No one is more surprised that Abby LeBaron tried out for “American Idol” than Abby LeBaron.
The 19-year-old singer, who is big on setting goals, created a bucket list several years ago. She jotted down a number of hopes she had at the time — everything from starting a band to performing on a stage somewhere to trying out for “The Voice.”
She likes to remember how she felt during different phases of her youth, so she doesn’t erase things. But reviewing that list in her early teens, LeBaron jotted something else down: “No. What was I thinking?”
“I kind of thought, ‘Maybe I should get a more realistic dream,’” LeBaron recently told the Deseret News. “And I didn’t want to put myself out there like that. I didn’t want to be vulnerable like that. I didn’t want to fail.”
So for the most part, LeBaron didn’t put herself out there. Performances were limited to the Utah Valley Children’s Choir (where she had one solo), a high school jazz band concert that wasn’t very well attended and her senior prom.
“I regret not sharing it as much as I could have,” said LeBaron, who is from Springville. “(But in high school), nothing is off limits to joke about, so you kind of have to learn how to let stuff roll off your back sometimes. Singing was one thing that I couldn’t handle jokes about because that was something that was really important to me. … I just didn’t want to feel uncomfortable about that, so I didn’t really share it that much.”
Which makes going on “American Idol” a really big step.
More than 6 million people watched the “American Idol” season premiere on Valentine’s Day. LeBaron’s audition in front of celebrity judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan airs Sunday. It’s her biggest stage by far, and although she couldn’t reveal the outcome, she did say this much: She has no regrets.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” LeBaron said with a laugh. “I don’t know what I was thinking that somehow this is better to sing on national television the first time I do anything big. But it happened, and it was great.”
Singing in the basement
Until this season, LeBaron had never even seen a full episode of “American Idol” let alone thought about auditioning for the show.
But a former neighbor — one who has long supported LeBaron’s passion for singing — passed along a video that explained how to audition. Because of the pandemic, the preliminary auditions for “American Idol” took place over Zoom, reaching all 50 states for the first time in the show’s history, according to the Deseret News.
LeBaron wouldn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn and stand in line with other aspiring pop stars for hours on end.
“It has made it more convenient and accessible for anybody and everybody,” “Idol” producer Melissa Elfar previously told the Deseret News. “It’s never been easier to audition. You literally can be on your phone in your bedroom auditioning. You can be in the bathroom, in the kitchen, wherever you want to be.”
The process seemed painless enough, so LeBaron decided to go for it.
She auditioned from her parents’ basement. Not wanting to make a big scene, she told her family somewhat last-minute, asking them not to come downstairs for a couple of hours.
In the basement, she placed her laptop and phone on top of the piano. The Zoom audition was on her computer, but she needed her phone to read music — she didn’t have anything memorized.
She sat in a virtual waiting room with several other contestants for a while. And then her moment arrived.
LeBaron was prepared to play the piano and perform two songs — Kodaline’s “All I Want” and Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way” from the movie “A Star is Born.”
She ended up singing for three different producers.
The first one nodded his head and sent her on to someone else. The next producer had a similar response but told her to look at the camera more before passing her on to a final producer.
The last producer she sang for listened from a car.
And the whole time, LeBaron had no idea how she was doing.
“I thought, ‘Is anyone paying attention? What’s going on?’” LeBaron said with a laugh. “They’re really good at concealing their emotions and their opinions.”
But to LeBaron’s surprise, the last producer nodded and said she was one of the best singers they’d heard all day.
She would be heading to California for the big-time audition.
LeBaron shut her computer and was about to run upstairs to share the good news with her family when she turned the corner and almost tripped over her dad, who was laying on the floor.
He had been listening to her the whole time.
Singing on national TV
A month or so later, LeBaron was out of the basement and singing in Ojai, California — about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles. She performed the same songs for the celebrity judges that she sang on Zoom.
But this time, standing before Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, she got a lot of feedback. And she had a major realization.
As she chatted with the judges, LeBaron talked a bit about her upbringing, her past insecurities with music and her current life path. She has studied journalism at Utah Valley University for three semesters and, at the moment, has a job in marketing, managing the social media pages for a couple of startup companies in Utah.
As LeBaron opened up about herself, Perry made an observation that really hit home.
“You have a job in marketing and you don’t market yourself.”
Considering that some “much-needed advice,” LeBaron said she has since been working on building her social media presence and posting more videos of her singing on different platforms. She also has some original music she hopes to record soon.
LeBaron’s following on social media will likely increase Sunday night, once her audition airs. The idea that millions of people will soon know her name is hard for LeBaron to wrap her head around. Growing up, she did such a good job of keeping her singing a secret that not many of her peers even knew she could sing.
“One thing that led to me trying this is that I’ve been so afraid to fail,” LeBaron said. “For a while I couldn’t write music because I just didn’t want to write anything bad, but that’s just not how it works. If you’re going to put out music, you’re going to have some songs that aren’t great. That’s how it works.”
For LeBaron, going on “American Idol” is a big step in a new — and more confident —direction.
“What’s the harm in trying?” she said. “And if I fail, it’s a fun story, something I can use for two truths and a lie.”