To most Americans, American Idol was a pop culture staple of the 2000s, and it stayed there.
To O’Mariah Gordon and her family, it’s in full swing and as hot as ever.
The point guard from Bradenton, Florida, is finishing up her sophomore year at Braden River High School and has already made a major name for herself on the basketball court. She was named the Gatorade Florida Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the 2018-19 season, averaged nearly 30 points per game last campaign, has scored more than 1,400 points in her two years of high school ball and is entertaining offers from South Carolina, Miami (FL), Florida State and several others.
But when she’s at home, Gordon, her older brother and three younger siblings will gather for the ultimate competition: dancing, singing, rapping and more, all twisted together to create their own version of “American Idol.”
One judge rates the performances on a 1-10 scale. Similar to the show, talent is not required to enter. All you need is a lack of shame and sense of humor.
“I’m probably the best at dancing in the house,” Gordon said. “I can’t sing, but I’ll sing sometimes, and I can’t rap. We won’t sing for anyone else, because we all know we’re not good. The only one who can actually sing is my little sister. The rest of us can’t sing at all. Sometimes, we’ll do ones where everybody sings. My older brother really thinks he can sing, but he can’t. He cannot sing at all.”
Gordon’s mother, Dawanna Davis, has watched the show live on several occasions, though she has never entered the competition. She also corroborated Gordon’s claims of the family’s premier dancer.
“I often say, ‘Let me try to do that,’ and I can’t do it,” Davis said with a laugh. “She is definitely the best dancer in the house. The kids actually try to imitate her with the dancing.”
Gordon spends a lot of time with her siblings, and it’s not just the dancing they look up to. Davis described her as something of a second mom to her younger brother and sisters, and the real mother of the household has no issue leaving Gordon along with the kids when she has to go.
“I think she plays a big role (in the family). She is a go-to person,” Davis said. “The kids respect her, and they listen to her. If I’m not at home because I’m at work or what have you, if she’s in the house, I know everything’s okay. I know everybody’s going to be on their Ps and Qs, everything’s going to get done the way it’s supposed to get done. She’s always been like that since she’s been a little girl. She is like momma. Sometimes I think she thinks she’s my momma, too.”
The leadership trait comes naturally to Gordon, who became the captain of Braden River’s varsity team as a freshman, and it shows up in more ways than one.
“I would go pick her up from preschool, and her preschool teacher would say, ‘You know, she’s the only one out there playing football with the boys again today,’” Davis said. “In preschool, elementary school, she would be at the house with my mom, and she would be like, ‘Hey, I’ll cook for you,’ and she tried to cook things. Making cookies and making candy apples to try to sell them, and this is stuff she would come up on her own to do. She’s always been outside of the normal and always been a leader. If the girls don’t want to do it, oh well, they don’t have to do it. This is what I want to do, so this is what I’m going to do.”
Her positive stubbornness has kept her in a sport most wouldn’t expect someone like her to excel. Gordon is 5-foot-5 and didn’t start playing basketball until she was 7, missing a few key years of development many high-level hoopers had.
Gordon’s size is something she has heard from basketball people for as long as she’s been in the sport, and she admitted she’s tired of hearing. Not because it eats at her, though, but because she doesn’t care.
She has not let height deter her, not even on the glass. Gordon averaged 6.6 rebounds per game last season, a source of pride for the point guard.
“They think because you’re short, you’re not allowed to get rebounds, but if you put that label on yourself and that barrier on your yourself, of course you’re not going to do it,” she explained. “But if you believe in yourself and you know you have that heart, you’ll be able to do it. I know I can get rebounds. I can do everything on the court that any other person on the floor can do. Of course, a post player might have more rebounds than me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to get rebounds, try to help my team in other ways rather than just run the point.”
Her message for other players on the shorter side is applicable to basketball, but her advice can be used to fit any number of situations for people who let something stand between them and what they want, and that’s a key to Gordon’s personal success.
“Most of it is mental,” Gordon said. “You have to have that heart and the confidence in yourself that you can do it, and you can do anything anyone else can do. No one is the same. Not one basketball is the same height, the same strength. Everyone’s different. You happen to be shorter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything anyone else can.”