May 17, 2013 / 4:33 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. 'Idol' winner shines light on South's Gullah culture

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - “American Idol” winner Candice Glover, whose powerful voice clinched the title of the popular TV singing show, comes from a sea island culture made up of descendants of West African slaves.

Finalist Candice Glover reacts following her performance after being announced the winner during the Season 12 finale of "American Idol" in Los Angeles May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

“I speak another language,” she said during the Fox TV show. “It’s called Geechee.”

Some 14.2 million TV viewers tuned in to watch Glover beat Kree Harrison to win the season 12 “American Idol” crown on Thursday.

Glover, 23, is a native of rural St. Helena Island in the coastal South Carolina Lowcountry. The island is part of a new national heritage corridor to preserve and promote the unique African culture and language called Gullah Geechee that survived on the isolated sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia for centuries.

“When she said that, I stood up in my living room and applauded,” said Ron Daise, commission chairman of the corridor that also includes parts of North Carolina and Florida. “There’s a rootedness about her spirit.”

The Gullah Geechee language is a mix of West African dialects and English. The Glover family does not speak the language as well as older generations, Glover’s mother, Carole, said in an interview this week.

But she added that her daughter’s revelation made residents of St. Helena “proud and happy.”

In April, Daise wrote Glover a congratulatory letter that ended in Gullah: “We stan op an clap clap clap clap cuz oona da one a we! A kno de Lawd done lay E han pon oona.”

The oldest of seven children, Glover was 4 years old and singing solos in church when her parents first noticed her talent. When she was 8, she earned a standing ovation.

“She always got solos because, you know, she has the voice to take us there, into worship,” her mother said. “It came from God, that’s what I believe.”

With no formal training, Candice entered talent shows, made YouTube videos in her living room and auditioned for “American Idol” twice and was cut. She was working at a beach resort when she made it onto the show with her third try.

Supporters on St. Helena Island sold T-shirts and pins to send Glover’s parents to California to watch her perform. Her mother is a former daycare worker, and her father, John, is a truck driver. Bars in the nearby city of Beaufort created and served Candy Cane Martinis for “Idol” parties.

Governor Nikki Haley proclaimed May 4, Glover’s homecoming day from the show, “Candice Glover Day” statewide. A riverfront parade down streets featured a marching band and floats.

“She cried so much during that day, all through the parade she cried,” her mother said. “Because this is a little country girl and this is her dream.”

Glover’s mother said she thought a high point of the “American Idol” season was her daughter’s performance of “You’ve Changed,” the jazz song made famous by Billie Holiday.

“My parents have always taught me to be humble in everything that you do and everybody has to start at the bottom,” Glover told a South Carolina television station.

Asked what goes through her mind before a performance, she said, “the lyrics.”

She starts a 40-city national tour, with 10 other “Idol” finalists, on June 29.

Editing by Patricia Reaney, Jackie Frank and Matthew Lewis

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