Margie Mays won a Golden Ticket last night and the 25-year-old from Wilmington is on to Hollywood and the next round of ABC’s hit show American Idol!
In the show’s season premiere on Sunday, Mays had 6-minutes to wow judges Katy Perry, Lionel Ritchie and country music star Luke Bryan, and boy does she make an impression. Parts goofy, parts amazing, Mays bounded into the Los Angeles audition room making funny bird-like sounds, framing her arms in a mystical energy box gesture above her head and stumbling over her name. Before she even sang a note, Luke Bryan tells Mays, “You’re awesome.”
Katy Perry told her to never drink a cup of coffee ever again.
Mays says she found the pressure overwhelming. Asking the judges, “Are you scared of me? Are you okay?” the star-struck singer went on to say that she had never been more parched in her life. But then she dove into a terrific 1-minute 45-second rendition of “Shot,“ by Lawrence, one of two songs Mays performed for the judges and a song choice the judges found amusing and entertaining.
“It’s high energy, and the lyrics are ‘But do I have a shot?’ And they worked perfectly with what I was trying to do on the show. It also encapsulated my energy and my personality,” Mays told TSD.
The song we didn’t see last night was Mays singing Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.”
When asked about her entire 20-minute performance in front of the judges, Mays, whose given name is Margie Saunders, told TSD, “I wanted it to go perfectly. I wanted to bring all of my strong suits and show my personality. But there were 18 years of anticipation wrapped up in this one moment of finally auditioning, and that’s where these ticks and lots of anxiety presented themselves.”
But the judges liked what they saw and heard. And at the end of Mays’ audition, Katy Perry yelled, “You are literally a star!” To which Mays replied, “This day has been too much for me! It’s crazy. This is literally what I have been dreaming of my whole life! What is happening to me?”
Mays received 2 thumbs up from the judges, with Lionel Ritchie holding back his yes with words of advice. “Just to scare you to death so you know the seriousness of this.”
But lifelong American Idol fanatic Margie Mays does, in fact, know how tough the competition is. “It’s very intense. A lot of people are singing out loud all day long leading up to their auditions in front of Katy, Luke and Lionel. I am not going to lie. I was extremely intimidated.”
This is the 17th season (only the second season on ABC) of the mega-hit reality music show. Each season 300,000 submit audition tapes; the crew records auditions in 20 different cities; less than 300 sing before the judges; and about 50 will appear in the audition rounds across six episodes in March.
Only eight made it onto last night’s premiere episode.
Two people who couldn’t be more proud are Margie’s parents Alice and Chris Saunders. They hosted a viewing party last night at Wilmington Country Club for family, friends and several of Margie’s classmates from Tower Hill School.
“This is just an amazing night, and we are so happy for Margie. This is a dream come true for her,” said Alice Saunders. “With Margie 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, it was special for our family to have so many friends come watch and get excited about her performance.”
In the days leading up to the big night, ABC released 1-minute videos about a handful of the contestants. Incredibly, in just 48 hours, the “Katy, Luke, and Lionel Meet Margie Mays” video had garnered over 2 million views on Facebook. As of this morning, 3.6 million have viewed that teaser — multiples of the other contestants.
There is clearly a ton of interest in the energy Mays brings to her spirited audition, and the singer says she will continue to let her personality shine through with each subsequent performance in the show.
Margie Mays’ ambition to perform on “American Idol” goes back to 2005, when the then 12-year-old was mesmerized by the dazzling performance by a contestant who has become one of the most successful artists of all time.
“I grew up when American Idol was the coolest show on TV. The night when I watched Carrie Underwood win, I went up to my bathroom and I belted her winning song into a towel. I knew then that I just wanted this to happen,” she said.
“For 18 years – really since the first season of American Idol – this has been an untapped dream. But I’m from Delaware. You don’t know how to get on these shows, and it’s kind of defeating. There were a couple of factors relating to fear that precluded me from auditioning before. I just figured it would never happen,” she said.
One of those factors involved the career ideals of a particular well-meaning parent. Mays says she ‘butted heads her whole life’ with her father who thought singing was a hobby and not a career.
Growing up as Margie Saunders, the Tower Hill (’11) student hit the books, excelled in squash (she would later be recruited to play the sport at Stanford) and looked for opportunities to sing. She did a couple of summer theater camps at Delaware Theater Company, was selected to sing for All-State Choir, and did musical theater, Chorus and Vocal Ensemble at Tower Hill, where she became class Valedictorian.
Mays went on to graduate from Stanford (’15) Phi Beta Kappa with a major in human biology and then earned her master’s in music at Los Angeles College of Music (‘17).
Then last summer events unfolded that would kickstart Mays’ American Idol dream. After Mays sent her father a video of her singing The Star-Spangled Banner, her father texted her back saying she should try out for American Idol. He wrote, “I’m serious, you owe it to yourself.”
Later that same day, Mays walked out of a yoga class and received a voicemail, text and email message from one a casting agent who remembered Mays from an audition in November. His voice message said, ‘I’m now a casting consultant for American Idol, and you are the first person I thought of. And I would like you to try out.” (The consultant remembered from her audition seven months earlier for a role on a reality TV music competition series called The Four, which has since been canceled.)
After sending the casting consultant a photo of herself, a link to her professional website and her Instagram, she received a call from the show’s executive casting director inviting her to American Idol’s final round audition. “This was really crazy. I didn’t have to do any of the open casting calls or the subsequent rounds that follow that. I guess things really do happen for a reason,” she said.
On July 25th Mays was to sing three songs for 15 executive casting producers on American Idol. She was halfway through her second song (All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor) when one of the executives stopped her and said they were going to put her in front of Katy Luke and Lionel.
Which leads us back to last night, and the crazy, winning performance.
Perry’s advice: “Margery! You can be exactly who you are. Just focus on winning with your voice and letting your heart shine through. And then when you’re not singing, just be yourself. And you do — you already switch between the two. It goes from totally insane to totally pro.”
Mays took the feedback in stride. “Their criticism was on the money and it was fair. I thought they were incredibly accurate. I would love to get more and more mentorship from them.”
Excited as she is to make it to the next round, Mays has one very serious goal in mind going forward.
Flashing a bright smile and waving her golden ticket she quipped, “I’m gonna make Lionel love me.”
Photos by Karen Brooks