Dalton Rapattoni's Former Teachers Reminisce About American Idol Finalist

All eyes are on Dalton Rapattoni as he enters the final episode of American Idol.
All eyes are on Dalton Rapattoni as he enters the final episode of American Idol.
Mike Brooks

Dalton Rapattoni may have lost, but he made it. He’s really made it. Sunnyvale's overnight success story made the top 3 of American Idol’s farewell season and even though he didn't win, we are still damn proud. His rise seemingly has come out of nowhere, it's not much of a surprise for those who have known him for longer than since the start of this season.

Terry Longhway, head musical director of all 29 Schools of Rock, has known Rapattoni since he was 12 years old, when he enrolled in the Dallas School of Rock's first season. "You want to talk about a kid coming out of their shell,” he says. "“He hit the stage and it was like, it was just incredible." 

Becoming the friendly, relatable performer and mentor we know today wasn't easy for Rapattoni. During a serious video package that preceded his performance of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on American Idol, he confessed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 9. He said performing on stage is one of the ways he copes with the mental illness.

When Rapattoni was in middle school, the mental illness got so bad that he missed too many classes and had to withdraw. He enrolled in a virtual school to better adapt to his needs.

“What makes [the school] special is the flexibility that is allowed and, for instance, with Dalton’s particular case, he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” Paula Mobley, Rapattoni’s seventh grade teacher at Texas Virtual Academy, says. “So with his particular circumstances, he was going through treatments and learning to deal with that, and as a result, missing a lot of seat time in his class. He wasn’t in a situation where he couldn’t learn, he just couldn’t sit in a classroom.”

But what stands out to Longhway about his longtime pupil is that he became an instructor at the School of Rock. “It’s going to sound corny, [but] he brings an energy to stuff that is so unique, and for him to come back and give back in a teaching world is just incredible,” Longhway says.

Rapattoni is an instructor in the school's 101 program, teaching students ages 6 to 9 everything from guitar to vocals. “There’s zero ego. There’s zero anything. He can get down at the level of these little kids and really teach them because he’s gone through it," he says. "He went through as a beginner and he really knew how to connect with them.”

Rapattoni was celebrated in his hometown last month with a parade and concert.
Rapattoni was celebrated in his hometown last month with a parade and concert.

Longhway says that even while he was a student at School of Rock he could see the benefits that music had for Rapattoni. "He was just a kid, probably on the edge of his couch playing video games, and then all of a sudden he found this passion," Longhway says. "He wasn't a sports kid or anything like that; this was something that worked."

The same therapeutic effects came through while Rapattoni was Mobley's student as well. One time, she remembers, her students had to give a presentation on what they'd learned and could present it however they wanted — as a paper, a PowerPoint or whatever else they liked. Rapattoni chose to write a song.

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“It was very much a part of what was going on with him at the time," Mobley says. "He used it as a sort of relief and self-therapy with what was going on with him. But it was also something that he just enjoyed."

Both of his former teachers watched ever step of the way on American Idol, and Longhway says the School of Rock hosted watch parties at several of its locations. Even though Rapattoni didn't win, it's clear Longhway is still proud. "There's no one that I've met that would be anymore deserving of something cool like this, given how driven and passionate and charismatic and kind he is as a person," says Longhway. "We're all just so freaking proud of this dude."

See who wins tonight during the American Idol series finale at 7 p.m. on Fox.

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