During an “American Idol” audition, singers usually just hope to secure their place on the show.
Julia Gargano, a senior at The College of Saint Rose, not only landed a spot on the ABC show but got a hug from judge Katy Perry and praise from Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie to boot.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I’m going to cry,” Gargano said during the audition, which aired on Sunday.
Growing up on Staten Island, the 21-year-old started playing music and writing songs at a young age. When she was 6 her mom enrolled her in drum lessons.
“After two years of drum lessons, I started singing my original songs to my drum teacher, a capella. I was like ‘This is not the right fit.’ That’s when I switched to piano,” Gargano said.
Her dad, Frank Gargano, also wrote songs with her throughout her childhood, which had a major impact on her. Gargano's piano teacher, Laine Thompson, also played an important role in encouraging her songwriting.
“When I was eight, I came to him with my first original, which you can imagine wasn’t the most spectacular thing, but he would take me to the studio, never would charge my family a penny and would record all of these songs. He did that for years. So I have this catalog from when I was eight to 16 of all these songs that he just wanted to record for me. . . He was a huge part of my music career, Gargano said.
She’s essentially been songwriting and performing ever since, including at The College of Saint Rose, where she’s majoring in music industry and composition. She also works with the student-run label, where she’s recorded and released songs like “Tell Me Why.”
Before last summer, getting her work out there via “American Idol” was not part of the plan.
“I never was a very competitive person with music. I was even too chicken to audition for local battle of the bands,” Gargano said.
Luckily, while she was interning at ET Studio Productions on Staten Island, her boss signed her up for an audition in Brooklyn.
Gargano was stunned at first, but told herself: “What’ve you got to lose? These are three insane celebrity judges. Just do it. This is an opportunity of a lifetime, you’re going to really hate yourself if you don’t just go for it.”
While many singers perform covers for their auditions, Gargano went with an original, called “Growing Pains.”
“I wrote that song about two years ago now. . . . I changed it throughout the past two years. I never wanted to let that one go. I haven’t recorded it or anything, it just kind of stuck with me. I got really good feedback from it and I really felt the most connected to that song out of all the [ones in the] catalog I have,” Gargano said.
That connection came through as her steady voice opened with the line “Put a bandaid on a shotgun wound and pray to God it heals me.”
After the performance, Richie and Bryan both praised her voice and her presentation, pointing out that she brought an original song.
“Next season on ‘American Idol,’ people are going to say ‘I actually came here to audition because I was inspired by Julia Gargano.’ That’s what they’re going to be saying,” Perry said.
“I don’t have any critiques. But when I find one, I’m going to give it to you because I want you to win this thing. I think you’re top five.”
The next episode, which includes more season 18 auditions, airs on ABC at 8 p.m. on Sunday.