HANFORD - Melinda Lira firmly believes things happen for a reason.

After her early departure on the "American Idol" television show Wednesday, Lira said, "I don't have anything to be ashamed of. If you truly love what you are doing, don't look back, learn from the experience."

On Monday, Lira, along with the 11 female finalists, watched as the 12 men performed. Upon hearing criticism by the judges for those who picked "ballads" to sing, Lira, knowing she too picked a ballad said she did feel a little scared.

However, the following night, she performed the Celine Dion song, "Power of Love" anyway. In addition to her performing this type of song, it was also her first real opportunity to show the nation who Melinda Lira was, unlike the others who were highlighted throughout the past several months.

"I did it in spite of my gut feeling," she explained of her song choice. Lira also admitted that she felt safe with her selection and that it could show her range.

Unfortunately, the following night, host Ryan Seacrest told her she was going home.

Out of 100,000 people who auditioned for the "American Idol" television show televised on the Fox network, Lira finished in the top 24.

The following day, in a telephone interview set up by Fox, Lira spoke of her moment in the spotlight.

"I fell real hard," she said. "Getting on the stage for the first time, it was hard. I wish I had more time to get comfortable up there."

Putting the past behind her, the 19-year-old has already moved on. Today, Lira looks to her bright future with more determination than ever.

"I have a drive that no one can stop, " she said. While "American Idol" was perhaps a stepping-stone for her, Lira added, "I will carry on."

While the show brought this community together, it also brought Lira's own family closer.

"Both sides are coming together, supporting this," she said of her extended family. "It feels really great."

Lira is very excited about coming home.

"I can't wait to see all those familiar faces," she said. "I have been thinking about them all the way through."

The first thing Lira said she would like to do is have everyone in a room together and "hug them all at once."

"I am very happy with my town right now," she said. "I have never been so thankful."

J-Live Entertainment, along with Valley Ford will present a welcome home party for Lira from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday in front of Señor Boogies, 101 N. Irwin St.

Information: 362-4046.

(The reporter may be reached at bswarm@pulitzer.net)

(Feb. 25, 2005)

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