PHILADELPHIA - Anthony Fedorov was never supposed to talk, let alone sing.
Born in Ukraine, the "American Idol" finalist was diagnosed with a growth in his throat when he was 4 months old and underwent a series of surgeries that left him with the scar still visible on his neck. He was near death after one procedure left him in a coma and required an emergency tracheotomy. The Moscow doctor told his parents he'd never be able to talk.
"It's just amazing," said his girlfriend, Irina Gleyzer. "He walked around with a tube for a couple years of his life."
With the first - and last - few months of his life being so extraordinary, everything in between seems routine.
Fedorov - who was named "Anatoliy" after his grandfather but goes by Anthony because it's easier to pronounce - moved from Ukraine to the United States with his parents, Vladimir and Natalia, and older brother Denis when he was 9. The family lived in Florida and New York before settling in the Philadelphia suburb of Trevose, where he was just an average teenager, according to friend Steven Burda.
"You see him on TV, that's exactly how he is when he's talking to friends, family, strangers, co-workers, anybody," Burda said. "He's just a real nice person."
Fedorov, 20, is also a big sports fan - he loves the Yankees.
While Gleyzer said she tries not to encourage his love of sports, she bought him a Yankees cap for his birthday on May 4 - the same day Fedorov survived the cut down to four contestants.
Federov also needed a hat to help hide his identity while the show was in production. "Someone gave him an L.A. Dodgers hat, and he was so upset," Gleyzer said.
While singing is a big part of his life, Burda said Fedorov - who used to travel on weekends to Brooklyn to sing in a restaurant - did everything a normal teenager does.
"As soon as he was able to work, he went and got a job," Burda said. "Movies are expensive, you know. Clothes are expensive."
But he didn't earn his money by singing - he did that for free. Instead, he worked in a pizza shop. Later, he spent weekends singing at Tatiana, a Russian restaurant in New York, while attending Bucks County Community College.
Last summer, Fedorov and Burda, along with their girlfriends and another couple, rented a house in the Poconos and spent their days swimming in a lake, barbecuing and playing volleyball.
"He's a very outdoor person," Burda said.
Federov also likes to play chess and to read - he recently completed The Da Vinci Code - and hopes to learn Spanish and Italian, two languages in which he already sings.
He didn't start speaking English until first grade - "thank you" were his first words in English.
Burda has been organizing parties to watch each episode of "Idol," attracting as many as 120 people.
Federov's girlfriend has been speaking regularly with him, although she admits he is short of free time now that all but three other contestants have been eliminated.
"He used to be able to talk to me when other people were practicing," Gleyzer said.
On the Net:
Anthony Fedorov Fan Site: http://www.idol.wildinout.com