Syesha Mercado timeline: 'American Idol,' Broadway's 'Book of Mormon,' child custody battle

Bradenton resident Syesha Mercado’s voice and acting talents led her to national fame but recently her life has been dominated by personal troubles.

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Syesha Mercado performs in front of the Judges on "American Idol in 2008.

Since she was a child, Bradenton area resident Syesha Mercado has often been in the spotlight, primarily for her acting and musical gifts. Here is a brief look at some of her life and career achievements including our coverage of her current child custody battle.

1996: As a fourth grade student at Daughtry Elementary School in Bradenton, Mercado, daughter of Tony and Zelda Mercado, became the first child in Manatee County to sign a contract for the Take Stock in Children college scholarship program. Principals nominated students from low-income families who showed potential for college but were unlikely to afford it. She was known as a powerhouse singer to people at the school and said she wanted to become a gospel singer when she was older.

1996: Manatee County Schools Superintendent Gene Denisar said Mercado would become “a superstar” after she was invited by the Pittsburgh Pirates to sing the national anthem at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

1999: At 12 years old, Mercado sang “The Star Spangled Banner” a capella at a Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field. At the time, she said her favorite artists were Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans. 

Singer and actress Syesha Mercado with her infant son Amen’Ra, who was placed in foster care after she and her partner, Tyron Deener brought him to All Children's Hospital for care.

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2004: As a student at Booker High School’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, Mercado played the Sour Kangaroo in a production of “Seussical, the Musical.” She won a regional acting award for her role at the Southeastern Theatre Conference for community and secondary school productions. One of her castmates as Horton the Elephant was Charlie Barnett, who has gone on to star in numerous TV shows including “Chicago Fire” and “Tales of the City.”

Syesha Mercado as seen in an SNN video in 2003 when she was starring in “Once On This Island” at Booker High School.

2005: As a high school senior, Mercado had the female lead of Ti Moune, the central figure in the musical “Once On This Island” at Booker. She graduated that spring.

2005: She entered the freshman class at the University of Miami as a theater student.

2006: She left college after one year and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music career. She was cast as one of 12 contestants on the ABC music competition series “The One: Making of a Music Star.” No one would be named the winner because the series was canceled after several episodes due to low ratings.

A large crowd showed up in downtown Sarasota to watch Syesha Mercado on "American Idol" on May 13, 2008.

2008: Despite a bout of laryngitis during her audition, Mercado was selected for the seventh season of “American Idol.” She wound up coming in third place behind David Cook and David Archuleta. Around Sarasota and Bradenton, restaurants and bars held weekly viewing parties. On May 9, she sang six times in different locations during a whirlwind hometown tour that included a performance at the Ringling Museum of Art. The locally designated “Syesha Mercado Day” was filmed as part of the show. 

2009: Mercado was cast as Deena Jones in a new production of the musical “Dreamgirls” that opened at the Apollo Theatre in New York City in Nov. 7 before a national tour that brought the production to Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts a year later. She also headlined the Giving Hunger the Blues festival

2012: She was cast in the familiar role of Ti Moune in a professional production of “Once On This Island” at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

2013: Mercado joined the national touring company of “The Book of Mormon” in Chicago as a young African girl named Nabulungi. She appears in the Joel Kapity film “Dreams” about a group of young people trying to overcome broken pasts to achieve their goals.

2014: Mercado took her performance to the Broadway cast of “The Book of Mormon” where she was joined by future Tony Award-winner Ben Platt. 

Syesha Mercado performing in the Sarasota Orchestra’s 2015 Orchestra in the Outfield concert at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

2015: Mercado returned to Sarasota perform at the premiere of the film “Newtown at 100: A Glimpse Through Our Eyes,” made by the Sarasota Film Festival’s first summer film academy at Booker High School. She also joined the Sarasota Orchestra for its spring concert "Orchestra in the Outfield" at Ed Smith Stadium.

2017: Before having to cancel an appearance as a celebrity judge for a local teen talent competition in Sarasota, Mercado told the Herald-Tribune her time on “American Idol” was “like a boot camp for me” and she “learned a lot about my instrument and how to take care of myself so that I have stamina for the stage and so that I’m healthy and I don6t lose my voice.”

2019: Mercado released some music, including a Christmas song, on her website,, but the site is not operating and the music does not appear to be available.

Tyron Deener, left, and Syesha Mercado, the “American Idol” finalist, hug their infant son Amen’Ra in a recent family photo. Their son was taken in February by Child Protective Services because of concerns about malnutrition.

2020: Mercado and Tyron Deener launched an online fundraiser to create a wellness bus they hoped would provide free wellness services and affordable wellness products and produce. The effort did not get off the ground.

2021: In February, a pregnant Mercado and Deener, brought their 13-month-old son, Amen’Ra, to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for a check-up because he was not accepting fluids. Two weeks later, St. Petersburg police removed the parents from the hospital for trespassing. The boy was later moved into foster care. 

2021: On Aug. 11, 10 days after giving birth to a baby girl, Mercado and Deener were forced to turn her over their baby to Manatee County authorities who had a court order to bring the girl to the hospital. After a court hearing on Aug. 12, the child was kept in protective custody.

Jay Handelman, arts editor and theater critic, has been an editor and writer at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune since 1984. Read more of his arts and entertainment stories. And please support local journalism by subscribing to the Herald-Tribune.