This Is Us, which returns for a fifth season this week, turned Chrissy Metz into an overnight TV star four years ago. But the Emmy-nominated actress, who plays aspiring singer Kate Pearson on the NBC drama and is currently working her real-life debut country album in Nashville, almost ended up on an entirely different hit television show. And if she’d made the cut, her life and career could have taken a very different path. As it turned out, it all worked out for the best that Metz was rejected by American Idol when she auditioned back in 2007.
“I do think that they were trying to pull something out of me and make some great TV, and rightfully so — they're producers, and they know what they're doing,” Metz tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume while promoting her recent single, the fittingly titled “Actress.” While Metz describes her Season 6 Idol audition as “really exciting” and a “really cool experience,” she acknowledges the possibility that the talent show’s creative editing and typecasting could have hurt her long-term career.
“I was married at the time, and my husband was so, so kind to go with me and sit for hours and hours at the San Diego Chargers stadium in the sun. I got third-degree sunburn on my legs, just hanging out, just being patient enough to even audition,” Metz recalls. “And then, when it's your turn, there's like five people in five rows, and you get about 30 seconds to sing or try to show what you're capable of.” Metz sang “Heavy” from the Dreamgirls, which she now realizes wasn’t the best choice. (“Don't ask me why, aside from it being a wonderful musical — it’s not a little song!”) But still, she was so shocked by the apathetic reaction from the audition-screener that day that she spontaneously protested.
“The guy was like, ‘OK, great, thank you all for coming down here, but it's just not what we're looking for this year.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, really? None of us? That's interesting.’ And then I said, ‘I kind of disagree with you.’ I don't know where the hell that came from, because that's not personally who I am, especially when it comes to that! I don't know why I said that,” Metz chuckles. “I just felt like all these people had waited for so long, and surely one of the five of us [was good enough]! Anyway, there were two women in the next tent over who were like, ‘What is going on over there? What's happening?’ And they came over and asked what happened. … And I'm sure they were thinking, ‘Oh, she's going to be a hoot or a mess, so let's have her audition again.’ So they said, ‘Well, sing for us.’ And I sang again. And they gave me a ticket to go through.”
That Golden Ticket advanced Metz to the round right before Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, and she sang this time for executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller. Metz suspected that the producers were hoping that — based on her feisty behavior at her first open-call audition — she would be a loose cannon or a trainwreck and go viral. “I think that they were like, ‘Oh, she's definitely outspoken.’ Maybe that was the majority of the reason why they were like, ‘Either way, she’s going to make good TV,” she says. (She was also wary that the show might want to exploit her family’s painful past, including a contentious relationship with her stepfather, in order to present a compelling, made-for-television sob story.) In the end, Metz says, “I don't think I could have hacked it. I think I was way too sensitive to handle that, and it was too much pressure. So, the universe knew what it was doing. … But I'm glad I did it, to sort of see what I was made of.”
As for why she tried out for American Idol in the first place, at a time when the series was at its ratings peak, Metz explains, “I was a talent agent for nine years. And when you are just sort of so desperate to do what it is that you want to do, whether it’s singing or acting or whatever your creative outlet is, I was like, ‘I just feel like I’ve got to try. This is such a massive opportunity.’ And whether or not you go through multiple rounds or win or get in the top 10, you at least have an opportunity to either meet people or get exposed or learn something. I felt like it would be a great training ground, for many reasons. And yeah, it helped me to learn that I would probably not be remotely OK on that show! I think I would have just been a puddle of tears.”
Metz ultimately got her hard-won opportunity to display her vocal chops on network television, memorably doing Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” on Season 2 of This Is Us, even though she actually “never auditioned as a singer” for that series. “They didn't know I could sing when I got the script,” she reveals. “But the lines from the song were in italics, and I was like, ‘So, who is singing?’ And they're like, ‘We want to really explore this storyline of Kate following in her mother's footsteps, or trying to.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing. Can I do it?’ And [show creator] Dan [Fogelman] said, ‘Yeah, if you feel comfortable. I didn't know that you sang or felt comfortable singing.’ And it's just so cool, because you really get to see Kate’s growth, her confidence, all the trials and tribulations that she's going through — how that affects not only her voice as a woman, but her voice as a singer. It's been such a surprise gift, in many ways.”
Metz has since grown vocally outside of the This Is Us set, making her live TV singing debut on the 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards alongside Carrie Underwood, Lauren Alaina, Maddie & Tae, and Mickey Guyton — a “bucket list moment” — performing the Diane Warren-penned anthem “I’m Standing With You.” She later had even more of a bucket-list opportunity, when she belted that ballad, the theme for her faith-based film Breakthrough, at the 2019 Academy Awards, where it was nominated for Best Original Song. Metz understands why music industry pundits might be skeptical — Warren was in fact initially wary of having Metz, rather than a more established musical artist, record “I’m Standing With You” — but the response to both her ACMs and Oscars performances was positive, and she is eager to keep silencing all doubters.
“I'm really sort of learning on the job, you know. I didn't have 10,000 hours, like the Beatles did, to just play a club. I haven't done that yet,” Metz admits. “So, I just was like, ‘I'm going to tell a story.’ … I'm happy to continue to prove myself. I'm here to work hard; this is not just a flash-in-the-pan or an actor who's trying to be a singer.”
While Metz used to lead a cabaret-style rock ‘n’ soul band called Chrissy & The Vapors in her pre-fame days, she has since naturally gravitated towards country music because of its unique storytelling qualities. “I love it. For a really long time in high school, I was like that angsty, bratty girl, and then I realized that that was just pain and sadness and I was just covering it up. So now, all this stuff that I've pushed down for all my life, I get to — hopefully gracefully — share with the world,” she says.
“And I feel like country music — soul/country, Americana, that kind of music — really lends itself to just telling a really great story. And that's really at the heart of who I am, just sharing the stories and my experiences. … Real-life experiences. This album is about love and loss and also forgiveness and evolution, as a woman and as a person. For the longest time, I've pushed down feelings and emotions, so now I'm just really interested in getting them up and out. I have a song about learning to love yourself and do things for yourself which is more uptempo and fun, and then a song about my stepfather and the tumultuous relationship that we had, but also the forgiveness that I had to give myself and him.”
Metz says she has “about six songs” completed, and she hopes that her album — recorded on her own terms, telling her own stories, with the help of Nashville heavy-hitters like Ashley McBride, Derek Wells, Jimmy Robbins, Nicolette Hayford, and Lainey Wilson — will be out by the year’s end. The 40-year-old actress says the record’s release will be the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. And she acknowledges the fact that being on an emotional television show — after her American Idol experience — helped make this dream come true is more than a little ironic.
“[Music] was something that I'd always dreamt of doing, but I never knew I could, or I didn't know how, growing up in a small town and from very humble beginnings,” says Metz. “I made video tapes and wrote songs and poetry and stuff in my room, but was just too afraid of my own shadow to ever do it in front of people. So, interestingly enough, the way that the journey has been for me is I'm now more comfortable with being really vulnerable — because I cry a lot on TV.”
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The above interview is taken from Chrissy Metz’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.