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Shaler woman, family meet stars of 'American Idol' during gifted trip to L.A.

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Shaler resident Ashley Durso, 22, poses with country music singer and “American Idol” judge Keith Urban in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. A Tillson, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization, Gifts from the Heart for Downs, which grants wishes for people with Down syndrome, provided a trip for Urso and her family to visit the “American Idol” set in Los Angeles.

Mariah Carey now has a Terrible Towel.

Ashley Urso, a Shaler resident who met Carey in Los Angeles last week on the set of “American Idol,” gave the singer one of Pittsburgh's iconic souvenirs.

“We were talking about our (butterfly) rings that we had on. And I told her that when I graduated from high school, I requested her song ‘Hero' because my dad is my hero,” said Urso, 22, who has Down syndrome.

A small Tillson, N.Y.-based nonprofit, Gifts from the Heart for Downs, sent Urso and her family to the set of the singing competition, which is Urso's favorite show. The nonprofit grants wishes for people with Down syndrome who don't qualify to have their wishes granted by other organizations.

On April 10, Urso, her parents and her brother attended a rehearsal and live taping of “American Idol.” Urso was able to sit in a judge's seat and critiqued contestants, according to her mother, Cindy Urso, 43.

Judge and country singer Keith Urban sat beside Urso at the panel.

“It was like she'd known him her whole life. She just talked his ear off. It was hysterical,” Cindy Urso said.

Ashley Urso also met judge Randy Jackson, host Ryan Seacrest and the six contestants, including her favorite, Angie Miller.

“(She was) so nice. We were talking about music,” Ashley Urso said.

The Ursos' five-day trip, in which meals, a rental car, their hotel stay and airfare were covered, cost about $5,000, said Kim Adams, founder of Gifts from the Heart for Downs.

Part of the Ursos' trip was paid for with a $2,000 donation that the nonprofit received from the York Area Down Syndrome Association.

The Fox network provided the family with passes to a rehearsal, tickets to the taping and a chauffeur-driven Cadillac Escalade to the show.

“I try to make everything special for each and every wish,” said Adams, who adopted two children with Down syndrome.

Ashley Urso's wish was the 69th that Gifts from the Heart for Downs has granted.

The family's trip, during which they visited tourist spots such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre, formerly known as Grauman's Chinese Theatre, far exceeded their expectations, Cindy Urso said.

The Ursos are determined to pay it forward, she said.

“This is something that we would love for other kids to experience. It was just unbelievable. Our family has never had so much fun,” she said.

The Ursos have placed containers in Pittsburgh-area businesses to collect donations for Adams' daughter's fundraiser, Dimes for Downs. It helps pay for wishes that Gifts from the Heart for Downs grants.

So far, the Adamses and Ursos have collected 119,000 dimes, Adams said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or

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