Written by Samra Karamustafic
The American Idol contestant tells us what it was like to sing in front of three superstars, her yodeling experience, and more in this fun Q+A.
Apparently, stepping onto the American Idol stage feels a little bit like entering heaven thanks to the bright studio lighting — according to Mary Jo Young, that is.
That’s the first thing that the American Idol judges and viewers at home heard her say as she introduced herself on the show.
The 19-year-old former real estate sales associate is a contestant on the national singing competition show this season, appearing in an episode that first aired back in late February. Quick spoiler alert: after blowing the judges away with her rendition of “You Broke Me First” by Tate McRae, Mary Jo secured the golden ticket and is on her way to Hollywood!
The Cleveland native and former Cleveland State University student has come a long way from her elementary school yodeling days. What began as simply posting singing videos to Twitter and TikTok has turned into the opportunity of a lifetime for the young singer.
I got the chance to sit down and chat with Mary Jo over the phone about her American Idol experience, what it’s like to be TikTok famous, and what’s next for the singer.
Samra Karamustafic: First of all, how’s life treating you so far?
MARY JO YOUNG: Life is treating me pretty well! I’m taking it all in and overall it’s pretty good!
SK: What got you into music and singing?
MJY: My whole family has been pretty musical. Everyone in my family is involved with music in some way: my dad has a crazy good voice and my mom sings too. I sang when I was younger, but as I grew up, I became more secretive about it.
SK: Was there something that triggered you to become more secretive about your singing?
MJY: The only singing I had done was in the school talent show in the first grade with my sister. After that, I hadn’t really done anything until I tried learning how to yodel — I was really bad at it because I only had three days to learn how to do it for another school talent show. I didn’t make it, but I think that triggered it a little bit. Even though it’s not singing, it still contributed to my stage fright. Plus, when I moved to Ohio [from Tennessee], it was like “Oh, nobody knows I sing, so this is perfect!” I think my confidence went down as I got older because with little kids you have to tell them that they’re good.
SK: What do you love most about singing?
MJY: I like that I get to do my own thing and be my own person doing it. I don’t have to “copycat” anyone and I can have fun finding my own style. Plus, I get to find my own voice within everything and learn more about my singing and what I can do with my voice.
SK: How did you end up auditioning for American Idol?
MJY: Originally, I was kind of terrified of the idea, but I started posting videos on TikTok, and people kept commenting and telling me to [audition]. Then some of the people from the casting team at American Idol actually reached out to me and I talked to them. I just thought, “Okay, what better way to break the ice?” So then I just went ahead and auditioned!
SK: Speaking of TikTok: you’ve grown quite a following on the app — what made you decide to start posting your singing videos on there?
MJY: Well, my friends had all of these inside jokes about TikTok and I felt left out, so I thought, “Okay, I’m going to get TikTok!” I started posting singing videos on Twitter first and so my thought was “Let’s just drag them over to TikTok,” since all of these other people were doing really well with their music on there. At that point, it just started to take off!
SK: What was it like when you first walked up to sing in front of Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan on the show? How did you feel?
MJY: Oh my gosh, I was TERRIFIED! I was super excited because I was like “Wow, look at these guys! They look just like they do in the pictures!” I felt excited to meet them but nervous to sing in front of them, so I had two different feelings about the entire situation.
SK: During your audition, you revealed to the judges that your mom had never heard you sing before. That’s when they decided to bring your mom out so that you could sing to her. What was that like, considering that they pulled that out of nowhere?
MJY: It was — eh, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I was nervous to sing in front of my mom but at the same time, it almost felt more comfortable. I think that if I was singing in front of my mom alone, I would’ve felt even more nervous. But having the judges give a good reaction to the first song I’d sung made me feel more confident to sing in front of my mom.
SK: What advice would you give to someone who loves singing and who would love to showcase their talent on a show like American Idol, but who’s too nervous and afraid to do so?
MJY: Go about it in whichever way you feel most comfortable with, whether that’s posting videos on social media or going out and auditioning for a show. Just make sure that you’re comfortable and happy doing it, then go with it and have fun!
SK: What has been the biggest “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening right now!” moment for you so far during all of this?
MJY: I think it was when Luke [Bryan] was talking to me because he was just being so supportive and complimenting [my singing]. When he was talking about everything after I sang, it just opened my eyes a little bit more because then my mom looked at me and I think that was when I thought, “Oh wow, this is really happening!”
SK: The episode that featured your audition aired on Feb. 28. Did you do anything fun to celebrate?
MJY: I got together with my family and my closest friends safely — with masks and socially-distanced, of course — and we watched it together!
SK: What’s the next step for you in regards to your singing, your career — all that fun stuff? What aspirations do you have in mind?
MJY: No matter what happens with American Idol, I’m thankful for it and I’m going to keep enjoying it and having fun with it. But I’m really excited to see what’s going to come out of this experience, like touring and concerts and everything like that. I think that would be really fun. I’m most excited to see what’s to come while having this experience with American Idol and enjoying it.
Things certainly aren’t slowing down for Mary Jo. Since our chat, she’s released her very first single, “Carpet”, she’s gotten a bunch of Twitter shoutouts from judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, and she’s featured in the March 21 episode of American Idol.
No matter what happens with American Idol, one thing’s for sure: this certainly won’t be the last time we hear about Mary Jo!
You can find Mary Jo on TikTok and Instagram at @maryjo.young and on Twitter at @maryjoyoung.