GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Mara Justine called all her friends and family into the living room of her township home Monday night to pray before “American Idol” was set to start.

“Thank you for this gift, and I hope I can keep using it to connect with people and inspire people,” Justine said, holding hands with her friends and family.

She thanked God for everyone in the room, who have been supporting her along the way.

Justine, a 16-year-old Absegami High School sophomore, was handed the golden ticket by “Idol” judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, who gave her a standing ovation after her audition. In the coming weeks, she will go on to compete against other singers in Hollywood.

Justine has watched the singing competition ever since she was a little girl.

Monday night was no different, except this time, she was surrounded by her parents and friends, waiting to watch her own audition play on the screen.

“Thinking of her, how little she was, always singing and dancing,” said her father, Bill Platt. “Seeing her on the show she watched when she was young.”

Platt watched from an easy chair while about a dozen teens and Justine’s siblings crowded on the couches and the floor in front of the television, waiting for the show to start.

“This is her way to connect,” he said. “I think her singing brings a lot of people together because she sings with her heart.”

Her mother, Linda Platt, sat at the kitchen table before the show and spoke about how much her daughter’s voice has grown.

“From the time she could talk, she was singing,” she said. “Her range is incredible. She’s learning how to control everything.”

Competing with her voice is nothing new for the teen, who won “Sea Isle’s Got Talent” singing Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” when she was 8, competed on “Maury’s Most Talented Kids” when she was 10 and was a finalist on “America’s Got Talent” when she was 12.

Bill Platt called Justine organized, grounded and kind-hearted, and said she wants to use her platform to help others.

“I think she really wants to inspire people and help people,” he said.

Justine is the fourth of five children, and growing up in a large household gave her a sense of support and confident maturity not seen too often in your average teen.

Her older brother, Billy Platt, 17, said her accomplishments make him proud.

“Honestly, I don’t think there are family members in the world as proud as I am right now,” he said. “As you see her grow, you see her love and passion for it.”

Victoria Williams, 17, has been friends with Justine for several years, since they were in dance classes together. They are both in the high school’s Drama Club and get the chance to share a stage.

“Working with her on stage is an incredible thing,” Williams said. “I know she’s going to go far.”

Williams called Justine an old soul, positive and down to earth.

“When you talk to her, you feel a certain warmth,” she said. “I’m so glad to have her as a friend.”

Her family, who accompanied her when she auditioned for the show in October in New York City, already knew Justine had made it to Hollywood, but their eyes were still glued to the screen as if they were finally getting let in on the secret they’ve been holding for months.

As the episode opened, to the surprise of everyone gathered, Justine’s was the first audition featured. They laughed with her as she was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest, then the room fell silent as they watched her sing.

Justine sang Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” and the judges gave her a standing ovation before unanimously deciding she would get the golden ticket.

Justine cried, hugging her friends and family, reliving that moment all over again.

“I feel like I’ve done a lot,” she said, reflecting on how far she’s come. “But I feel like I’m just beginning and ‘American Idol’ is a beautiful place to start.”

Contact: 609-272-7241 Twitter @ACPressMollyB

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