The 27-year-old from Hawaii will perform a song she just wrote that shares her story.
Lily Meola has sung with some of the biggest names in music, such as Willie Nelson, Steven Tyler, Michael McDonald, and Sammy Hagar, and has had her own record deal, but she’s still looking for the one thing that will take her music career to the heights, and she’s hoping that her appearance on America’s Got Talent will be that thing.
The 27-year-old from Hawaii auditioned for judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Sofia Vergara with an original song, “Daydreams,” which she wrote when everything in her life seemed to be going her way.
“I wrote it at a time in my life when things were really beautiful,” she told Parade.com in this exclusive interview. “I felt like I was essentially living my daydream. I was working with the top producers of my dreams, I was traveling the world, I had a major label record deal, I had a publishing deal. Everything was really sweet. I had a beautiful home to come home to in Maui and I had a baby deer I was raising. It was just super magical.”
Then, as life does, she got a taste of bitter with the sweet, as everything flipped upside down. Her mom was diagnosed with cancer, she lost her record deal, and then, to top it off, the world shut down for COVID.
“I felt really sad and stuck,” Lily said, but explains she doesn’t blame losing her record deal on the fact that she took time off to care for her mother.
“Things happen at labels that are out of your control,” she said. “It’s just the way the cookie crumbled, I guess. It was unfortunate, but also gave me the time to be with her, which was really sweet. I didn’t necessarily have a say in losing my deal, but yeah, for sure, I would do it all over again just to spend another moment with her.”
Tonight, Lily is hoping to get back some of her control by performing an original song that she recently wrote and hasn’t sung publicly that she hopes will make her stand out from her competitors and become one of the two acts going through to the finale from night four of AGT’s qualifier shows.
“My goal is just to be me and share my song and my story,” she said. “I know it’s going to be really hard to make it into that top two. This episode’s stacked with some incredible talent. The song I’m going to do I just wrote a couple weeks ago, so it’s fresh. It’s also going to be available to stream on all the music platforms the same night that I play it.”
Also in our exclusive conversation, Lily talked about how she met Willlie Nelson and the other big names in music that she’s performed with, who her music icons are, and why she doesn’t spend more time on a surfboard—her brother Matt is a pro surfer— despite living in Hawaii.
How did you come to audition for AGT?
I was scouted, actually. It all came together really fast. I think I said yes and all of a sudden, it was just a week away or something like that. I don’t know if I’m remembering that fully correctly.
Heidi said this year that she was not going to hit her buzzer for a singer. You turned her around. Did that make it even more special that she pressed the Golden Buzzer for you?
Yeah, honestly, coming onto the show with not much notice and preparation, just being there was kind of a shock. I feel like I’m still in shock, it was so wild. Her saying that definitely makes me feel … I don’t know what the word is.
Talented. It should make you feel that your talent is acknowledged by other people.
Well, thank you. I guess, yeah, it’s almost unbelievable to me. I think I’m just shocked. Definitely.
If you should be lucky enough to win the $1 million dollars, how do you think you would spend it?
That’s a great question. I honestly haven’t even thought about that. I’d probably put it into my music career so that I can keep pursuing my dreams and connecting with people.
What’s the big dream?
The big dream? Wow. Well, obviously it’s just to play to as many people as possible, for as long as possible. After the Golden Buzzer moment, I received some pretty incredible messages from people. It’s so strange. I’m not saying that in a cocky way, at all. I hope it didn’t come off that way. It’s so special that people can relate to a song or take inspiration from a song that I wrote that was so personal to me. I want to continue to feel that feeling for the rest of my life. So, the dream is to be able to do that in some way, shape, or form.
Have you been able to make a living now doing music? Or have you had to have other jobs?
I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to do this. Since I’m 11 years old, I’ve been putting in the work. I started gigging at the local cafes and bars around Maui and had my weekly gigs. It was pretty funny. I just haven’t stopped.
I understand that Willie Nelson saw you performing in Hawaii and that you toured with him a little bit and sang on “Will You Remember Me.” What was that experience like?
Other-worldly, I guess. Especially being such a young artist. It was so incredible. I was over the moon. I feel like I learned a lot and also, I’m going to be a little bit not culture shocked, but it’s going to be a rude awakening when I go on my tour in October in a Sprinter van.
Because he has really nice busses and things like that, is that what you’re saying?
Yeah. Really nice busses and just the most incredible crew and team around him. Everyone is so kind. I just look up to him so much.
You’ve done some singing with Steven Tyler, Kris Kristofferson, and Sammy Hagar as well. How did that come about?
OK, so let’s see, Maui’s a breeding ground for celebrities to have second homes. We all want to be in paradise, right? Willie lived there, he came to my show and that’s how we really got connected. We knew each other beforehand, so that helped.
With Steven Tyler, I do this event to raise money for the Maui Food Bank on New Year’s Eve. One year, we did a duet together, I’ve sung backup with him before. Also, Michael McDonald and The Doobie Brothers, I’ll sing backup for them. It’s such an incredible event. They didn’t do it last year because of COVID, but, hopefully, it’s coming back. Anyone who’s on the island that is in the entertainment industry goes to it. So, I played at that. Then Sammy Hagar does that, as well. Then Mick Fleetwood, he plays at that, as well. I’ve played at his restaurant, and we’ve done a show together there.
When you were growing up, or even now, what artists do you listen to? Who are your music icons?
I love that question. I listen to pretty much everything from Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Carole King, Cat Stevens to J. Cole and Ariana Grande, everything. I love Neil Young.
It’s a very eclectic list.
Yeah, it’s all over the place. I’d say my biggest inspirations are probably of the ‘70s era, Joni Mitchell for her songwriting and her incredible melodies, Ella Fitzgerald for her tone, and Carole King for her songwriting.
Did you have training or are you self-taught? Your mother worked for music manager Shep Gordon, so you’ve been around music a long time. Did she push you into it? Or did you take classes?
I got into music before she worked for Shep. Yeah, I took voice lessons. I did that for about 11 years. I guess I’ve had some training.
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This is a silly question, but I saw a picture of you online holding a chicken. Why is there a picture of you with a chicken?
Oh, my gosh. Growing up on Maui, I didn’t grow up on the side of the island that’s touristy. I grew up in the country, in the bush, I’d say, with lots of farm life around us. Got sheep in the back and a cow and I have a pet deer.
And finally, your brother is a professional surfer. Do you hit the waves, as well?
So, I love surfing. I’m also terrified of the ocean, so I keep it really safe, and I go in the summertime on a longboard and really small waves. I feel like I love it but I’m not great at it. Unfortunately, that gene didn’t get into my body. But, yeah, my brother, he’s a freak of nature. He’s so incredible.
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.