Monday, February 9, 2009

Just a fun-loving family man ...

From The Beaumont Enterprise
By Lluvia Rueda

Southeast Texas' newest star has shunned the media buzz surrounding his recent participation in the Fox reality show, "American Idol," but Michael Sarver's identity continues to unfold, despite the TV network's dedication to keeping the blond belter under wraps.

First known as "Michael" on the show, Jeremy Michael Sarver, 27, is a shy man who strives to keep his family and church life intertwined, family and friends said during a Sunday service at Harvest Church in Jasper.

"He is a great guy. We give each other a hard time, but we are good friends," said Harvest Church guitarist Chris Martin.

Sarver has attended the church for about nine years and church members have seen the young man reveal a more relaxed, goofy and fun-loving side over the years, Harvest Church senior pastor Gary Marshall said.

"He joined the congregation in 2001, and kind of kept to himself at first. But over time, we have seen him and his family grow and become part of the church family here over the years. They have been a blessing to the congregation," Marshall said.

But Sarver wasn't always a church-going man, the pastor said. It was time and personal life experiences that shaped the Louisiana native into a church leader.

He eventually made his way over to Texas, where he married Southeast Texas native Tiffany Smith in Jasper in October 2004.

She introduced him to a religious family that embraced the young couple with open arms and encouraged church attendance, Marshall said.

Church life was a switch for Sarver.

"We first saw him on the stage at the Jasper High School football field, a 20-year-old, singing the national anthem in 2001 in an all-black leather suit. He went through what most young people go through, a normal rebellion. But we saw then that he had a gift. He has soul, and he found a way to express that in the church," Marshall said.

Sarver abandoned his "bad boy" past and eventually became the lead vocalist for the church in 2003 after working briefly at Abundant Life Christian Center in LaMarque and Victory Christian Center in Houston.

His work at the larger churches helped develop a more sophisticated and stylized sound, Marshall said, and congregants enjoyed the upbeat, joyful musical tempo he brought back to the church.

"He is very talented, and we have enjoyed his music," said friend Tracy Tucker, 35, a Kirbyville resident and Harvest Church member.

And Sarver got steady work on an oil rig and settled into family life in Jasper with Tiffany and son and daughter, Grayson and Makenna.

But he kept pouring his extra time into perfecting his soulful sound through various local outlets; songwriting, participation in plays and musical collaborations, church performances and an appearance on the Christian-based Trinity Broadcasting Network channel were among them, friends said.

That work paid off.

From the time Sarver first crooned "Thank You" by Boyz II Men to Idol judges at the Phoenix auditions, which aired in late January, the show-labeled "roughneck" has managed to wow more than fellow church members.

Judge Paula Abdul said she was impressed during the first interview, exclaiming, "You have a good voice. It's, like, surprising," and Randy Jackson, also an Idol judge, followed with the affirmation of "100 percent, yes, dog."

Sarver got the same positive affirmation at the next elimination round, and friends say he hopes to breathe easier if he conquers the next round, which will air at 7 p.m. today on KBTV channel 2, or channel 4 on Time Warner cable.

Idol blogs and wag magazines place Sarver on the "Top 36" finalists' list, but friends and congregation members are simply praying and keeping mum about their new-found celebrity son.

Congregants nervously milled around the church sanctuary Sunday, dodging Fox News cameras and refusing The Beaumont Enterprise requests for interviews about Sarver and his family.

Fox channel cameramen were on site to shoot video for a short biography on Sarver, church officials said, warning church members to keep silent about the situation. The senior pastor of the church was chosen as an unofficial spokesperson/mediator for the Idol contestant's family.

The call of Hollywood seemed to be the fulfillment of what once might have been an impossible dream, and Sarver hopes to keep that dream safe until he comes back home, Marshall said.

"When he first came to me about the show, he was very excited and apprehensive, and we told him to do it, but to never forget God. But we are obviously very excited for him and for the community of Jasper," Marshall said.

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