It’s weird to think that some reality show that once aired a test run one summer over a decade ago went on to not only create some of the biggest names in music, but inspire millions to chase their dreams as well.
American Idol has given the world the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, but along the way there’ve been literally millions of others who’ve gotten the golden ticket and have used that experience to the fullest – one of them being Bostonian Casey McQuillen. The girl with not only the talent but the music smarts, sat down with us to talk about her Idol connection, inspiring people with her movement and of course – the music.
Kendra: Was being a part of the American Idol legacy something you’d wanted to do your whole life?
Casey McQuillen: I was a huge American Idol fan as a kid, especially at the beginning of the show. I distinctly remember memorizing every lyric on Kelly Clarkson’s first album during a long family road trip to Canada. I dreamt about her needing someone to help her on stage with the lyrics and me saving the day! Haha! When I started performing, friends and fans would frequently tell me I should audition for Idol, but I never seriously considered it. I chose to attend Berklee College of Music and enter the industry from that angle. When I did end up on Idol, however, I found that the exposure opened doors for me. I was able to capitalize on that unique experience by combining Idol’s publicity with my music business and songwriting degrees from Berklee.
Kendra; Now moving on to the personal legacy you’re working on. The “You Matter” tour that you developed. It’s all about building and maintaining self-esteem in the youth. What inspired you to start this up?
Casey: When I was 18 and had just been accepted to Berklee to study songwriting, my middle school music teacher invited me back to teach a songwriting class. While preparing for the class, I asked myself “Which of my songs would be most relevant to middle schoolers?” I picked three original songs I wrote in middle and high school that dealt with my own experiences with bullying and self-confidence. During the class, I explained the stories behind the songs to the students.
The class was a hit! I was invited back to perform for another class, a whole grade, the whole school, the other middle schools in the town, the neighboring towns, etc, etc. Word spread amongst teachers and administrators, and now I’ve performed for over 100 schools and over 25,000 students in New England. That is why my program is so successful; I didn’t set out to create an anti-bullying program, it happened organically. My fans can tell how authentic my stories are, and they are willing to open up with me about their struggles because I am honest about mine.
Kendra: Unfortunately many of us don’t see our worth growing up. What’s one piece of advice you’d want to scream in your younger self’s face about loving yourself?
Casey: I wish I could tell my younger self to be proud of my skills and strengths, instead of trying to hide them. I remember the first time I lied about what grade I got on a test. In the 7th grade, I was so tired of being ridiculed for doing well academically that, when someone asked me, I told them I got worse grades than I did. I think middle school girls feel pressured to be reserved; to not participate in class, not run for student council. I was definitely affected by this and torn between my big personality and fitting in.
Kendra: From the “You Matter” movement to music, you’re quite busy and frankly all about positivity. Did your upcoming EP, Beautiful, stem from your work with “You Matter?”
Casey: I perform the title track of my EP, my song “Beautiful,” during The “You Matter” Tour. I explain to the students how this song came about. I was seventeen and heading to the gym and stopped to put on makeup. In that moment, I was so upset that I felt the need to cover up that I wrote “Beautiful” as the story of my relationship with my appearance: from being thirteen and wanting to fit in; to being seventeen and wanting desperately to be loved; and finally, projecting into adulthood, and fearing what it would be like to watch my daughter go through this same cycle of self-doubt. This song is painfully honest. I admit what you’re not supposed to say out loud; that sometimes I feel like my life would be better, if only I were beautiful. I think that this level of emotional vulnerability really sets the tone for the entire EP.
Kendra: Maybe too soon, but in ten years time when you look back at Beautiful what do you hope to remember from either the finished product, the work put into it…?
Casey: I hope that my team and I are always able to look back on this EP and remember the excitement we felt, the pure love of music and lyrics we poured into these songs. I worked very closely with my producer Charles Humenry and my engineer Ben Barnett, and I feel so lucky to have a team as emotionally invested in the EP as I am. I hope in 10 years, even if we’re in a fancy studio in Manhattan, we will still record like we are 22 in a basement studio making music we love.
Kendra: Will you be touring once the album drops?
Casey: Yes! I’ll be announcing the dates on my website and Facebook page soon for shows to promote the EP, as well as continuing The “You Matter” Tour at schools around New England.
Kendra: With all the good you do, are there any up and coming artists you are listening to that you think are absolutely beautiful?
Casey: Oh man yes! There is an INSANE amount of talent coming out of Berklee College of Music right now. I had a few songwriting classes with an artist named Caitlin Timmins, and fell in love with her music! Her song “You Walked Away” is one of my favorites!