Grace Leer Reflects On Her ‘American Idol’ Journey and Shares What’s Next For Her
Season 18 American Idol contestant Grace Leer immediately won over the hearts of country music fans everywhere with her show-stopping…
Grace Leer; Photo by ABC/Karen Neal
Season 18 American Idol contestant Grace Leer immediately won over the hearts of country music fans everywhere with her show-stopping Patsy Cline cover during her audition for the show. Her rendition of “Crazy” stopped the judges in their tracks and earned her a ticket to Hollywood.
Throughout her time on the show, Leer continued to impress the judges and viewers alike with her traditional country vocals and undeniable stage presence. The California native garnered a spot in the show’s Top 11 and though she didn’t make it to the finale, Leer earned herself thousands of fans during her time on Idol.
Now back in Nashville where she’s lived for the past few years, Leer’s number-one priority is getting new music out to her fans. Country Now caught up with Grace Leer to chat about her American Idol journey, her brand of country music, what’s next for her and much more.
It’s only been a few weeks, but how has life changed since your American Idol journey?
Since the show, I quit my job, which was a big deal. When I first moved to Nashville, I kind of had that fear of like, what if music doesn’t work out? I feel like everybody has [that feeling], and it was my first time really being on my own, so I got like just a normal nine to five. I was working for a startup called Wonolo here in Nashville, and I was doing that full time, nine to five and then obviously doing music. My goal always was to do music full time. I want to be able to give a hundred percent to music, but also it’s very hard to make a living off of music. Especially being new to Nashville, I wasn’t getting paid for any of the gigs. I was like scrapping at the bits just to play anywhere with my band. [That was] something that I was really excited throughout the show as I kept getting further and further. I remember my family joking, like when I made the Top 20, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe you’re going to be able to quit your job….I think you’re going to have to quit your job.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, right.’ Cause I was at my job, I was doing it the whole time up until the live shows. So it was just kind of something that was always a goal in mind was to just, maybe this could get me a big enough following to where I could really do music full time and it has. So, I quit my day job and it’s been fun. I just got back to Nashville a few days ago and it’s just like a whole new chapter for me. American Idol has done so much for me and I’m just really grateful for it.
Now that you’ve quit your job, what’s the next big step for you?
I’m kind of in the midst of that next step, whether it’s getting some sort of manager, like I’ve never had anything that. I’ve done everything independently. Since I moved here and even when I was back in San Francisco, starting my band, I do everything. I booked the shows, I worked the website, do the social media, paid the band. I did everything. So I’m kind of leaning towards possibly having some sort of management around me to have that support and step into the actual music industry, which is a scary thing. But it’s definitely the next step for me if I want to keep going and have the career that I want, which I had really big goals for.
We’re obviously in a bit of a strange time right now. How are you navigating things since live music has not completely returned yet? Are you mainly focusing on getting into the studio?
I know that live music just started slightly opening up with several restrictions due to COVID. It is a funny time for me to go after music when the music industry is not the best right now because we can’t perform and tours being canceled and everything like that. But yeah, I am definitely focusing more on behind the scenes, recording and just getting the right music out to my fans that’s going to be authentic to me. I have a good amount of original music, but I’m also excited to be back here and start working with more writers and just kind of diversifying myself and really honing in on my type of sound.
On the show, we saw you perform a few traditional country songs, is that something fans will hear more of from you?
The type of country music that I want to make and I am making is, is a little bit more throwback and it’s not mainstream, it’s not like pop-country or anything like that. I’m definitely doing something a little bit different and I want to stick with that. Kind of what The Highwomen are doing right now and Tanya Tucker, she just won a Grammy. Those kinds of [artists] are coming back. I want to be a part of that, kind of reinstating real country music and, and having it very authentic. I also love traditional nineties country. Nineties country does have some like poppy beats, those catchy melodies that come from like, Shania Twain, Martina [McBride] and Jo Dee Messina. I really love those [songs] that are really catchy, but they’re still super country and they’re just very like simple storytelling songs. That’s the type of music I really want to do. When it comes to what I get to record again and get to work with, with maybe a new producer or get in the studio, I really want to stay true to that like live, raw sound rather than kind of overproduction.
Speaking of your Idol performances, looking back, what was your favorite performance from the show?
Oh my gosh. My favorite performance was definitely “Natural Woman” in Hawaii. It’s not even a country song, but it was my favorite just because it was just such an amazing… I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It was such a growing moment for me. It was such an iconic moment for me to kind of realize: This is what I want to do. And that was one of those moments too where I was like, I’ve got to quit my job. This is what I want to do. I remember jumping up on that stage, it was just a minute and a half, but it was the best minute and a half of my life. The live band was just so incredible. The audience there, they were just looking, I will just never forget, they were looking up at me. These little girls were in the front row and they had Mickey Mouse ears on and they were reaching up. I’ve been to so many concerts and I always remember standing in the crowd and watching. I’ve seen a lot of country concerts like Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, all those people and I remember them coming out and they would touch the audience, you know, that kind of iconic thing where their fans reach up and they reach down and touch their hands. I’ve never done that before. And that happened in Hawaii and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I’ve watched so many stars do this and seen it on TV. And that was just like, it just didn’t feel real. They just kind of were looking up at me like I was a celebrity and I was like, ‘I’m just normal singer, I’m just trying to make my dreams come true.’ It just was a really cool moment. It was the closest I felt to really making music my full-time job. It was a really fun moment. We were in paradise and all the contestants were there watching and cheering each other on. It was just a really, really great memory that I’m going to forever have.
I feel bad that you didn’t get a chance to experience that again due to the coronavirus outbreak. Were you disappointed in the way the season panned out, having to perform at home?
I kind of go back and forth because I got to experience something that went down in history. Idol had never performed from home and just like the reality of what we’re doing, what’s happening right now in the world with the pandemic… You know the phrase: ‘the show must go on.’ American Idol went above and beyond to make sure that we could give the best show from home and keep entertaining people. I was super inspired by people on the front lines and I was just like, ‘this is awesome: I still get to keep doing what I love even though it’s from home and the circumstances are different. I still get to sing, I still get to perform and I’m very grateful for that.’ But you know, but did I always imagine my American Idol journey, including being at CBS studios on-stage, working face to face with mentors like Bobby Bones and having the live band? Of course. I was definitely always excited for that. And I remember when Lauren [Mascitti] and I learned, that we made Top 21 in Hawaii. It was always the plan for both of us to go down to L.A. because of the airing schedule and everything, we weren’t going to know who made it. So we were both going to be able to experience being in L.A. and we were so excited cause we’re really great friends here in Nashville and we were both just too excited that we’re like, ‘Oh we still get to go and experience that and that’s going to be great.’ It was definitely disappointing when everything happened and we had to be sent home. But I just feel like that’s the reality of it. I think that there’s a lot of talks of next season, if everything hopefully is back to normal, about them bringing us back for at least like an episode or something like that, which would be really fun to just get to experience that.
When I spoke with Lauren, something she said that stuck out to me was that everyone was so friendly and it didn’t feel like a competition between the contestants. Did you have that same experience?
Oh absolutely. It’s so funny because to Lauren’s point, you don’t expect it. The first two auditions, the first one with the producers, it’s just you. And then the next one, it’s just you and the judges and you’re not seeing anybody and you don’t see anybody until Hollywood week. Then in Hollywood week, there is so much downtime. You’re waiting and waiting and waiting all day to sing and you have nowhere else to go. You have to stay there. That’s where I met Lauren. That’s where I met Julia [Gargano], Sophia [James], Dylan [James], Francisco [Martin], so many people I met in Hollywood week and then you get even closer in Hawaii when you’re on this trip. Lauren and I were roommates the whole week and we got so close. Every night, Lauren and I were talking about country music. She was showing me [her fiancé] Shawn [Camp]’s songs that he’s written and I was showing her my music and we were just talking. Those kind of moments are so special and you don’t think about that going into a singing competition. I have definitely formed lifelong friendships between people like Lauren and the girls that I think I’ll remain close with… Julia, Sophia, and then I keep really close contact with Louis and Johnny West and Dylan and Francisco. There’s just so many that I got to be really close with. We keep talking about doing a trip, once everything’s done, like can we all do like a lakehouse or something and at least like enjoy each other cause we never got to be together for the top [rounds]. And that was such a bummer too because like in Hawaii, everyone is watching each other and you’re like running off the stage and you’re hugging each other and you’re telling each other how great you did. It’s just such a bonding experience for everybody because we just all love what we do. It definitely was a special, special thing to have so many friends and we just automatically have music in common.
Do you have a favorite memory or piece of advice that you received during the show that will always stick with you?
I think there were so many little things, but I think the thing that always sticks out to me most is actually from my first audition. That was the most that they (the judges) talked to me because Hollywood week they don’t talk to you. What you heard on TV, that’s the first time I was hearing it. And then, they gave a little bit of feedback to me in Hawaii and a good amount during the live shows. But I just remember that first audition. I learned a lot about myself because Katy Perry pointed out the twang that I had in my voice and she called it like the secret sauce to my voice. And I was like, ‘what?’ I didn’t even know that was really there. That’s just my voice. That’s how I sing. I don’t really try to like sing that way. It’s just kind of comes out. So I just thought it was really funny that she picked up on that. I loved how Luke [Bryan], they say more than what they actually air, but he said, that [my voice] was easy to listen to. Something else he said was that they knew right away that I was throwback country. And I appreciate it so much. That’s what got me so emotional in my audition too….When I said that you guys really understand the music that we’re trying to make. It was so cool to be recognized, not just that I had a pretty voice, but that like the style of my voice and then the type of artists that I am came through. They honed in on, not just me as a singer, but also me as an artist. I took that with me. Even to now it’s just something that once you know what type of artist you are, like just sticking to that and being authentic to that.
What’s next for you?
My next focus is the music. I want to bring music to my fans. I want to get music out as quickly as I can, but I also want it to be the right music. So far, I’ve released everything under the Grace Leer Band, which is my band here in Nashville. I don’t even have a Spotify page for just Grace Leer. So that next step is going to be releasing basically my first single under my own artist name, Grace Leer. And for that music, especially coming off of Idol, I want it to be authentic to me. I want it to be something that I’m very proud of and that I know that my fans are going to enjoy. I want to represent tha throwback country vibe and keep at it with that.
Fans can keep up with Grace Leer on Instagram.
Lauren Jo Black
Lauren Jo Black, a University of Central Florida graduate, has immersed herself in the world of country music for over 15 years. In 2008, she co-founded CountryMusicIsLove, eventually selling it to a major record label in 2015. Following the rebranding of the website to Sounds Like Nashville, Black served as Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years. Currently, she assumes the role of Editor-in-Chief at Country Now and oversees Country Now’s content and digital footprint. Her extensive experience also encompasses her previous role as a Country Music Expert Writer for Answers.com and her work being featured on Forbes.com. She’s been spotlighted among Country Aircheck’s Women of Influence and received the 2012 Rising Star Award from the University of Central Florida. Black also spent time in front of the camera as host of Country Now Live, which brought live music directly to fans in 2021 when the majority of concerts were halted due to the pandemic. During this time, she hosted 24 weeks of live concerts via Country Now Live on Twitch with special guests such as Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Jordan Davis, Brett Young, and Jon Pardi. Over the course of her career, she has had the privilege of conducting interviews with some of the industry’s most prominent stars, including Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Lainey Wilson, and many others. Lauren Jo Black is a longtime member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.