For the better part of two decades, singing competitions have garnered worldwide attention, and are seen as an outlet for artists in search of their “big break.” In the country world alone, these competitions have skyrocketed artists like Carrie Underwood and Chris Young into superstardom, and have given artists like Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Kellie Pickler, among others, a strong jumpstart that has since translated into successful careers. The aura that surrounds these shows is powerful, and their reputations are unmatched.
After American Idol first aired in 2002, it was captivating. The show’s stronghold on the public grew exponentially as two of the first four winners, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, saw their careers take off following their time on the show. Those results are hard to ignore, and the longevity the show has enjoyed is nothing short of impressive.
American Idol has been a part of most of Madison Paige’s life. The Katy, Texas native recalls watching the show as a child, but also promising herself that she would audition when she was old enough to do so. After being hounded to audition from her circle, Paige fulfilled her childhood promise as 2019 came to a close.
“The decision to audition originally was partly due to everyone constantly telling me to, as well as, the fact that I always watched American Idol as a kid,” says Paige. “I remember watching Carrie Underwood and her successfully winning it. I told myself at a young age that I would do it when I was old enough. I auditioned in Sunriver, Oregon in November of 2019.”
As audition day came, so did an extensive wait with hundreds of artists hoping to have their dreams fulfilled by judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. While she waited, Paige remained focused on herself and looked to find composure.
“Like anything, ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ Waiting was definitely part of the process,” says Paige. “It was a day full of all kinds of stuff. I just sat there for the entire day when I got the chance and focused on myself, mentally. Mental state was so important for me in that moment. I wanted to perform, sing and talk well.”
However, when the doors opened and she began her walk towards the three superstar judges, Paige admits to a momentary lapse in that composure.
“When I walked in I went blank,” Paige says with a laugh. “I just forgot how to breathe and process what was really happening. I was excited THAT I was getting the opportunity. I just told myself to breathe and not to be nervous. Being nervous was just wasting both of our times.”
Paige came equipped with “Blue” by LeAnn Rimes, a song she has performed countless times that commands the attention of anyone within earshot.
“That is a song I’ve always done at shows, and if no one is listening, they definitely turn their head when I hit the first yodel in the song,” says Paige. “It’s an ‘attention grabber.’”
After performing “Blue,” Paige was asked by the judges to sing “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, as well as “Famous in a Small Town” by Luke Bryan, which was followed by words of support, and eventually a golden ticket, by the judges.
“Luke told me, ‘You have a very strong voice and great vibrato. I think you could really make a straight impact in the pop-country music industry.’ I wasn’t a huge fan of that; I have always told myself I want to stay as close to ‘country’ as possible. Not that there is much wrong with the ‘pop-country’ genre,” says Paige. “Katy Perry said, ‘You definitely have some powerhouse vocals. I would like to see some more modernized runs at the end.’ I had trouble really understanding what she meant by that. I took the advice the best I could. Lionel then said, ‘You are definitely country through-and-through! You have the vintage voice that really just screams ‘country.’” All three judges though agreed they’d like to see me sing a song with lots of emotion.”
After receiving her golden ticket, which ensured her a place during Hollywood Week, Paige (after the slight detour of exiting through the wrong door) was planning a surprise reveal of the ticket, which didn’t exactly fly due to the her mom’s attentiveness.
“I was excited. My original plan was to trick all of the people who were with me as support that I didn’t really get a golden ticket. However, my mom is quick on her feet and heard the judges telling me,” says Paige. “The golden ticket was a way of telling me I am doing good and meant to do this career.”
With her golden ticket in hand and a trip to Hollywood in the works, it was time for more waiting; she had to remain tight-lipped about how she fared as auditions began to air in February of 2020. Unsure if her audition would air, she couldn’t reveal her successful audition until March 15, nearly four months after it took place.
“It was SUPER hard for the first month of knowing. I knew it would be in the case I received a golden ticket,” says Paige. “Keeping the fact that I auditioned for American Idol wasn’t as hard as the golden ticket was.”
As Hollywood week got underway in December of 2019, so did Paige’s second performance, which still brought forth the nerves of being on a show as powerful as American Idol.
“For the first round of Hollywood Week. I chose a song that gave emotion, since the judges had asked for it. I sang ‘Stay’ by Sugarland. It was a safe song for me vocally,” says Paige. “I was nervous just because it was a national TV show and I was going to be on it.”
Next, American Idol decided to throw a curveball. Typically, the second portion of Hollywood Week is performing in groups of four, however, with their new season, this section was changed to duets. Paige chose Mississippi native Peyton Aldridge as her partner, which set a nightmare in motion.
“Oh goodness, duet rounds. They were something else. I was freaking out and very upset with myself. I thought I was making a good call. I originally picked Peyton because early that day, everyone would get into groups and jam out together. I heard Peyton, and I was thought he was really good. I told myself, ‘Maybe I should tell him for groups, I’d like to be in his group,’ because at the time, we didn’t know it was going to be anything but groups,” says Paige. “I decided not to tell him and just do me. Then we found out ‘Duets’ were happening instead of groups. They said pick your partner and pick them wisely. I ran straight to him, and he was all set on the decision of us partnering up. Later on, I hit a level of uncertainty and was just mad at myself. I kept thinking, ‘How could I have let this happen?!’”
What followed seems too far-fetched for even the most absurd comedy. When the time came to practice, Aldridge disappeared. Paige set out on a manhunt with Bobby Bones, eventually finding her partner exiting his hotel room with the explanation that he had gone to a nearby gas station to get chicken wings. She was forced to finalize their song choice herself in the time he was M.I.A., settling on “Don’t You Wanna Stay” by Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson.
“Peyton and I sat and discussed, ‘Hey Peyton, why don’t I look up known country duets and see what songs we both know?,’ which he agreed to, so we began Googling. I said, ‘Hey, what about ‘Remind Me’ by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood?’
‘I don’t think I know that one.’
‘Okay, what about ‘Picture’ by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow?’
I don’t think I know it enough.’
“Okay, how about ‘Don’t You Wanna Stay’ by Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson?”
“I think I know the chorus somewhat.’
So we waited to see the choices we were offered. Of course at the time of choosing, he was nowhere to be found. So, I remembered our conversation about songs and none of those were an option besides ‘Don’t You Wanna Stay,” and I had no choice but to do it. I was being proactive and had zero idea where or when my partner would show up.”
After a rehearsal, Paige was confident in their preparedness for their duet. However, after a shaky practice and a change from piano to guitar, the performance left something to be desired.
“I felt SO good in our readiness,” says Paige. “I thought we did really good at practicing the night before considering we were up late. I never saw practice or even the actual performance sucking like it did.”
The judges noticed something was off too. However, just before rendering their final decision on the fates of both Paige and Aldridge, Peyton apologized to Madison. Katy Perry and Lionel Richie privately commented how “big” of a move his apology was, and decided to give them each another chance by sending them through to the next round.
“I appreciated his apology, I feel like it’s what triggered the judges to put us both through,” says Paige. “I was shocked that they were sending us both through. I was hoping they saw I put the effort in that I did. But sometimes, I realize I have to just thank God above for even letting another chance happen. Even though this new chance meant I had to prove myself even more to Katy, Lionel and Luke.”
When something like that transpires, it seems made for TV, and Paige got word that her audition would air on March 22. As her air date came, so did a mix of emotions, which was followed by an explosion on her social media.
“I realized it could only be so good after knowing the chaos I went through when it was being recorded,” says Paige. “I remember when I did The Voice in 2016, I never made it on TV, so finally seeing myself on TV with American Idol was really weird and I was star struck with myself. I can’t believe I was really there. My social media blew up for a solid hour, and I was just so blessed and overwhelmed. There was so many people who supported me with Idol and I could not be more thankful!”
As the episode aired to the world, Paige was live streaming the show to her Facebook page. When word finally came that she had made it through to the next round, she commented several times during her live stream about all of the messages she was receiving, even thinking her phone was going to overload at one point. Looking back, she is thankful for the support she received in that moment from her supporters.
“My support system is ALWAYS important to me,” says Paige. “They are what make it worth my while to continue doing what I do. They are also the reason I am able to do what I do daily.”
Paige’s next Hollywood Week performance was “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile. That performance is unfortunately where her Idol journey ended, but she still takes pride in the fact that she had the success she had on the show; her biggest takeaway from her Idol journey.
“I took the fact that I am capable to do anything as long as I work for it,” says Paige. “This was a small turning point in my career. I may not have made it too far, but I did make top 60.”
Naturally, after receiving the kind of boost American Idol can give, Paige had her sights set on a big 2020, which has since been derailed by the current ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
“My biggest plans for this year were merchandise and having a full band again,” says Paige. “Sadly, due to all of this, it has left myself and many others unemployed and cancelled the process of getting a full band together again.”
Though those plans may be on hold, Paige realizes how important it is to stay in touch with her fan base, and has continuously performed during live streams, regularly updating her social media, and more recently, ran a contest where she was giving away handwritten lyrics to one of her songs.
“The biggest thing is stay in touch with your fans; show them that you have rough days and are just as affected by it as they are,” says Paige. “I make sure my fans know they are not alone in this. I also struggle, and I let them know how my days are going through this. I also post daily on Instagram stories to give them a look at my life behind the curtains on the stage.”
As she adjusts to the new normal 2020 has introduced us to, Paige has her sights set on rebuilding and growing her brand as the situation unfolds.
“At this rate, every artist will need to regain themselves after all of this,” says Paige. “The rest of the year, I plan on building my name.”
*All images courtesy of Madison Paige Facebook page*