From Boston, MA to Hollywood Week: Casey McQuillen ’11 Makes Top 100 on American Idol

After the preliminary auditions, Casey McQuillen ’11 received a Golden Ticket allowing her to progress to the Hollywood Week round of American Idol, Fox’s hit TV show.

McQuillen appeared in the one-hour episode on Thursday, January 30th from 8:00 to 9:00 pm EST. This episode will be the last audition episode for Season 13 of American Idol. She will appear again on Wedensday, February 5.

Since the season 13 premiere on January 15, the show has featured auditions from Boston, MA, Austin, TX, San Francisco, CA, Detroit, MI, Atlanta, GA and Salt Lake City, Utah. McQuillen auditioned in Omaha, NE, which aired for the first time on Thursday. On December 23, McQuillen participated in a “Jingle Bell Rock” promotional video on YouTube for the upcoming season.

McQuillen is a 21 year-old singer and songwriter from Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating from Andover in 2011, McQuillen enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston where she was awarded a talent-based scholarship, according to McQuillen’s website. She is also a member of the Boston Common Band.

During her time at Andover, McQuillen was a member of Azure and frequently performed at coffee houses and Grasshopper Night. Before graduating, McQuillen released two albums on iTunes entitled “Enough” and “Passenger Seat.” 

_The Phillipian _interviewed McQuillen this week:

**How did you get started with music and singing?**

**CM:** I wrote my first song when I was in middle school, and I had an assignment to set a goal. I always wanted to write songs, so I decided that I was going to learn to play the guitar and perform my song in front of the class. That was the first time I did anything like that, and I enjoyed it so much that it never really stopped.

**How were you involved with music hereat Andover?**

**CM:** I was super involved with the music program at Andover. I took a ton of music classes, including AP Music and Jazz Theory courses. I obviously was super involved with Azure. I was in Azure for three years and loved being in that group. I got a lot of performance experience out of that. I also participated in a ton of little shows in Lower Right [of Paresky Commons], in the Underwood Room and in [Susie’s]. I did Grasshopper as well, with my band. That was always really fun. I did a lot of admissions shows for incoming students, so I wonder if some of the students there now have seen me perform because I played for them when they were applying to Andover.

**How were you involved with music at Berklee?**

**CM:** Berklee is a music college, it’s the biggest independent music college in the world, so everyday I’m involved with music. I’m dual-majoring in Music Business and Songwriting. I played our versions of Grasshopper [at Berklee]. I got into those my Freshman year, which opened a lot of doors for me because the administration pays some extra attention to students who are actively participating in the shows they put on.

**What prompted you to audition for American Idol?**

**CM:** One of my professors at Berklee recommended that I audition. The Boston auditions had already happened. It was late in the season. The professor recommended that I go to Omaha and audition because they thought that it would go well. I took a couple days off and went out there with my mom to Omaha and did the audition.

**What was your initial reaction when you first stepped into the audition room?**

**CM:** It was pretty scary. I basically was brain-dead. What they didn’t show: I thought I sounded very dumb speaking to the judges before I sang, because I was so focused on remembering my pitch and the first line of the song that I didn’t have any room in brain for anything else. They were asking me questions about my taste in music and all this stuff, and I barely could remember my own name. They apparently thought that my slow speech was me being calm, as opposed to me being brain-dead, which is what I felt like.

**Do you have any pre-performance rituals to cope with your stress?**

**CM:** That’s funny. I’m kind of into TED Talks. We all are. We all YouTube-d the ten-minute Ted Talks, and I saw this one that I thought was great. It was about the power of body language, and how not only does your body language influence how other people think of you, but it actually influences the chemistry inside your body, and your body almost reacts with the way you’re positioning yourself. So there is this thing that was developed called the “power stance,” and if you sit or stand in what is generally conceived as a powerful position, you actually begin to feel more powerful. The testosterone levels in your body go up. So, I “power stance” before big performances, and I continue to do it throughout American Idol. I kind of assume a Wonder Woman position, and get into my own head that I don’t have anything to be nervous about.

**What was the audition like?**

**CM:** I’ve had a lot of performance experience in the past year or so, I was in a wedding band, and I definitely learned how to separate my emotion of the situation from the emotion of the song. That really came in handy during the audition because I’m very nervous before and after I sing, but I’m not nervous while I’m singing. If you are nervous while you are singing, you are not feeling the emotion of the song. It is a selfish way to perform. You’re there to perform for the song, you’re there to perform for the audience, you’re not there to perform for you. I was okay, I love the song “Skyscraper,” I think it’s got a beautiful message, and I was focusing on that and not on my own feelings while I was singing.

**Who is your inspiration in the music world?**

**CM:** Someone I’ve really been looking up to is Sara Bareilles. She writes a similar kind of music to me. She’s a little bit more “singer-songwritery” than a lot of other powerhouse singers who she is competing with. She has always had a really strong “sea-level” following, and to see her at the Grammys and be nominated for a Grammy really earned her the recognition she deserved. It was very inspiring for me because she did it by still singing her own material, and singing what she wanted to, not what record labels told her she should sing in order to sell material. That is who I am trying to focus on as a reminder to stay true to the kind of music I like and not the kind of music that people want me to sing.

**How would you compare your Andover Idol experience to your American Idol experience?**

**CM:** That was a long time ago. It’s funny that you should say that. It sounds funny to even say it, but in the moment, things feel like they matter so much. When I was at Andover, I was so young, and I was insecure. To me, at that moment, participating in the competition was just as important as how I felt participating in American Idol. You grow, and as you grow, I think you seek out the challenges you are capable of at that moment. When I was at Andover, auditioning for the Azure solo, or trying to get into Grasshopper, was really important. It really was, in that moment, American Idol. It was the most I was capable of at that time.