Denise Neil

'Idol' run dedicated to Wichita songwriter

Didi Benami didn't know her college roommate, Rebecca Joy Lear, for very long. But Rebecca made enough of an impression on her that Didi has dedicated her current run on "American Idol" to her late friend.

Didi, 23, is among the remaining 20 contestants competing for the title of "American Idol" on the season that's airing now on Fox, cable channel 4.

During several segments that have aired about Didi, she's repeatedly brought up Rebecca, who inspired and encouraged her to follow her musical dreams.

Rebecca was driving home to Wichita from Belmont University in Nashville for Christmas break in 2005 when she was killed in a one-car accident on I-35 near Lebo. She was 18.

Rebecca, a graduate of Collegiate, was a talented songwriter who had written nearly 60 original songs. She encouraged her Belmont roommate Didi to pursue her music, too.

Didi traveled to Wichita for the funeral, Rebecca's mom, Susan, remembers. She was shaken, and she didn't return to Belmont the next semester. Instead, she moved to Los Angeles to try to make it as a professional singer.

But she stayed in touch with Rebecca's parents, Susan and Don, even returning to Wichita several times over the years to observe Rebecca's birthdays.

A few months ago, Susan got a call from Didi letting her know that "American Idol" producers could be calling.

She'd signed a strict confidentiality agreement and couldn't say more than that, Susan said. But she did receive a call from producers, asking her to share some of Rebecca's photos.

Learning that Didi had become a finalist on the show was exciting and a little overwhelming for the Lears, Susan said.

"One of the things she wanted so much was that her music be remembered," Susan said of her daughter. "That there would be that opportunity even without her here, it's so cool."

The Lears, who'd never watched an episode of "Idol" before this season, now are dedicated viewers. Susan laughed as she talked about a recent night where she and her husband and a couple of friends sat around with cell phones and dialed the show to vote for Didi for two straight hours.

"I just thought, 'I can't believe anybody does this, and here we're all doing it.' "

Susan says she's excited for Didi, but it also touches her that Didi is so dedicated to getting Rebecca's music heard. Although she can't sing anything but covers on the show, Susan said, Didi has told the Lears her mission is to get Rebecca's music out there. Already, national magazines and songwriters have expressed interest in Rebecca and her music, some of which is showcased on the Web site

"As a mom that's the most beautiful thing in the world because someone's remembering your child," Susan said. "It's bittersweet."