“As far back as I can remember, people have been telling me I should do something with my singing,” says Sherman Pore, a Los Angeles maintenance mechanic whose successful petition drive to allow him to audition for “American Idol” despite being 36 years past the show’s age limit propelled him to national renown. “But there is no way – no way on earth – I could have done it if it weren’t for Melissa. She convinced me I was good enough.”
Melissa, as Sherman’s legion of fans know, was the love of his life, by whose side he spent 20 wonderful years and for whom his lush, emotionally charged debut album, For My Lady Love (due May 22, 2007, from Z Entertainment) is named. After a crushing, months-long struggle with ovarian cancer, she succumbed two days before Sherman overcame a lifelong drought of self-confidence and headed off to audition for the biggest test of vocal skill ever devised.
“A few months before she died, even before we knew she was seriously ill, Melissa said to me, ‘I’ve never accomplished anything in my life,’ which was nonsense, of course,” Sherman relates. “But I’ll tell you something. My appearance on ‘American Idol,’ this album, and all the money it will raise for City of Hope to fight cancer – these are all Melissa’s accomplishments.”
A portion of the proceeds raised by sales of For My Lady Love – “This is for my lady love” is how Sherman introduced his audition selection, “You Belong to Me” – have been earmarked for City of Hope. Moreover, Sherman plans to establish the Melissa E. Miller Foundation to further advances in cancer treatment. For My Lady Love is a collection of classic love songs, from “You Belong to Me” to “Unforgettable” (the latter made famous by Sherman’s own American idol, the velvet-voiced Nat King Cole). The album is not only a weapon in the fight against cancer, but also a solemn promise kept and the ultimate tribute to Sherman’s lady love.
Long before he became the working man who landed aside a 45-piece orchestra at Capitol Records’ Studio B, once home to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Sherman Pore was just a kid singing Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” to no one in particular. “I grew up in Memphis, right down the road from where my older sister went to high school with Elvis Presley,” he informs.
Heartache came early, however, when, at age seven, he says, “my family started to break up.” “My mother and father split up,” Sherman continues. “My mother tried her best, but she couldn’t take care of us by herself” [Sherman was the fifth of seven children]. “My father stayed in the picture for a while, but he wasn’t much help with income because he had another family by that time.”
Sherman lived for a while with a family from his church, then fell into the care of juvenile authorities. This led to a stint at the infamous Tennessee Children’s Home Society (TCHS), presided over by Georgia Tann, who, it was later discovered, had run a black-market baby-selling operation for more than 20 years. Conspiring with a corrupt juvenile-court judge who would order children removed from their parents and turned over to Tann, she amassed a personal fortune selling these children to wealthy couples, many of whom resided outside of Tennessee. His memories of the TCHS remain vivid. A rare pleasant example: “I remember learning ‘All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth’ there in 1949.”
Sherman was eventually adopted by a family in the Los Angeles area. “I first met them in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A.,” he says, “which, believe it or not, is where I auditioned for the ‘American Idol’ judges 56 years later.” That domestic situation lasted only six months, however, after which he was adopted by the Pore family, who would raise him to adulthood.
Throughout these difficult years, Sherman sang. “I’ve been singing forever,” he attests. “I’d sing everywhere I’d go. Growing up in Tennessee, I had a twang ya’all could have cut with a knife. But my first adoptive mother didn’t like country music. When I lived with her, I started to learn the standards I heard on the radio.” Another recollection he carries from earliest childhood: “I was so fascinated by the phonograph that I’d wind it and wind it until my brothers and sisters made me stop because they were afraid I’d break it. I couldn’t keep my hands off that thing; I couldn’t get enough of those records.”
Despite this preoccupation and his obvious vocal abilities, he never even remotely considered a career in music. “People encouraged me over the years,” he says, “but I never had the confidence to do anything about it. I heard what people were saying, and I had it in my head, but I couldn’t get it into my heart. During those first seven years of my childhood, I had four older siblings constantly watching out for me. When they were taken away, it was like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I think that has a lot to do with why I never had the confidence to sing later in life.”
This began to change when he met Melissa, in a community-theater production of “South Pacific.” Thereafter, he frequently called her at the law office where she worked “just to say ‘I love you’ with a song,” and she would ask him to call friends and coworkers when they were feeling low to lift their spirits with a song. “She always wanted to share my voice,” Sherman notes. When he returned from work, he’d sing his way from the car into their apartment, and when she got sick, he’d sing his way through the hospital and into her room, where he slept by her side on a cot for weeks.
“At the tail end of her stay in the hospital, just before they moved her into the care home,” he recalls, “she said, ‘Sherman, no matter what happens to me, I want you to promise that you will do something with your singing.’”
Four years earlier, he’d tried to audition for the inaugural season of “American Idol” but had been turned away because of the age limit. Once the show became a phenomenon, people who heard him sing – in line at the post office, at the hardware store, at the local pizza joint – would say, “You should be on ‘American Idol.’” The response he got when he informed these folks of the age restriction was always the same: “Well, that’s not fair.” So he and Melissa hatched the petition scheme. Now, when people said, “You should be on ‘American Idol,’” he responded with, “Would you like to put that in writing?” “Our excitement about the petition kept Melissa positive,” he says. “I think it made what she was going through a little easier to take.”
When Melissa passed, on Aug. 4, 2006, at age 54, Sherman “dumped a couple buckets of tears,” finding solace in cards they’d exchanged during their two decades together, which Melissa had saved. One, of a little girl taking the hand of a little boy as if to guide him, bolstered his resolve to go through with the audition.
After six hours in line, nearly 350 signatures were enough to get him to an audition supervisor, who made a one-time exception to let him try out. It wasn’t until some weeks later, however, that the show’s producers uncovered the story of how Sherman’s initial audition came within days of Melissa’s death. “I did not want to compete on sympathy,” Sherman says, “so I’d kept that information to myself.”
Needless to say, Paula Abdul was reduced to tears by Sherman’s performance, but Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and guest judge Olivia Newton-John were also visibly moved. Cowell went so far as to declare, “You’re a class act, Sherman.” “I wasn’t nervous,” Sherman volunteers. “I was just singing to Melissa.”
For months, Sherman was unable to tell his friends and family how he’d fared on “American Idol.” Then, on Jan. 30, 2007, the night the show featuring him aired to roughly 34 million viewers – before it had even been broadcast in Los Angeles – he began getting calls from the New York offices of various news outlets. “I had no clue what was about to begin,” he confides. For starters, he was flown to New York, where he was ushered to the sets of not only local programs but “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood” and “Larry King Live.” (He’d actually been on “Larry King” before, after he’d served as an alternate juror at Winona Ryder’s 2002 shoplifting trial. He was pleasantly surprised that King remembered him from that appearance four years earlier.)
It was at King’s show that Sherman was approached about making an album, which he said he would, in fact, be very interested in doing. This led to a call the next day from Steven Zap, who would become his manager and whose Z Entertainment would become his record label. Says Zap, a marketing executive for Azoffmusic Management: “I was in the hospital with my wife, who was getting ready to give birth to our twins, and she’s watching ‘American Idol’ and crying because she’s so moved by Sherman’s performance. Then my mother calls crying. It wasn’t hard to see the tremendous emotional impact Sherman has on people. I’ve been working in the music industry for many years and had always wanted to make a record. Once I saw Sherman, I knew I’d found the record I needed to make.”
Zap next hired David Hodge, a commercial producer known for his facility with big bands, to produce For My Lady Love. Hodge also crafted new arrangements of the material Sherman had submitted to Zap, a list he and Melissa had compiled as possibilities for Sherman’s “AI” audition and which Zap whittled down to 10, including timeless numbers like “The Very Thought of You,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Dream a Little Dream,” “When I Fall in Love” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
Says Sherman with characteristic modesty: “My part in this album has been very small. The credit goes to Steven and David – I just did what I love to do and they were the ones who pulled it all together.” He notes that David helped him enormously with tempo and timing in the studio but also reveals, “I had the feeling that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, and in many ways it felt very natural.”
Melissa, meanwhile, continues to “pull the strings” as Sherman puts it. “I’m not sure where this journey will lead, but I know Melissa will take me there. She’s running the show,” he insists. “I’m just going to hang on and ride.”