step.

The actual audition also takes place in front of other performers, all of whom have only 90 seconds to impress the producers of the show. Orford watched a comedy stand-up act followed by a woman playing guitar and singing a Bonnie Raitt song before it was her turn.

“That was the most nerve-wracking moment,” Orford said. “I’m not a seasoned enough performer—when a kid does stand up right before you, it’s kind of hard to get inspired to sing.”

Singers are asked to perform a cappella (without a backup track, which can overpower vocals) and choose a portion of the song that best shows off their voice. Orford again chose to sing ‘Crazy.’

Describing the setting as being “kinda dry,” Orford said it had none of the ambiance of the jazz club with lighting and action, where it’s easier to get into the flow.

“It was more like a job interview, and I felt like I should have to sit down for a business meeting afterward,” said Orford, the New Business Development Director at Tonasket’s North Valley Hospital.

Nationwide, 17,000 people have already auditioned for the show that takes all ages, any talent. A small number will be called up for the next level of competition, performing in front of this year’s celebrity judges Howard Stern, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Melanie Brown. Acts chosen will then compete live on TV, with the winner taking home $1 million.

Orford said her mother Leslie Olson, along with her partner Laurie Thorp, both of Kettle Falls, and her father Brian Henderson, also of Kettle Falls are all planning to come if she gets called up for the next step.

“I had to keep them at bay with this initial audition, telling them ‘it’s just preliminary—don’t come,’ said Orford, adding that she wouldn’t know until April if she’s chosen. And if she’s not?

“I would love to go to a recording studio and record a few tracks. I could give them to my grandmother who is 101, lives in Post Falls, Idaho, and has never heard me sing,” Orford said. “Lonnie Good has a studio in Okanogan open to the public to rent. It takes initiative to rent a studio and go and actually do it, but with all this happening, it has motivated me.”

“You’re famous!” laughs NVH Dripline Cafe employee Cheyenne Keen as she asks Terri Orford (left) for an autograph.
“You’re famous!” laughs NVH Dripline Cafe employee Cheyenne Keen as she asks Terri Orford (left) for an autograph.

Her background in music includes playing drums for two years in her high school pep band and for a Methow Valley jazz band led by Terry Hunt.

“Singing in the New Orleans jazz club was the highlight of my life,” Orford said, giving credit to her husband Andy. “He has definitely fostered my hobby of singing and really supports me in that. He’s a quiet and reserved person who doesn’t hand out compliments very often, so when he did that in New Orleans it was a huge compliment.”

Orford said part of the joy in performing and singing is seeing other people’s reactions.

A 2004 graduate of Liberty Bell High School in Winthrop, Orford acquired her business degree from Whatcom Community College in Bellingham before moving to Tonasket in 2010, taking a job in the billing department at NVH.

“I love it here; it’s a great place to work,” said Orford, who moved into her current position of director of business development just a couple of months later. “I’m a very social person, and after building relationships with people in the valley through work, I feel like it has come full circle. People have reciprocated and I feel so much support from co-workers, family, friends and fellow Kiwanians. I think the best part of this experience is to realize how many people love and support me.”