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Local

DeKalb man, former war refugee makes field of 200 at 'American Idol'

Ephraim Bugumba aka "StoryTeller" of Dekalb takes the stage for an open mic night at House Cafe in DeKalb. He will be seen soon as a contestant on the American Idol television reality show.  Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media
Ephraim Bugumba aka "StoryTeller" of Dekalb takes the stage for an open mic night at House Cafe in DeKalb. He will be seen soon as a contestant on the American Idol television reality show. Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media

DeKALB – DeKalb resident Ephraim Bugumba can empathize with the late, great Tom Petty: The waiting is, in fact, the hardest part.

Here’s the cool part, though: The 22-year-old former war refugee and frequent House Cafe performer has made the cut, and is part of the field of 200 musicians still in the running this season on ABC’s “American Idol.”

Now that’s worth waiting for. Bugumba said with the last episode of auditions having aired Sunday night – his audition wasn’t televised, unfortunately – he’s allowed to reveal that this past fall, after waiting about 12 hours to perform in front of judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan in New York, they liked him, his talents and his story enough to usher him through.

“After that wait, from 8 a.m. to about 8 p.m., you only get about one minute with the judges; that minute could make or break you,” Bugumba said. “It’s nerve-racking to know that, but you can learn to tame that beast.”

Bugumba, born in Makobola, a small village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was forced out of the country and separated from his father and brothers by the massacre of about 500 people by rebels hoping to oust former Congolese President Laurent Kabila.

He ended up in the U.S. via, in chronological order, a refugee camp in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa, where he stayed about 10 years.

Through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Bugumba was able to come to America. He attended high school in Mobile, Alabama, and studied music merchandising for a year at Lewis University in Romeoville before settling in DeKalb, where he has lived the past two years.

So, his stage name, “StoryTeller,” is fitting. He pours his stories into the microphone with a heartfelt tenor whose upper range feels unlimited.

Bugumba said according to his publicist, he’ll be featured in an upcoming episode. He’s just not yet sure when that will be, or how it will be produced.

“You’re excited and nervous at the same time,” he said. “I don’t know how they’ll portray me, or what they’ll choose to show.”

The field will be cut several more times throughout the season, and will next be pared to 150 performers.

Bugumba, of course, knows how far he progresses as the cuts continue.

The rest of us will just have to wait and see. Stay tuned.

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