‘American Idol’ contestant has happy homecoming

Staff Writer

 Attendees from New Jersey and beyond came out to support “American Idol” contestant Jax as she made her grand return home to East Brunswick for a parade and performance that was featured on the May 6 episode.  PHOTOS BY SCOTT FRIEDMAN/STAFF Attendees from New Jersey and beyond came out to support “American Idol” contestant Jax as she made her grand return home to East Brunswick for a parade and performance that was featured on the May 6 episode. PHOTOS BY SCOTT FRIEDMAN/STAFF Los Angeles might appear to have everything, but for “American Idol” hopeful Jax, there are some things that only a trip back home to East Brunswick can give her.

“I miss Dunkin’ Donuts,” Jax said. “They have, like, one Dunkin’ Donuts in the whole world of California land.”

On May 1, Jax — the most successful “American Idol” contestant to come out of New Jersey — returned to her hometown of East Brunswick for a parade and performance that was attended by more than 1,000 fans and friends cheering her name and waving “East Brunswick Loves Jax” signs.

In a year of tough “Idol” competition, the 18-year-old worked and sang her heart out to the Top 4, earning her a trip back home for a celebration that was aired on the May 6 episode of “American Idol.”

For just one day, Jax traded the “Idol” stage for the more familiar Playhouse 22 stage on Cranbury Road, swapping out Ryan Seacrest for East Brunswick Mayor David Stahl. And instead of singing to judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., she sang to a crowd of people who have supported her since the very beginning.

Her mother, Jill Miskanic, said she is grateful for the support of the community.

“I’m experiencing such pride to be a resident of East Brunswick,” Miskanic said. “Everybody came out today, and I am overwhelmed with love. This is bizarre. This whole experience is insane, and I am feeling so proud to be a resident of this community.”

Following a parade with Jax riding with her parents and brother, she took the stage and performed hits “Toxic” by Britney Spears and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles — her original audition song. She also sang “Cups” from the movie “Pitch Perfect” and “My Immortal” by Evanescence.

With a huge fan following, Jax candidly admitted that there would always be a twinge of “awkwardness” at getting recognized on the street.

“I’m awkward, and I think that’s never going to change,” Jax said. “I’m super awkward. I’m awkward when I just don’t know people in general. And now people actually know me, and I don’t know how to respond.”

But for those who do know Jax — and have known her for many, many years — it’s just as surreal seeing her turn into a star.

“It’s pretty weird, actually,” said Jake Berger, who has known Jax for nearly his whole life, and is best friends with her brother. “I’ve known her for a long time, and it just feels surreal that I actually know someone on the show.”

Berger said the most surreal moment was when he was invited to sit in the audience for an “Idol” episode. At the end of Jax’s performance, she came over and hugged him.

“I was there [on TV] for a second,” Berger said. “It was cool to watch myself.”

Jax’s seventh-grade math teacher from Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick, Cheryl Canonaco, was also there to share her support for her former student.

“She’s a good person,” Canonaco said of Jax. “She was just always happy. She was always cheerful. She was always bopping and singing tunes as she was doing her work. And she’s just a nice person, and I think that comes through when you watch her on TV.”

Some people traveled long distances to East Brunswick to see Jax, such as Ruben Guzman and Celeste Allen — juniors at Middlebury College in Vermont — who skipped class to drive more than five hours for Jax’s performance.

“I’m the total crazy, die-hard fan,” Guzman said. “I love just how sincere she is to herself, and how sincere she is to the music. And she’s so charismatic, and so creative. … Just the name ‘Jax’ is an iconic name, almost like Madonna.”

Allen said she has been a favorite since the beginning of this season.

“So we’ve been hoping that she got this far so that we could go,” she said.

Like many other attendees, Guzman and Allen said their favorite Jax performance so far was her emotional cover of “White Flag” by Dido, although many cited her cover of “Human” by Christina Perri as the one that stood out the most.

Jess Burch and Jake Cittadino, eighth-graders at Churchill Junior High School in East Brunswick, praised Jax for putting their township on the national stage.

“East Brunswick isn’t really famous for anything,” Jess said.

“Nothing happens here, so it’s kind of exciting,” Jake said. Burch pinpointed what she thinks makes Jax so special.

“She has a really unique voice, and she has different personalities when she performs,” Burch said. “Like, she can be really sophisticated and collected, or she can be all-out, and that’s really cool.”

Stahl, as mayor of East Brunswick, also said he is proud to have Jax represent his town.

“It’s a great day for East Brunswick,” Stahl said. “It’s a great day for Jax. I think it shows that in East Brunswick we are so supportive of our children, no matter what their activities are. Here you have a case of Jax, who at a young age had a dream — a dream of being a performer — and she had the support of her family and friends.

“I think it shows that, with determination in America, you can continue to grab the brass ring and be the best that you can, and that’s exactly what Jax has done. I know that East Brunswick is incredibly proud.

“ … It’s great for the community, it’s great for Jax, and it’s great for the state of New Jersey.”

“American Idol” airs Wednesdays on FOX. The finale episode airs May 13.