by Kara Yorio -
The pink sequined Converse high tops bounce off the piano pedals as the fingers strike familiar opening chords. In an impromptu performance, 11-year-old Jodi DiPiazza starts singing Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”
A couple of verses in, Jodi transitions flawlessly into “Firework” – which she performed in a duet with Perry during the “Night of Too Many Stars” benefit, which aired on Comedy Central last week. That performance has made the fourth grader from Rochelle Park an Internet sensation.
When asked later if she had ever played that Perry mash-up before, Jodi responds matter-of-factly.
“No,” she says. “I just heard it and I thought it was fun.”
Hear it, play it. No big deal. No practice, no written notes required. Music is that easy to Jodi.
She is a girl with phenomenal talent; she is also a girl with autism. She can get onstage with an international pop star and perform with ease, but crossing the street safely or starting a conversation with a peer takes hours of instruction, repetition and the dedication of her teachers and her parents, Tom and Michelle.
More than 2 million people in the United States have autism, according to Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization. Jodi has trouble making eye contact and appropriate conversation, changing her routine and using expressive language, all of which are characteristic of those with the disorder. But her perfect pitch and musical talent have helped Jodi find a comfortable place both within herself and in the outside world. Her natural ability is also what put her in the spotlight.
The show’s producers wanted to catch up with Jodi, who appeared six years ago in a video on “Night of Too Many Stars.” This time her appearance turned into much more. Her duet with Perry was released as a YouTube video a few days before the show’s airing. As of Friday, it had been viewed more than 4ï¾½ million times. On Oct. 19, Jodi performed “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie” on “Good Morning America”; the rest of the day, Tom DiPiazza fielded phone calls with interview requests. The frenzy continued last Monday, the day after the “Night of Too Many Stars” aired.
“We had to refuse quite a few,” says Michelle DiPiazza. “Most important is her health and well-being.”
So far, those close to Jodi – her parents and her teachers – says she’s handling her sudden fame well.
[Via North Jersey]