‘American Idol’ Alumlet Ford Rebuilds Her Family Business After a Setback



In the penultimate episode of “American Idol,” a young Beth Ford dutifully mentioned in the clue that her grandfather was “the founder of the restaurant and conference center in Bonita Springs, Florida.” In fact, says her mother, she had already made that mistake a few times.

“How can you name your kid on ‘American Idol’ and not know what her granddad did?” Jacqueline Ford says. “And she didn’t even know the name of the town.”

Beth’s first big break in the entertainment business came in 1989, when she auditioned for “Star Search,” and lost. “I was devastated,” she says.

But by the fall of that year, the 14-year-old was hosting her own television show, “Beth Ford Presents,” in Austin, Texas. After a few years spent writing and producing movies and TV shows, Ford now hosts a variety show on SiriusXM, and executive produces the second season of the Discovery Channel’s documentary series “Gold Rush.”

Beth took over her grandfather’s restaurant about 10 years ago, and now serves up sides like heirloom tomatoes and waffles. Before it became an eatery, Liz was stymied when she needed a job cleaning stalls in the airport. “There were hundreds of people,” she recalls. “I had a broom and I had a jiffy sprayer. I was the only woman … and I would only do the stalls and I’d only go down there every couple days.”

Beth also found a way to help Mary Sue Milliken. “I would play ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ on the jukebox whenever she was there,” says Ford.

She only missed one performance — the drag queen Gene Kelly had starred in, the famous lip-synced song from the movie “Singin’ in the Rain.” Mary Sue didn’t know much about Gene Kelly. “I assumed it was a Japanese guy,” she says. “I thought he was like some amazing, Japanese singing actor.” (She was wrong.)

But all that night, Mary Sue found herself distracted from singing when she heard a voice over the jukebox in her earpiece, which was the “Singing in the Rain” song — and the character Gene Kelly. “I heard the director. I thought, ‘It’s the director. I was getting my advice from Gene Kelly,’” she says. “It was the ‘Lone Ranger’ on the radio.”

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