For American Idol contestants striving to succeed in the bright glare of Hollywood's spotlight, a California pastor is offering respite in the form of spiritual and financial aid.
Many contestants and their families who travel to Los Angeles to participate in the singing competition are approached by local pastor Leesa Bellesi, who, with her husband Denny, runs a ministry called Kingdom Assignments, which organizes volunteer efforts to help others in Orange County, Calif.
Bellesi, though not officially sanctioned by the show or affiliated with it, has extended the couple's devotion to volunteerism by offering temporary lodging, financial support, and church services to the contestants' families while they are in LA.
Bellesi, 57, calls her interaction with the contestants a "God story," and attributes the moments of coincidence and inspiration along her journey to a calling by God to help the budding singing stars while in the City of Angels.
"I was having one of those days, feeling very miserable, like my life was over a little bit, and I threw my hands up in the air, stood up in my living room, and said, 'Here I am Lord, send me,' Bellesi said, recalling the day in 2006 when she decided to minister to Idol contestants. "I had this little thought, and the backstage of American Idol ran through my mind."
The couple, who founded a Christian community church where Denny Bellesi served as pastor beginning in the 1980s, recently left their official roles within the church to work on their own ministry.
In 2006, during Idol's fifth season, Bellesi decided to begin praying for a contestant named Katharine McPhee, but she had no idea why.
A few weeks later, Bellesi was approached by a family after her husband had preached a Sunday sermon, and asked to pray for their daughter who was a contestant on the show. The girl turned out to be McPhee.
"I turned around and Katharine McPhee was standing right in front of me," Bellesi said. "I didn't recognize her. I said, 'I've been praying for you and I Googled you.'"
Bellesi grew closer with McPhee's friends and family, and awoke one morning with an idea. "I had a silver bangle that said Jeremiah 29:11 that friends had given me for my birthday and I woke up this one morning and heard the Lord say, 'This isn't yours, you need to give this to Katherine today,'" Bellesi said.
Bellesi managed to win two tickets to the taping of the show that same night, and she was invited backstage by McPhee's boyfriend and managed to get the bracelet to her. Later in the season, McPhee referenced the Bible verses from Bellesi's bracelet when she ended up in the bottom two of the vote and host Ryan Seacrest asked her for her final thoughts. She said, "I know God has a plan for my life," Bellesi recalled her saying.
Since then, Bellesi has reached out to dozens of contestants throughout each season of Idol, offering them white rubber bracelets with the Jeremiah verses on them. She also offers help to their families.
Charity Vance, who competed on the show in 2010, said she met Bellesi through friends of friends.
"My family needed a place to stay during Hollywood week, so I got her number through people and talked to her on the phone, and when I got out there she came out and supported me and we became very close," said Vance, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., and is pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter. "We're still very close. Every time I go out to California I stay with her."
Vance said that the Bellesi's hospitality and warmth was a godsend during her stay in California. Bellesi took the young contestant around to show off her favorite spots in Los Angeles, and allowed Vance's family to stay at their home throughout the competition.