American Idol: Lilly Scott discusses her Idol experience

Lilly Scott isn't going to be the next American Idol. Not tonight. Not ever. And that's baffling. She should be. In spite of her undeniable talent, though, she wasn't even chosen to be among the final dozen contestants. Early on, before she was even cut, there was no shortage of folks (ourselves) who thought Scott would go the distance and give Crystal Bowersox -- the other clear frontrunner -- a run this year. Didn't turn out that way, obviously. The Littleton chanteuse checked out at number thirteen, after turning in a stirring but unorthodox rendition of Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces."

Scott's premature departure is most likely due to her unique voice and phrasing, which was just far enough off the beaten path that America presumably just didn't know what to make of her. Funny thing is, when Scott's singing her own material, she sounds considerably more kindred to bewitching sirens like Amy Winehouse, Adele and Duffy than Joanna Newsom -- which is who she recalled on the fateful night that America handed her her walking papers.

Regardless, you've got to love how Scott did her own thing all the way to the end. From bringing her own unique fashion sense (anybody else notice Crystal Bowersox copping her style with the feather earrings?) to consistently making daring song choices -- "Rich Girl," by Hall and Oates, "A Change Is Gonna Come," by Sam Cooke, "Fixing a Hole," by the Beatles, to the Patsy Cline number that did her in -- she gave Idol a refreshing new spin. (Come to find out, those were some of her more accessible picks. Scott says she had both "Nude," by Radiohead, and "Roundabout," by Yes, in mind.)

In advance of tonight's American Idol finale -- which she's planning to attend - and after watching the show with her each week for the past few months and listening to her commentary (which, due to a binding contract with the Idol makers, she can't share just yet), we asked her a few questions about her experience, what made her decide to try out for Idol in the first place, and if, given the choice, she'd pick that Patsy Cline song to sing if she had to do it all over again. She graciously indulged us, even though you can tell that all that stuff's sort of in the rearview for her now as she focuses on the next phase of her career.

With a bevy of material (including the song posted below) just waiting to be recorded and an impending tour of her own with her band Varlet slated to kick off just after the Westword Music Showcase next month, Scott has quite a bit of momentum going for her right now. It will certainly be interesting to see how her career develops and which direction it takes. She's inspired unbelievable devotion among fans. There's one in particular, in fact, who took several hours (at least) to assemble a slide show of Scott, using pictures she'd forgotten were even in existence. Read our entire interview and listen to "Can of Beer," one of Scott's original, unreleased songs below.

Westword (Dave Herrera): What made you decide to try out for Idol, and when did you get the idea to audition?

Lilly Scott: I found out about the auditions at Invesco, probably in April of 2009, and then I slowly started preparing for July's stadium auditions. That was pretty much that. I don't think I would've traveled to audition.

WW: What did you do to prepare for the audition?

LS: I was just trying to really practice having all of my poise and the whole package, everything, to present in ninety seconds, because that's pretty much all you get. So I was making sure to say something witty or funny, do a really good job singing, and, like, stand up straight and look really good at the same time.

WW: What did you come up with to say that was witty, since we didn't get to see any of your audition?

LS: Well, this was at the stadium audition that I was trying really, really hard to get past for the first part. I don't know. It was really awkward. I just started making small talk with the four judges. The other three people in my row were just kind of standing there like, 'What are we doing?' And none of them made it.

WW: So the four judges that you auditioned for were not the actual judges?

LS: No, they were like assistants.

WW: So that's part of the screening process that we're not exactly privy to?

LS: Well, I mean, they show it on TV, the stadium stuff, but the actual celebrity judge audition happened in August downtown at the old Hyatt. I don't know -- I was really nervous for that one.

WW: So you were already passed through?

LS: Yeah, that was like the first cut, and then you go to another cut at the Hyatt the day before the celebrity judges, and they just kind of filter through the most hilarious people and the quality people.

WW: So who did you audition for in that turnaround?

LS: The pre-celebrity judge round was for Ken Warwick, the creator. That's when I first met him. There were a couple of other guys that I never met. One of them, I started singing the Amy Winehouse song in that round, and they were like, 'I don't think anybody's going to know that. Think of something else.' I was like, 'I've got 'Walking After Midnight,' and they were like, 'Okay. Sing that.'

WW: What was the Amy Winehouse song you did?

LS: It's called 'Cherry.' It's a song from her first album, Frank.

WW: What inspired you to do that song?

LS: It just had a big vocal range and a lot of room to showcase my vocals in a small amount of time. The verse of the song really had a lot of lows and highs that I could riff on before being cut at thirty seconds. That was what I was really looking for. I didn't want to just drag through the whole song for the first thirty seconds and then have that be it.

WW: How did the celebrity audition go, and what did you end up auditioning with?

LS: 'Walking After Midnight,' which made sense in the end, but that song is not vocally challenging at all, whatsoever. So I wasn't really excited to do it. I was really hoping that they could just listen to the tone. I really wish I would've thought of something else that was more mainstream that was better than that.

Because even though in that audition I got a yes from all four judges, I mean, Kara even started out by saying, 'Not the strongest singer we've seen today,' which is, of course, what she would say of someone singing a three-note-range song. And then she said that again for my other Patsy Cline song.

It just proved that Idol is really about wailing and not necessarily fine-tuned music, which is hard to accept, but it worked out in the end, I guess. I definitely do love vocal runs and technical stuff in my music. So it took a lot of effort for me to incorporate my own style into all of the covers I was doing, and I don't think I had enough time...I didn't have time; I had less than 24 hours before the celebrity audition to do something with 'Walking After Midnight.' I figured it out over the course of the night, but it still wasn't enough to get the audition shown on TV.

WW: So when did you head to L.A.?

LS: This past season, Hollywood week didn't take place in the fall because of too many spoilers in past seasons. So they did it in January. I stayed out there for a couple of weeks after Hollywood week for the Top 24 photo shoot and all of the other press stuff, and then came back to Denver for two weeks and had to not talk to anybody. I went back the second week of February.

WW: So you were telling me that you actually tried out with Casey at Invesco...

LS: Yeah, I got there around 10 a.m. and saw this really attractive guy jamming really awesomely on the guitar. I brought my guitar with me to the audition, and we just started jamming. We were playing 'Blackbird' together at Invesco, and it was all on camera. In my exit video when I got cut, they showed a picture of me at Invesco Field before I ever tried out.

It was, like, 7 a.m. and they made everbody say, 'I'm the next American Idol,' and then they made everybody go, 'Whoo!' And it's just like a vantage shot. Anyhow, there's a zoomed-in shot of just me going, 'I'm the next American Idol!' And they showed it in my cut footage. I was like, 'Wow! That's crazy. They picked me out before I ever even auditioned.'

WW: So how has your life changed since being on Idol?

LS: I definitely have a good time at King Soopers these days, getting recognized and meeting fans. Everywhere I go is a fan opportunity. When I don't wear makeup, though, or I have my hair pulled back, nobody recognizes me. Like today, I went so many places, and nobody talked to me. I kind of look like an albino without mascara. [laughs] It's weird, though, especially when I'm all done up. People recognize me.

Other than that, I get shows a lot easier. I mean, the same thing I was doing before I left was a million times harder than it is now -- trying to get people to come to shows and trying to get decent payouts. And now that's not a problem anymore, which I couldn't be more thankful for. It's definitely something that's very hard to acquire when you're DIY-ing your own band's career.

WW: We talked a little about how you're in a unique position right now, because you come from an indie-rock background and American Idol is so mainstream: Was there a part of you that felt awkward being in that mainstream environment?

LS: I never made it feel awkward for myself because I just kept thinking about people like Radiohead and Bjork that are already so mainstream -- even Modest Mouse, and people like that, that get played on 93.3 and are still considered that sort of indie/alternative sound.

WW: It's very different from a pop franchise like American Idol, though...

LS: Yeah, it is very different. I mean, I really just wanted to break the mold, especially after watching Idol for so long and seeing what kind of talent tried out for the show. I just didn't feel like that was the real musician. And that's really the only thing I wanted to do, aside from getting exposure for myself. I just wanted to portray this different side of music that people totally listen to that's not Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. There are people that sell out shows that are like that.

WW: How do you feel that the decisions that you made on your song choices impacted your ability to move forward. Do you feel like choosing that Patsy Cline song wasn't the best choice?

LS: I had picked out all three songs before I ever went, thinking I would make it all three weeks -- we got to pick for the first three weeks before the Top 12 cut. I had picked 'Roundabout' for my third week, and then I found out that we only had a minute and twelve seconds for the song, and I was like, 'There is no way.' It would have never worked. I definitely did decide that week on the Patsy Cline song. I mean, I regret it, because I didn't have enough time to prepare mentally what I wanted to do for the song. It was always the second choice for the third week, and I knew that I wanted to play mandolin on it. But just like 'Walking After Midnight,' I knew that I was going in there with a futzy sort of vocal performance.

WW: What made you choose Patsy Cline again, given your experience in the early auditions?

LS: [long pause] I don't know...

WW: If you had to do it all over again, would you have picked the same song again, or would you have done something different?

LS: No, I definitely wouldn't have picked Patsy Cline. I was trying so hard to think of classic artists that would fit my style and who I want to sound like as an artist. And that's the thought I put into every performance, trying a mainstream acoustic 'A Change Is Going to Come.' It wasn't some epic, glam-rock version like Lambert's, and it wasn't a gospel song like the traditional version. I felt like I did a good job on that, and the same thing with 'Fixin' a Hole,' but I don't know; I still feel like I molded the Patsy Cline song into my own.

WW: Do you feel like you would've gone further if you had picked a different song?

LS: Well, I'm sure it would've helped. It's American Idol, and it wouldn't have hurt if I would've decided to sing a Katy Perry song on the third night. But you know, I wanted to stay true to myself and the artists that I admire as musicians. I love Patsy Cline -- and, well, Sam Cooke, and the Beatles are my favorite band in the world. So I don't feel like I made the wrong song choice, because I love those artists. So those aren't wrong songs to me in any sense. I mean, they might not have showcased my voice in the way that I wanted them to, but I don't know. I mean, maybe? I don't know what to say, because I got good comments every week. And it was me and Crystal every week, no criticism at all. I'm just kind of soaring through, and then -- I even got great reviews on the Patsy Cline song, but then it gets to Simon, and he likes it, but then he says, 'I don't think that was the right song for this big cut.' I thought to myself, 'Well, why not?' I thought, 'I've got to be here next week,' and that was not the case.

WW: So were you shocked when the results were read?

LS: I was shocked, and I hate when people think I'm full of myself for saying that, because I was just basing that on the feedback that I was getting from the judges and from everyone at Idol. That's just kind of how they made me feel, like I was a frontrunner or something.

WW: So how did it feel to not make that final twelve, to literally be so close and then get cut?

LS: It really sucked. It really was a massive bummer. I'm not as depressed as I was when I first got cut, because I've made so much happen for myself now and in the future, but, man, I was just so disappointed. I had put everything into it, from April 2009, when I found out about the stadium auditions. I was constantly thinking how I was acting around the producers and the other contestants and the camera people -- everywhere, all the time, always thinking about being in that mode of being professional, being on time, always being ready, always having my craft ready...I just put everything into it. So, yeah, it was really disappointing.

WW: What's your perspective on your career prospects now? Do you think it's a blessing in disguise that you didn't make it into the Top 12?

LS: I think so, and I think maybe 19 knows that, too. I remember the first meeting I had with them when I made the Top 24 -- everybody who made the Top 24 had a meeting with them -- and they said, 'We've been watching you and your career, and we've heard about you.' I was like, 'Holy crap!' They were like, 'We listened to the songs on your MySpace page -- did you write those songs?' I was like, 'Yeah, I wrote those songs.' And they were like, 'Without any management or anything tied in with that?'

I was like, 'I made that in an apartment with some friends before I came out here.' The DIY thing is kind of foreign to them. Everything costs money to them. I think they recognized then how different I was and how headstrong I already was in my own career and making it work, and how much effort I put into it every day. I think that's definitely helping now.

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera