In high school, Wyatt Pike was set on playing music as a career — so much so that he dreamed of dropping out and moving to a big city to get discovered. After all, he thought, it worked for Ed Sheeran.
But the idea didn’t exactly get rousing cheers from his family.
“Probably not a good plan for a sophomore in high school,” Pike said with a laugh. “My parents thankfully realized that.”
Instead, after his freshman year at Park City High School in Utah, Pike’s parents sent him across the country to Boston. He took part in a weeklong songwriting camp at the Berklee College of Music, staying up late with musicians from all over the country, creating and playing music.
“I think on (my parents’) end that was an effort to show me what music school can be like so I wouldn’t drop out of high school,” Pike said. “Not that I was really going to.”
Pike never did drop out of high school. But a few months after his graduation, he did drop out of college to focus on music — a move that has now led him to “American Idol.”
Business school dropout
By the time his 2019 high school graduation rolled around, Pike had completely strayed from his Sheeran wannabe days.
He had applied to business schools, eventually enrolling at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He had a flight, class schedule and dorm room.
And then seven days before orientation, he called the whole thing off. His heart just wasn’t in it.
With his parents’ support, he took a gap year. He started working at a radio station in Park City and for a local venue called Mountain Town Music. In the winter, when tourism picked up — skiing and the Sundance Film Festival are two particularly big draws — he played in ski lounges, restaurants and hotel lobbies. He released an EP and applied to the Berklee College of Music.
And he got in.
Because of the pandemic, all of Pike’s classes so far have been virtual. Pursuing a music career — Pike is especially interested in songwriting and production — can be risky. Even more so during a time when venues remain closed and concerts are few and far between.
“Business school is definitely the safe route,” Pike said. “It’s a little bit more unstable with music.”
But Pike has found some momentum lately.
Last fall, during his second semester — which he took from his apartment in downtown Salt Lake City — the 20-year-old singer auditioned for “American Idol.”
His big moment airs on Sunday — although the show has already leaked a clip of his performance. The clip reveals that Pike will in fact be moving on to the next round of “American Idol,” which makes him the fourth singer from Utah to move forward this season.
Seeing Phillip Phillips
Growing up, Pike watched his fair share of “American Idol.”
The show came on after dinner, and on a spring night in 2012, Pike watched as the newly declared “Idol” winner, Phillip Phillips, performed his victory song, “Home.” Confetti rained upon the 21-year-old musician as he sang and strummed his guitar. About halfway through the performance, Phillips became too emotional to sing. A marching band then took the stage and brought the song to an end.
Watching Phillips in that moment, Pike thought, “That is something I want to do.”
He didn’t necessarily mean going on “American Idol,” but rather the idea of trying to make it as a musician. From that point on he, began to play the guitar more and often sang in his room. By the time he started high school, music was his life.
Pike has stayed relatively up to date with the subsequent winners of “American Idol,” but over time, his schedule became too hectic to keep up with the show regularly. But this season, of course, is a different story.
His own ‘Idol’ moment
As a musician, Pike wasn’t expecting to get a big break during the pandemic.
But an “American Idol” casting agent came across some of his videos on Instagram and reached out to him, asking if he would be interested in doing a preliminary audition via Zoom.
This is the first time the show has ever done preliminary auditions virtually, and it has allowed “Idol” to reach all 50 states for the first time in the show’s history, according to the Deseret News.
It has also made the audition process more convenient — Pike was able to audition from his apartment.
“It might not be the most efficient way to judge how great a singer someone is or anything like that, but it is also kind of special for me because I’m not in line somewhere, nervous, and around 20 people also nervous who are making me more nervous,” Pike said. “I can just show up and do my thing and take some deep breaths before.”
During his Zoom audition, Pike talked about his upbringing in Utah. And then he performed a Rihanna song and a Black Keys song. He figured doing songs people are already familiar with would be the best move this early on. And sure enough, he eventually got the big “yes” from “Idol” producers.
He would soon be flying out to Ojai, California, to meet “Idol” judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie in person.
When he walked into the big room and saw the celebrity judges and all of the cameras, it hit him.
“Wow, this really happened. Someone said ‘yes’ for me to be here,” Pike recalled thinking. “That in and of itself — I felt super grateful to have that opportunity.”
During the few, short minutes of his audition, Pike wanted to show the judges he was a songwriter, a storyteller. He wanted them to get to know him as much as possible.
So instead of singing covers as he had done during the preliminary round, he performed a song called “Best for You” that he wrote for his younger sister, Hazel. As a budding songwriter, Pike is still having a hard time wrapping his head around the idea that his original music is now on national television.
But as an artist who is planning on releasing a new song later this month — and trying his best to get his name out there and put on shows — the moment couldn’t have come at a better time.
And it’s something that helps validate the unorthodox move he made nearly two years ago, when he rejected a potential business career to pursue his passion for music. At times, Pike said he has questioned that choice when he sees his friends thriving in business school and securing prestigious internships.
“But then here I am auditioning for ‘Idol,’” he said. “I’m happy that I took the risk, and it seems to be paying off right now. Regardless, I’m just happy to be writing and playing music.”