Madison VanDenburg: From Second-Runner-Up To Running Full Speed Ahead (Part 2 of 2)
EE: How did you choose your audition song(s)?
MV: I was in a voice lesson and I had been playing around with “Speechless” [by Dan & Shay] for a while because I had fallen in love with the song, and me and my boyfriend had seen this specific performance of them doing it at a radio station. It was the best I had ever heard anyone ever sing in my entire life. And I said, “I wanna do this song.” It was strange for me because I had never really strayed from the twenty or thirty songs I go through in my setlist. It’s usually what I always use for anything, including auditions. It was totally weird for me to go for this country pop song. My vocal coach was like, “Go for it! I think it sounds good.” I was just like, “Might as well try it!” and it worked out. I think I was going to do “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys. We were supposed to prepare two songs in case the judges wanted to hear more. But they just passed me on the first one, which I was really grateful for.
EE: When you were compared to Kelly Clarkson, I feel like that both sets up big shoes to feel, and makes it harder for you to establish yourself as your own artist. Honestly, how did it feel being compared to Kelly Clarkson, or that you were the “next Kelly Clarkson?”
MV: Honestly, I thought it was the biggest compliment I could have ever received. I didn’t even think about it in that way, like, “It’s really cool but I wish they wouldn’t so I could establish my own sound.” I didn’t really think about it that way until the fans from the show were commenting about it. Okay, true, but the show is only on for a few months. So it’s incredible that they gave me such a compliment that I can use to show people who I am as an artist. I still do have a lot of Kelly Clarkson’s influence because I listened to a lot of her growing up as well. I kinda just took it as, “That’s the coolest thing anyone’s ever said to me. That’s amazing! Thank you!”
And after the show I have all of these amazing people who still listen to me and I can still give them music where people aren’t going to think I’m copying Kelly or trying to fill her shoes. It doesn’t sound like Kelly. It’s a different lane of pop than she is.
A lot of people were really adamant on me not being compared to her.
EE: Honestly, I was one of them. I said, “She deserves to be her own musician.”
MV: I saw another girl from this current season have the same thing said to her. At first it was weird seeing it, because that was the highlight of my journey on Idol, but afterwards, it’s just a comparison.
EE: You don’t think it puts you on a pedestal or sets a bar for you that you have to live up to for the rest of the season? You don’t think that’s detrimental in any way?
MV: Um, I think the only reason it was detrimental is because Kelly Clarkson has some incredible superfans who will defend her to great extents. I totally get where your point is coming in, because a lot of people said the same thing when I was on the show, but in reality when you come off the show and you’re releasing your own stuff, that starts to fade away. Three years from now, I don’t think people are going to say, “Oh, that’s the girl from American Idol who they compared to Kelly Clarkson.” Hopefully they’re going to say, “Oh that’s the girl from American Idol and now she’s touring!”
EE: That’s a fair point. And that’s why I wanted to get your perspective. And maybe changing my mind.
MV: I love that though.
EE: You’re right though. In a few years nobody is going to remember who was compared to who. It’s going to be about what you do with your vocals and your musicianship going forward. What was the most challenging song to sing on Idol?
MV: Easily “I Surrender” [by Céline Dion] or “The Show Must Go On” by Queen. My voice got really tired in the week leading up to those performances. And I had to be super careful. I was so grateful that I knew both songs because both songs were performed by Céline Dion once. It was an amazing thing to just have to watch videos and listen, and not have to learn the song. Because if I did I would have overused my voice and have nothing left for the performance. Those songs are very very hard.
EE: When I think of “The Show Must Go On,” a lot of it is very much in an upper register or mix space and that can be pretty straining.
MV: Yeah, especially since that song sits in a place in my range where it’s very unreliable sometimes. My voice will crack and I won’t even feel it coming. That’s why I was super nervous. I had a high note at the very end that jumped the octave from the note before it.
EE: Before or after the key change?
MV: After. It was like the second to last note of the song. It was like way, way up there. Every time I was cracking or I would mark it and just use head voice because I was like, “I want to do this but I don’t know if it’s gonna be okay.” But when I was on stage, I just decided I was going to try it. If it cracks, it’s been great. Every time I stepped out on stage, just take it all in because this might be the last time you get to see it. So yeah, that song was very, very hard. And the emotion of it too. I don’t even like watching that performance anymore. So many people have commented that I was smiling in certain parts of the song when it was supposed to be serious […] it was very discouraging. I performed and then I looked right at the comments right after that.
EE: Oh, NO, honey.
MV: That was the number one thing they told us not to do. It’ll ruin your mood for the rest of the show. And I did it anyway every time. “Why is she smiling like this?” In truthfulness, I was just trying to be in the moment. I don’t know. I get where people are coming from. It’s just hard to watch that song now. I’m like, “Stop smiling! What are you doing?! STOP SMILING!” [GIGGLES].
EE: What was your favorite to perform?
MV: Probably “I Surrender.” That was crazy cool. “Or Fallin.’”
EE: You finally got to perform that one!
MV: It was so much fun to be able to move from the piano to the middle of the stage. That was so cool. Or “Who’s Loving You” [by the Jackson 5] was a lot of fun. And Hawaii was cool. Maybe I just have a lot of good memories of that song because it was in Hawaii.
EE: What was the most challenging aspect of being on Idol?
MV: Honestly it was keeping any type of self confidence in your performances. Once you get into the atmosphere of everything…even though everyone is a family, and everyone is super close and supportive, at the end of the day, you’re still surrounded by incredibly talented artists that you hear sing all day every day. It slowly starts to wear you down on your confidence. I was never once like, “I got this!” but it was very hard to stay focused on what you’re doing instead of being crippled by, “Oh my God I don’t know what I’m doing here. This is crazy and scary.”
That and believing in the song choice that you’ve picked for the next week is right. When we had to pick songs for the next week out, it was brutal. You’d go through the entire week of practicing it, by the end of the week you’re tired of it, and you’re like, “I don’t think this is as impactful as I thought it was.” Specific things. I don’t know.
EE: What do you think you learned the most while on Idol?
MV: That kindness and being grateful takes you so much farther than acting like you’re gonna win. In the beginning of the show especially. There were a bunch of people that I didn’t get to talk to who were eliminated pretty early on, but they were like, “Oh I’m better than you. I’m gonna sing all day while everybody’s quiet and prove to you that I’m a good singer.” There were a lot of people like that. I know a lot of them were probably just nervous, but like, what the heck? We’re all here to have fun. It was more of a learning experience and me growing up. Be kind and be grateful for what you’ve got. Don’t act like you’ve got it all in the bag. In the end, those people who thought they had it all were eliminated. And then the Top 50, everyone was so amazing and they got so far. I think that was the most important thing.
EE: What aspects, music aside, have changed most about your life since your time on reality TV?
MV: My school attendance would be number one. Haha, just playing. I think I’ve finally found my sound. Well, being on the show helped me figure out what I want to sound like. Oh, you said music aside. Probably that if you truly believe that you can do something there’s literally nothing unless it’s physically impossible, there’s no way that you’re not going to get a least a little payoff from it. I think I’ve taken that away from the show the most and applied it to real life. I think a lot of the time people don’t put all their effort into something that they truly want and then get disappointed when they don’t get so far. I think it’s all about staying persistent and giving your all. I think that’s what the show taught me. It’s so possible to do anything as long as you put your mind to it. It’s so cliché, like why am I saying this, but it’s so true. It’s so true.
EE: As you spend more time in the music industry, what do you feel it needs more of? Less of?
MV: I think the general knowledge of learning to do some things on your own can be super helpful. You can learn to produce and mix and master. Or just produce and pay someone to master it. You just build up your following. And I think the stigma about older music being better than newer music—I totally get that stance 110%—but at the same time, humans in general have changed in the past hundred years. We’re not the same personality. We’re not relating to the music that was released a hundred years ago, or fifty years ago, or even thirty years ago. I think that music is all about expression, and it shouldn’t be a comparison. Maybe lyrically, it was deeper, but people just want to enjoy listening to music. It’s about bopping and jamming out. Sometimes it’s not meant to be that serious. I think that’s important. There’s such a stigma about that, and like why does it matter?
EE: As long as people are enjoying it, what’s the big deal?
MV: It’s just music!
EE: Who is your ideal collaborator?
MV: James Arthur. James Arthur is just sitting at the top. I love his artistry so much. Him, or in a perfect world, Billie Eilish, Kelly Clarkson, or Fletcher. Any of those people. Maybe Chase Atlantic, but their songs are a little more graphic than I’d feel comfortable singing. But their style is cool.
EE: So you decided to take your senior year and be homeschooled, correct?
MV: I did half of it online. And it was really hard, and I texted my guidance counselor and asked to come back for the second half of my senior year. This was halfway through already, and she was like, “Of course!” I was in school for like a month…and now I’m home again! And it’s soooo sad. Sooooooo saaaaad.
EE: What do you miss most about being in class? Although I suppose that can apply to almost any student, and senior, right now. Congratulations on your graduation, by the way.
MV: Thank you.
EE: Sorry it falls now.
MV: It is what it is. I think because the way my schooling went—Because The Voice took a few months I was away at the end of tenth grade. Then I went to American Idol and I missed almost all of my eleventh grade year because of the show. I did half of it online because I wasn’t there. And then this year Corona happened, so we haven’t had school. So I think [I miss] just being able to create memories with people. That and a few weeks before quarantine happened I was trying to check in with all my friends that I haven’t talked to. I was trying to build those back up since I haven’t been around and I think that’s what I miss most. And then my teachers and stuff. I have a lot of respect for them.
EE: How has being shut in affected your music?
MV: The most monetary thing is that I can’t perform. It’s hard for me to create new music because I don’t have the funds I thought I was going to have to produce them and send them to get finished. That’s been a super big hindrance on this year’s music. But at the same time, it’s kind of a good thing. I don’t have to focus on getting the band together and practicing every week. It’s given me a lot of time to sit down and dive deeper into my sound and create. It’s also very hard because when you’re stuck inside and the only thing you know how to do is music, it gets very tedious and very old. It gets to a point where you don’t want to sit down and write. It’s like, “I just did this for the past week! Is there anything else to do!” There’s goods and bads to it.
EE: What advice do you have for young musicians, especially young women, who want to pursue music or try out for competition shows like Idol?
MV: Literally don’t even think twice about it. If you believe in yourself and you know, or even if you don’t know, that’s what you were put on the earth to pursue—just do it. There’s nothing that you can lose. Especially being a female in the industry, which I think I’ve come to love more and more every year, that I do get to have a platform to inspire other women, I think it’s helped me find a lot of confidence in myself as a girl. I think anybody, male or female, that decides to go after their dream is a badass. Don’t let anyone stand in your way. Just do it. That’s kind of the way my mom and my dad raised me. If you want something as your dream, remove the obstacles, if there are obstacles, and do it.
EE: What is in the future for you?
MV: Currently me and my team are hoping to get some type of deal.. Daniel Love from Loveshine Agency is my agent and Brian handles all my production stuff. Adrian and John, and Pat… they’re all part of my team. That is the ultimate goal. Really what I want to do is just release as much music as possible. Tour wherever I can. Collaborate with artists. It sounds all very cliché for an artist, but that’s what the dream is. Write some good music and have some fun.
EE: What gear do you use?
MV: I use a Taylor 812 Guitar Acoustic-Electric Guitar. That’s my favorite. For studio, I just have two JBL monitors. DBX 86A pre-amp and processor. And then I use either ProTools or Logic with a Shure SM7B mic.
EE: What is the answer to a question I haven’t asked but you wish I would?
MV: Ooooh, oh my god. You comin’ at me with the good questions—
EE: To be fair I ask this of everyone!
MV: I would say…oh my goodness I don’t know. I’m gonna stick to the classic, “What would you tell your fans if they were reading this?”
For anyone that’s reading this interview in the magazine, I think I just want to tell them from the bottom of my heart, that they literally changed my entire view on life and their support means more than I could ever put into words. I’ve been dreaming about being at this stage and having these opportunities since I was seven years old. To be sitting down and even having this interview in the first place means so much. I just wanna say thank you. I love them to death. And be good to one another. Just be good to people. I believe in that very much.
EE: How can the Nippertown readers help you out moving forward?
MV: Right now I am running a campaign to raise $10,000 for Feeding America. They have food banks across America to feed those who are suffering right now, especially during the Coronavirus. I think that’s also something that I’d love to raise money for. I think we’re over $1500, and we just started a little over a week and a half ago. It’s been incredible. That’s one of my biggest priorities right now is that fundraiser.
I do have new music coming out. Confirmed. Guaranteed. In the works, almost done. I can’t say any dates or any names yet, but once that’s all released, just saying updated on the social media and sharing the posts would be very appreciated. So if they’re interested in my music, just staying up to date with me on social media and once I have posted dates for performing, if they can make it out to some shows…that’d be amazing!
EE: Thank you so much, Madison, this has been so fun.
MV: Yes, this has been so fun! Thank you so much!