BY ALEX MILLER
COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF ABC/JOHN FLEENOR
It takes a lot to be a star. From vocal ability to stage presence and mounting pressure, American Idol contestants must rise to the occasion. Mary Jo Young, a Cleveland native, has done just that.
Young graduated from Willoughby South High School in 2019. At the age of 19, she is competing on American Idol to pursue her dream of becoming a singer.
“I always wanted to do Idol when I was younger, but I was just too terrified,” said Young. “I knew it wasn’t going to happen.”
Much to Young’s surprise, this dream would happen, and in her American Idol audition, judge Luke Bryan even called her top ten material.
“That was surprising,” said Young. “I was thrown off guard. I was so scared throughout the audition. I didn’t think it went great, so when he said that I was excited.”
Young grew up in a musical family but always kept her own music to herself. Her grandfather was an orchestra director, and her mother often sang in church. Young did not.
“I was always into it [music] but I was just very hidden about it,” said Young. “I didn’t really tell anyone, but I would always play.”
Social media has been the main outlet for Young’s music. She has posted singing videos on Twitter since middle school and more recently has grown in popularity on TikTok. Her song covers have amassed over 5 million likes collectively and attracted the attention of several competition shows.
“Idol reached out and a couple other shows did too,” said Young. “I decided, you know, I’m gonna go the Idol route. It’s based on singing, and no matter how far I’ll get, maybe I can meet new people and try to get more comfortable with singing in front of people, not just on the internet.”
Young shared that three preliminary auditions take place before contestants sing for the judges: Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry. Contestants first sing for casting agents, executive producers and producers. This year, these auditions rounds were held virtually, and the recorded auditions were held in person.
“I’d never sang in front of anyone, let alone like, you know, three of the most famous people,” said Young. “So I was pretty terrified. And I still get terrified when I think about it.”
Before her audition, Young had never performed in front of anyone, not even her mother. The judges brought her mother into the audition for a special first-time performance: a cover of Lewis Capaldi’s “Bruises.”
“When my mom came in, I think my nerves eased a little bit, especially because I had gotten done with one song already,” said Young.
All three judges gave Young an overwhelming “yes” and with her golden ticket, she went on her way to prepare for Hollywood week. The first Hollywood week episode aired on March 21. This episode challenged contestants to choose a genre and perform a solo for the judges. Young chose the pop genre and performed a cover of “Falling” by Harry Styles, advancing to the next round.
The second Hollywood week episode, which aired on March 22, challenged contestants to duet performances, with partners selected by the judges. Young’s duet was not televised, but after the episode aired she took to Instagram to share the news that she made it through Hollywood week and will be advancing to the next round. As for what is in store, Young says it’s a surprise.
“It’s interesting,” said Young. “You definitely have to stay tuned. I don’t know how much more I can say, but I can say it’s entertaining.”
In addition to being on American Idol, Young has been bouncing between Cleveland and Los Angeles to record original music. Her single “Carpet” was released independently on March 19 on all music streaming platforms.
To students and everyone out there who wants to go after American Idol, Young has a word of advice: “It’s a fun experience no matter what. Whether you get far or you don’t get far, you meet new people that will help push you along the way – whether it’s the coaches or the judges or other contestants. I think they should just go for it. Because I was terrified. And I went for it.”
Young is a prime example of someone from the area chasing their dreams. As she advances on American Idol, the Bruin will be here to cheer her on. Tune in to American Idol on Sundays and Mondays at 8pm on ABC to see what happens next for Mary Jo Young.