By: Skyler Johnson
Since American Idol’s first inception in 2002, no one could have guessed how popular the show would be and how many new musicians would gain popularity through the years, including Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, and Jennifer Hudson. Casey McQuillen performed on the show in season 13 and became a top 48 musician. Since then she’s done an anti-bullying concert series, and was interviewed by Kelly Clarkson, as well as released a lot of great music. I had the pleasure of interviewing McQuillen on her life and career up to this point.
- How did you first get into music?
I started writing music from a really young age! It was when I learned to play some guitar around the age of 12, though, that I started performing and posting my music on the internet. Since then, I’ve been lucky to have an amazing relationship with my audience, and many of my fans have been following my music for close to 15 years.
2. What, do you feel, is your biggest success as a singer/songwriter?
As a singer/songwriter, I think my biggest success has been writing about really difficult topics and conveying them on stage in a way that makes audiences feel connected and understood. I wrote my song “Beautiful” at 17 about the pressures of conforming to beauty standards, and the response I’ve received from audiences all across the country inspired me to continue to be painfully honest in my writing. The title track on my upcoming album “Can A Heart Go Bad?” addresses very personal and painful mental health issues, and though I’m a bit scared to share it the world, I’m confident my vulnerability will allow for a deeper connection with the listening audience.
3. Who are your biggest influences and why?
I would say Taylor Swift is my biggest songwriting influence because I’ve been listening to her music at every step of my career. Other artists I feel very inspired by include Colbie Caillat, Kate Voegele (whom I had the honor of opening for), and Adele. All of these women write beautiful, complex stories into their songs, and I try to emulate that.
4. How important was it for you to campaign for anti-bullying?
I was picked on a ‘normal’ amount as a kid, but it was through self-reflection in songwriting years later that I realized how deeply I’d internalized a lot of the insecurities I’d developed in middle & high school, and how long those issues had continue to stick around in the back of my psyche. Somewhere in my heart, I assumed the kids saying and doing mean things to me must be right, or why else would they treat me so badly? In my anti-bullying concert series, I tell my story and sing the songs I wrote about growing up in that environment. With perspective, we’re able to discuss that bullies bully because they’re insecure, not because there’s anything wrong with you. And through these examples, I hope to help curb the cycle of internalized insecurity for the next generation.
5. What made you want to campaign for anti-bullying?
It would have meant a lot to me as a young student to have a role model at school. I think I would have felt a lot less alone knowing that someone I looked up to had had similar experiences to me and made it out on the other side. I want to be that person for these kids.
6. How was your experience performing on American Idol?
American Idol was great practice in performing under pressure. I’ve found that my career cycles in these long preparation periods with my team, all culminating in big, high-pressure performances or interviews. Being exposed to such high-stakes performances at such a young age on American Idol gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to be myself and have fun during those moments.
7. Was it odd seeing yourself on camera?
I’ve been on camera most of my life, so I’m pretty used to it. I started posting on YouTube and developing a following at a pretty young age, so it wasn’t that odd. However, Idol was definitely the first time I’d ever been exposed to stage lighting and cameras, which are so bright and intimidating. Before my Idol audition, they had me wait in this little box with a red light, and when it turned green, I opened the door and walked out onto the audition stage. So, I truly hadn’t seen the lights until the moment the cameras were on me. It definitely threw me for a loop!
8. How was being on The Kelly Clarkson Show, what was that experience like?
Honestly, it was one of the most surreal moments of my life. It was very nerve-wracking, but Kelly Clarkson is the sweetest person and had even left me a hand written note in my dressing room welcoming me to the show and thanking me for my work in the community. Small details like that really helped me feel at ease before the show, and she’s so friendly and funny that I felt like the interview was a breeze. It was probably my favorite experience so far in my career.
9. Are you excited to go on tour?
I am PUMPED! I was having so much fun touring with artists like Eric Hutchinson and Tyler Hilton before the pandemic, and it was so disappointing to have to cancel so many shows and stay off stage for so long. But we are BACK baby, and I feel so honored to be hitting the road with the talented Clark Beckham this fall. Come see us!
10. Are there any upcoming projects you’re allowed to tell us about?
My album “Can a Heart Go Bad?” will be coming out soon, so make sure to follow me on Apple Music and Spotify to stay up to date with all my releases. I’m really proud of the album and I hope everyone will have a chance to hear it!