COHOES -- The singer who wowed Katy Perry wowed a few other young singers and songwriters on Friday afternoon at Community Miracles in Action in Cohoes.
Madison VanDenburg, 16, a junior at Shaker High School and "American Idol" contestant, spoke with teens from around her hometown about how she became a musician and what it was like to audition for the show.
“You guys are really doing the right thing coming here and chasing these dreams, because as long as you put in the work, it does happen,” VanDenburg said.
The event was organized by CMA, a non-profit organization that provides a safe place for teens to set and achieve goals. Many of the teens involved wanted to work in music, so last year CMA launched Louder Dreams Entertainment as a way to help teens get involved with music and music production.
CMA founder Crystal Alesio has found that the program has given kids a place to really foster their creativity. Nearly 30 teens come in each week to use the space, practicing, recording and learning from other singers and songwriters, like VanDenburg.
“I have been playing since I was ten and for years I was like ‘This is going to go nowhere,’” VanDenburg said, “[But] sometimes things fall into place.”
That’s exactly what happened during VanDenburg’s "American Idol" audition, which aired last Sunday. VanDenburg took the judges by surprise with her rendition of Dan + Shay’s “Speechless.”
“I think you’re as good as Kelly Clarkson . . . You’re a massive star,” Katy Perry said, adding that VanDenburg’s audition was the first to give her goosebumps. The show’s other hosts, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, were just as positive about VanDenburg’s stunning performance.
After a few requests from CMA teens, VanDenburg sang “Speechless,” but not before taking questions about how she got started.
From a young age, VanDenburg knew that she wanted to be a musician. She started taking piano and guitar lessons and sang as much as she could at local restaurants and bars, like Slidin’ Dirty, Jupiter Hall and TJ’s Flightline Pub, building the experience and confidence in her abilities.
In 2018, she dropped her first pop single “Need a Little Heartbreak.” Prior to that, she performed covers from some of her favorite artists, including Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, Beyoncé and Katy Perry.
During VanDenburg’s visit, she listened in on some of the teen’s original music.
“I expected something good, but not something that good,” VanDenburg said after listening to Katlyn Hebert’s original song, “Finish Line.”
Hebert, a 16-year-old from Cohoes, wants to audition for "American Idol" or a similar show and the fact that someone from her hometown did it really encouraged her, she said. But showing VanDenburg her music was intimidating at first.
“I was so nervous,” Hebert said, “She said she liked it and it meant a lot to me.”
Hebert wasn’t the only teen VanDenburg encouraged. Some came up just to talk with her about producing or to get her autograph.
“I really want to encourage you guys to just keep following your dreams because that is so important. So many people lose sight of that because it gets really hard. But anything you do in life that’s worth it is hard,” VanDenburg said.
The artist said that talking with fellow teens about her journey was a humbling experience.
“I think it’s really important to make sure that these kids get the same encouragement that I’ve gotten,” VanDenburg said.
That encouragement has come from the Capital Region community as well as her parents. “My mom and dad have been there from day one, supporting my dream,” VanDenburg said, “And they’re still here and they’re more excited than ever.” Her father, Skip, visited CMA with her on Friday and watched as VanDenburg passed on that support to fellow teens.