In fifth grade,
"I used to laugh at her," says
Brown isn't flying yet, but the Boston College women's basketball starter and former
"I would absolutely say no," Cowell,
But after telling the judges about her basketball career -- and her ability to take constructive criticism from coaches -- they sent her through.
"We didn't realize what she had until
The Browns could be forgiven for seeing Ayla and thinking athlete. Six-feet tall in sixth grade, the two-time Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year racked up 2,358 career points and 1,152 rebounds and at age 15 became the youngest women's basketball player to commit to BC. A three-sport athlete like her father
"She would kick their butts all over the field," says Scott, a Massachusetts state congressman. "After the games she'd take off her helmet and her long, brown hair would come flying out. The other boys would literally start crying."
Ayla's singing talent wasn't quite as obvious. Her parents noticed a three-year old Ayla's ability to memorize songs from the Disney movies they showed, but thought nothing of it. The Browns received notes from teachers saying "We love Ayla, but she won't stop singing." It was only at the urging of Ayla's aunt that Gail even agreed to take her daughter to the
After finishing 13th on American Idol at just 17-years-old, Brown had earned enough national air time go from earning $25 dollars to sing the national anthem at high school basketball games to singing for Tom Brady and 68,756 of her fellow New Englanders. She sang at Fenway Park and with the Boston Pops on the July 4, and was the Boston Celtics lucky charm for two Game Seven wins (she was on call should the Finals go the distance). Maryland women's basketball coach
But her mother, a local TV reporter, had been a performer once, starring in Auntie Mame at Waltham High School, so Ayla understood the allure. Gail's director in that play,
"I was nervous about having an untrained actress, but I wasn't nervous once I met her," said the show's director and choreographer,
Though Brown's voical ability was never a question, she was an acting rookie in a role where facial expressions and mannerisms would convey as much as the lyrics in the 17 songs she had to memorize. Brown woke up each morning, five days a week, to join her teammates at BC for weights and pickup games, then arrived in Waltham at 2 p.m. -- at least once bringing a basketball and prompting a pickup game with a few male cast members -- and would stay "until they let us go." Sometimes that meant after 11 p.m.
Fitting into a cast or a team has never been a problem for Brown, who picked BC in large part because of then-head coach
"So far in my experience with her, she is always in the moment," says
Crawley has experience with off-court starlets, having coached former Miss Teen USA
"I have a lot of former opponents and teammates who played AAU ball, worked summer camps, graduated from college and went to the pros, but now basketball's over for them and they really struggle," Crawley says. "As long as you're putting in your time on the court, I want you to get involved in other things."
Along with battling the balance between singing and playing, Ayla has faced a parallel battle with the NCAA compliance rules. Scott, who is also Ayla's manager, says he lives "with a daily fear that I've made a mistake and she's going to lose her eligibility." He estimates that he spends up to four or five hours some days making sure all the rules are understood and paperwork is properly filed.
With two years of college still remaining, the multi-talented star's potential paths abound. The WNBA might be a stretch -- but three years ago, so was
Or, thanks to