Ten-year-old Elena is a very happy-go-lucky little girl with a caring personality and a sweet disposition. She loves to sing and move to music; she also has a soft spot for reality TV, particularly American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.
Elena suffers from congenital myotonic muscular dystrophy. This is a form of muscular dystrophy that leads to weakness in the muscles that control swallowing and breathing as well as muscle deficiencies elsewhere in the body, such as the legs and arms. Elena has endured numerous surgeries to her feet and legs and cannot walk long distances; she also experiences difficulties with her speech.
Wish Coordinator, Jill, was the “Guardian Angel” to whom Elena entrusted her one wish: to visit the set of American Idol and meet with the show’s stars. With help from a league of outstanding sponsors, Jill organized an idyllic trip to California for Elena and her family to meet with Elena’s favorite judges and contestants.
Elena’s mother, Michele, encapsulated the feeling of Elena’s wish trip with one sentence: “It was just a thrill for all of us.” From the hotel down to the dinners, everything was perfect for Elena. Prior to the taping of American Idol, Elena and her family were given two days to enjoy the magic of Hollywood and have some time to sightsee, visiting Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Despite all of the activities planned for her, Elena was most excited to see American Idol contestant, Danny Gokey, and Dancing with the Stars contestant, Melissa Rycroft during a chance encounter at a dinner at Maggiano’s in Hollywood. “She was just in awe,” said Michele of Elena, when she recognized the two reality stars dining at the restaurant near them. Once introduced, the stars were thrilled to meet and take pictures with the brave little girl who was struck speechless with disbelief. “It was just surreal,” said Michele.
At the taping of American Idol, “it was better than we could have ever imagined,” claimed Michele. Elena and her family had seats in the audience just behind Danny Gokey’s family, who is now her favorite, and were astounded to hear that every one of the last seven contestants sounded “better in person than they do on TV,” which is saying a lot, hearing how fantastic the remaining competitors sound even through the television.
After the show, Elena was escorted backstage to meet the seven final Idol singers. She was greeted warmly and thoroughly by the seven who even signed a t-shirt, which she plans to frame, and posed for pictures. She also got to meet judges Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. “Paula hugged and kissed everyone and Elena wanted to invite her over for a play date!”
Meeting all your favorite people in one day would surely take a toll on anyone. “Elena did get tired at one point but she refused to nap. It was everything we expected and then some. Everything was over the top!”
Back home in Illinois, Elena can try to get back to her normal routine, but she will forever be surrounded by the memories of this once in a lifetime vacation – a High School Musical 3 DVD and scrapbook provided to her by the hotel, photos of the sights and sounds of California, and of course, the signed Idol t-shirt that will forever hang on her wall. Thinking back, her mom puts it simply, “I can’t imagine how things could’ve been better.”