Check out our interview with talented American Idol Season 13 alum singer-songwriter Casey McQuillen who just released her new single “In & Out,” and a duet with 5x Billboard Top 10 artist Jon McLaughlin.
Casey also has built an anti-bullying program called the “You Matter” tour that has been performed before more than 40,000 students and earned her recognition from The United Nations Foundation. Because of that tour, she also landed a segment on the Kelly Clarkson Show.
Follow Casey @listentocasey
Hi Casey, please tell us a little about you?
Hi! My name is Casey McQuillen; I’m a singer/songwriter currently living in Brooklyn, originally from Boston. I like to describe my music as a ‘more pop Adele’! I’ve had the opportunity to make some national appearances on American Idol and The Kelly Clarkson Show, as well as tour all over the country with super talented artists like Eric Hutchinson and Kate Voegele! I’ve also been able to use my platform as an artist to create an anti-bullying concert series in schools called the “You Matter” Tour, which uses my original songs and stories to speak with students about the benefits of taking risks and loving yourself.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Empathetic, intelligent & bold
How did you get started in the business?
I started posting my original music on Youtube when I was 15, just to have an outlet to share it. I gained a following organically, and soon my followers were asking for an album of my original music. I had absolutely no idea where to start, so I ended up Googling “recording studios near me” while sitting in my kitchen. I made a few fully DIY albums before I attended Berklee College of Music to gain a more technical insight into the industry.
How has the business changed your life?
I think most importantly, this industry has taught me how to fail. I was always a bit of a perfectionist as a kid, but being in the industry has made me reevaluate how I define success. So much is out of my control, so I just have to trust in the process, and make the best music I can make.
Who influenced you and why did you choose to make music?
I’ve been super influenced by the female singer/songwriters of the early 2000s; Kate Voegele, Vanessa Carlton, Colbie Caillat, etc. It was so inspiring to hear them share their stories through music, and I knew I wanted to do the same!
Do you play any instrument?
Yes! I play the guitar. I had quite a bit of time to practice during the pandemic so I think I’m finally getting good.
Do you ever get nervous?
I tend to get nervous the night before a big challenge, like a really important show or a huge interview. However, in the half hour before I go on, I get very calm and feel no nerves at all. It’s like I’m so nervous, that if I were to give into that energy, I wouldn’t be able to perform at all. So, I just become very present and focus on whatever’s directly in front of me. I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy performing so much; it makes me really focus on the present and not worry about the future.
Tell us about your new single “In and Out?”
I wrote “In & Out” with my amazing friend and fellow singer/songwriter Hadley Kennary over Zoom during the pandemic. When I was working on the production with my producer Charles Humenry, we realized that the wide vocal range really lent itself to a male/female duet. Eventually, we touched base with Jon McLaughlin’s team, and he agreed to join the project!
What’s the story behind the song?
“In & Out” is about two people who choose each other time and time again, even though they know it would be easier to love other people. Sometimes love doesn’t look clean cut from the outside, but all that matters is that the people inside the relationship stay committed to making it work.
Tell us about your anti-bullying program “You Matter” tour?
I pitch the “You Matter” Tour as an anti-bullying program, but it’s really a pro-empathy program. Until we see those around us as human beings with the same emotional depth that we have, we can’t treat them with the grace and acceptance they deserve. I tell the true stories of my hardships growing up in middle & high school, and sing the songs I wrote while having those difficult experiences. I explain what it was like emotionally to not be seen or understood. By sharing my own stories, I prompt a dialogue about the social culture at their school, and the way the students perceive themselves and others. We also sing a lot of music and have a lot of fun! I’ve had the privilege of performing for over 40,000 students nationally and abroad over the past 10 years!
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I think the most rewarding part of my work is the moment that I finish a complex song. Sometimes, I’ll sit down to write about an experience, and I won’t be exactly sure how I feel about it. But, through the writing process, I zone in on exactly how I feel and put it to paper. There’s something so validating about immortalizing your feelings like that and being able to share them clearly with those around you. It’s what keeps me coming back every time!
Tell us about your experience on American Idol Season 13?
My time on American Idol was a real whirlwind. Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. were the judges on my season, and they were so kind to me and gave me great advice throughout the process.
What book should every entrepreneur read?
Frequently, I get Instagram messages from young fans interested in entering the music business. My advice to them is the same every time; read “All You Need to Know About the Music Business,” top to bottom. After they’ve read it, I’m happy to have a more in-depth conversation with them about next steps. The music industry is a business, and if you’re not willing to educate yourself on the business side of things, it’s probably better to keep music as a hobby. I think social media has glamorized a career in music, and young kids need to understand that this is a job, just like any other industry.
What would you say are the greatest lessons you learned so far?
I’ve learned that if you bring vulnerability, you get vulnerability back. When I perform my anti-bullying shows, I try to put myself back in my 15 year-old shoes and really feel those old feelings that still live in those songs. If I’m asking these students to engage emotionally with the music, I have to too. I’ve brought this practice into my artist performance and always explain my songs to the audience, telling them the stories behind the lyrics. Sometimes, these stories are really raw for me and I’ll even tear up on stage. But, when I’m that open with the audience, I have found that they are so much more engaged in the music.
How would your best friend describe you?
She’s visiting me this weekend and sitting next to me! So I’ve asked her to describe me in three words, and she said: “bold, charismatic, and kind.” I think it says a lot that we used one of the same words.
If you wrote a book, what would be the title of the book and why?
“Nice is about you, Kind is about others.” I think as young women, we are taught that being ‘nice’ is essential. But ‘niceness’ is about how others perceive you: don’t upset people, don’t cause a ruckus, don’t say no. Be nice. I think we should focus on kindness, instead. Kindness is about how you consider the people around you. Upsetting people can be kind when you need to tell them they’ve got spinach in their teeth. Causing a ruckus can be kind when you’re standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. Saying no when you want to say no establishes healthy boundaries for you and those around you. Kindness is a sacrifice, because you are willing to be perceived negatively in order to do what’s right. I don’t think anyone would describe me as a ‘nice girl’. But, I’m happy my best friend describes me as kind. That’s what I strive to be.
What’s next for Casey McQuillen in 2021?
My new album is coming out, called “Can A Heart Go Bad?” I can’t wait to share it with you all! While all the songs stay pop, they dip into different genres; country, EDM, rock & singer/songwriter. It was an amazing experience to experiment with different genres in order to make the best songs possible.
What is your favorite healthy food?
I love watermelon! I really love all fruit, especially in the summer when it’s in season.
And your favorite cheat food?
I don’t like to think of foods as good or bad; food is both energy and experience, and sometimes you prioritize the energy in food, and sometimes you prioritize the experience! I just had my favorite experience food last night: the spicy vodka sauce rigatoni from Carobone in New York. Sublime!
How would you explain your fashion style?
As a curvier woman, I prioritize clothing that flatters my shape, and unfortunately, many mainstream trends and high end fashion is designed around a much thinner body. But I’m noticing that lots of smaller brands are catering to a wider array of body types, and I’m happy to support those small businesses as they expand!
What is your own definition of happiness?
I think when I was in my early 20s, happiness felt like inclusion. I was picked on a lot as a kid, and I think that stayed with me for a long time. However, I’ve grown up and worked through some of those issues, and I would now say that happiness feels like peace. Not an extreme high, nor an extreme low; just a beautiful sunny day spent outdoors, or a wonderful glass of wine savored on a city street. Happiness feels like appreciating the beauty in the moment directly in front of me.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would meet my dad’s mom. She passed away at a young age and I would love to be able to meet her; she sounds like she was a really special woman.
Best advice ever given?
“You can be right, or you can get what you want, but you can’t have both”. It’s a family saying that means don’t go into a confrontation to prove you were wronged or you are correct; go in looking for a solution to the problem.
Do you support any charity?
My sister works for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and so my family and I have been lucky enough to see firsthand the amazing work they’re doing in the field of Parkinson’s research, and support that important work!
Where do you see yourself and your career in 5 years from now?
The dream has always been a big stage, with a packed audience. I’m singing a song I wrote about a difficult moment in my life, when I felt alone and misunderstood. As I perform this song, the audience sings along. And when I stop singing for a moment, their voices keep going, singing back to me the words I wrote about loneliness, and none of us feel lonely in that moment. That’s where I want to be 5 years from now.
Favorite song? Why?
My favorite song is “The Way You Look Tonight”. I just think it is the most beautiful, romantic song. The narrator is already nostalgic about the beautiful life he will lead with his love. I just think it’s beautifully written and feels wonderful to sing.
What do you think of Social Media?
I think social media is a great equalizer and connector, allowing people to interact and share their talent who might have never had the opportunity to without a ‘level’ playing field. However, social media is also a great lie, as we all share curated versions of ourselves, and then compare our average life with the highlighted lives of those around us. I think overall it makes people less content with their own lives.
Where we can follow you?
Favorite Book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Favorite Quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” -Eleanor Roosevelt
Favorite Movie: Pride & Prejudice
Favorite TV Series: Game of Thrones
Favorite Food: Vodka Sauce Pasta
Favorite Travel Destination: Amalfi, Italy
Favorite Sports Team: The Boston Bruins!
Cover Photo – Lauren Desberg
Shadow Photo – Lindsey Paktos