The 15th and final bittersweet season of American Idol ends this week, and all season long, Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks has been inviting alumni from the series to share their stories. The final essay in this series is by Season 10’s Pia Toscano, whose ninth-place elimination was one of the biggest shockers in Idol history. Here she recalls what led up to that crazy night – and how she came out of that whirlwind stronger than ever.
American Idol has been such a tremendous blessing in my life. It’s hard to believe that the show is actually coming to an end. Looking back, I only have fond memories of my experience.
When American Idol started, I was only 12 or 13 years old and I immediately became fixated. I remember the first time I saw Kelly Clarkson perform on TV. Not only did I want to sing just like her, but I also had to highlight my hair just like hers! (That was tragic. Ha.) I couldn’t wait until the day I turned 16 years old so I could audition. I dreamt about making it to Hollywood, but it took me five auditions before I would actually succeed. Boy, it was worth the wait!
I was 22 years old when I got my golden ticket in Season 10.Time stopped in that moment. It was unreal. Finally my dreams were becoming a reality. My mom, dad, aunt, uncle, and best friend Cassie were with me when I ran out of the room with my ticket in hand; my mom’s face was white as a ghost, and everyone had tears of joy in their eyes. There were so many emotions running through my body. I was so excited, but nervous at the same, because now it was time for the hard work to really begin. This was my second time making it to Hollywood, but for some reason I just knew that this time was different. My life was about to change drastically.
When it was time to go to Hollywood, of course I was a nervous wreck, but I felt very prepared. I knew my fate was in God’s hands. Luckily, I made some really good friends, so I didn’t feel so out of place. The first round of Hollywood Week, I sang Alicia Keys’s “Super Woman” and made it to the next round, but I was shocked by how many amazing singers got cut. Next was the group round, probably one of the toughest challenges. We literally had to learn and choreograph a new song overnight with little to no sleep. Luckily, I had the amazing Alessandra Guercio and Brielle Von Hugel in my group, so things went well. I was shown on TV for the first time during this group round, when we performed “Grenade.” All the other groups were getting destroyed by the judges, but we somehow pulled through and came out with rave reviews.
Fast-forward a few weeks to sudden death in Vegas. I had been flying really under the radar; my voice wasn’t working the way I wanted it to, and my nerves were getting the best of me. I even think Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick were concerned that I wasn’t going to pull through. But by the grace of God, my voice came back to me and I performed “Doesn’t Mean Anything,” which ultimately got me into the top 24.
Still, I wasn’t safe. A lot of other contestants got way more airtime then me. The public didn’t really get the chance to connect with me just yet, so I knew for the top 24 performance I had to pull out the big guns, otherwise I would most definitely be packing my bags. Michael Orland and Peisha McPhee were my vocal coaches, and Michael flipped the Pretenders’ song “I’ll Stand By You” into this epic performance piece for me. I literally discovered that my range was a lot bigger than I had believed it to be because of Michael. He wouldn’t take excuses from me, and thank God he didn’t, because that performance earned me the first standing ovation of the season and a spot into the top 12. I am forever grateful to him.
Things had been going great for me week after week, but I noticed that I started to plateau. I battled a lot with my nerves and bad stagefright. I knew I had to change it up and start moving around the stage and really owning it. Rock Week came and I couldn’t just stand there again in a pretty gown and sing another ballad. So Nigel chose “River Deep Mountain High” for me. I was terrified of it; I actually had to make use of the stage that I was so scared of. I ended up loving the performance and my version of the song. I was proud of myself, because I had never done something like that before. People seemed to enjoy it, and the judges gave me great remarks – but unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. I felt it coming. Everyone was so shocked by my elimination that week, but I knew in my heart that it was happening that night. I was eliminated from American Idol in ninth place.
Thankfully my parents were there with me, which made the blow a lot easier for me to handle. That night was devastating for me. I felt like I failed. It was me and my father’s dream for me to win that show. I felt like I let him down, even though I know I didn’t. I was dreading the moment that they were going to make me sing my farewell song, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get through it. The pressure for me became too much to handle. I tried to get through the song, but as soon as I walked off that stage, I just broke down.
All of that nervous energy that I kept pent up inside of me came crashing down, and I just couldn’t breathe. I guess I was hyperventilating. I remember that I couldn’t feel my face and my body kept getting hot and cold. Our stylist Soyon actually had to cut me out of my outfit, and Dr. Nasseri had to calm me down so I could get through press. After all the dust settled that night I packed my bags, said my goodbyes, and went to sleep, only to wake up at 3 a.m. to do more press. That morning I was bombarded with an overwhelming amount of support. I was shocked that people were actually outraged by my elimination. It was literally on every television station, and everywhere I turned, people were talking about it. I never imagined my elimination would be that big of a deal.
From that moment, my life changed. I got a record deal with Interscope and went on to tour with the rest of the Idols. Since then, it has been a huge rollercoaster ride for me, but one I cherish because it continues to teach me lifelong lessons and realize that I was stronger than I ever thought.
American Idol is a platform like no other, pretty much handing you a fanbase and household name on a silver platter. It has given me and many others great careers and a world of opportunity. For that, I am forever grateful and truly sad to see the show, and the life-changing opportunity it provided for so many, end.