Updated: Maddie Zahm is going to Hollywood to compete in the opening season of the reinvented “American Idol.”
The young Boise singer belted out “New Rules” by Dua Lipa, while her best friend Marucs, who has Down syndrome, sat with judges Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan and supported her.
“Maddie, you’ve got a set of pipes on you,” Perry told her. She got a resounding ‘yes’ and the show’s catch phrase “You’re going to Hollywood!” from all three judges.
You can follow Zahm’s progress on the competition when it starts in earnest on Monday, March 26 on ABC.
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OK, it’s a reality show, and that comes with a certain amount of restrictions and finagling to keep the results secret. So, no spoilers for the upcoming season of “American Idol” — except know that one young Boise woman got a chance to fulfill her lifelong dream.
You can see Maddie Zahm, 19, audition on the show’s season opener at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 11, on ABC.
Walking into the celebrity audition in Hollywood in front of Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie — win or lose — was life-changing, Zahm says.
“I knew that even if I didn’t get a golden ticket, I just wanted to be in that room,” Zahm says. “It felt like a milestone. I had achieved something.”
Zahm had to overcome much to get to that moment.
As a teenager, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that causes a hormonal imbalance, leading to extreme weight gain and other symptoms. That weight gain impacted her confidence, she says.
Then there was that bad experience when she had auditioned for another musical competition show two years earlier.
“At that time I was still struggling with confidence,” she says. “I completely choked. I got nervous. I picked the wrong song. I did an Adele song, and, as a plus-size blonde, they will always compare you to Adele. And you don’t want to be the ValueMart version of Adele. I wanted to redeem myself.”
Graduating from high school and reconnecting with music through her church — Eagle Nazarene — and teaching music to people with autism and other disabilities were the keys to reclaiming her confidence, she says.
The first step
Zahm knew the American Idol Bus Tour was to be in Salt Lake City in August 2017, but it wasn’t until the day before that she decided to jump in the car and drive 6 hours to get there.
“It was a total God thing,” she says. “I remember sitting in class and the lord just put it in my heart that ‘You have to go, and you have to go today.’”
“Singing on ‘American Idol’ has always been a dream of mine,” Zahm says.
The Boise State University student grew up having “American Idol”-themed birthday parties. Watching the show was a weekly family ritual.
Audition day was a long one. She sang in front of producers twice and did an on-camera interview before she ever received an email inviting her to the next level.
She called her mom.
“I already had in my mind prepared a little speech to console her,” Elicia Zahm says. “When she said, ‘Mom, they only took a handful today,’ I got ready to do my speech. Then she screamed, ‘and I was one of them!’ I just about fell over.”
Since then it’s been a six-month whirlwind that included a trip to Hollywood for Zahm’s family and best friend Marcus Burlington who has Down’s syndrome. (Burlington made his own mark at the audition. You’ll have to watch to find out, Zahm says.)
The show launches its first season on ABC after 15 years on Fox on March 11. The Fox Network dropped the show in 2016, due to slipping ratings, with a much hyped “final season.” Not so final, it seems. ABC struck a deal with AI’s production company FremantleMedia and will reboot the formula with new judges and its original host, Ryan Seacrest.
Standing before those accomplished celebrities made her nervous, she says, but didn’t throw her off her game.
“It felt right,” Zahm says. “As long as I stay kind and true to who I am, whatever happens is a win.”