Justin Vellucci | Contributing Writer
Sloane Simon had other things on her mind when she joined a Zoom call in September to perform for an “American Idol” producer.
“I had just joined my school’s cheer squad and I almost didn’t do ‘American Idol,’” admitted Simon, 16. “It was the night before the first game of the year and I was afraid I wouldn’t make it.”
Spoiler alert: She made it.
Soon after the Zoom call, Simon, a Pittsburgh-area high school sophomore, flew to San Diego to perform in front of the show’s familiar celebrity judges; the verdict on whether she gets a “golden ticket” and a pass to Hollywood Week will air on March 14 on ABC.
And, yes, she does appear in her high school cheer gear in promotional photos for Sunday’s show.
“[Auditioning] was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time,” said Simon, who performed an original composition called “Laurel Canyon” along with singer-songwriter Melanie’s staple “Brand New Key.” “I was hyped up … but I have never been more nervous.”
Simon picked up the guitar around age 9 and, by 13, was performing solo sets local clubs and arts festivals. Sarah Aziz, the director of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival where Simon performed, was captivated by her “mature voice” and professionalism.
“When I heard Sloane, I didn’t know her age,” Aziz told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle in 2018. “I just heard her and said, ‘Let’s put her on the acoustic stage.’ Then she filled out her bio, and my marketing director called me and said, ‘Did you know you programmed a 13-year-old?’”
The first original song Simon penned was “365,” a tribute to her mother, Robin, who was battling cancer. Simon’s mother not only beat the cancer, she flew to San Diego to support the younger Simon for the “American Idol” auditions.
Simon’s publicist said Simon had no idea how many people were auditioning for the “golden ticket” this season — COVID-19 kept everyone socially distanced and in separate rooms.
“We were tested a lot,” Simon said. “But we felt really safe.”
“The scariest part was the flight,” she added, laughing.
Simon is sly about details for her upcoming debut EP, saying only, “I have a few songs but I’m not spilling anything.”
She’s excited to talk, though, about the experience of auditioning on an international hit music show.
“It was just an amazing experience to be included,” she said. “It was a fantastic college essay.”
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh. This story was first published by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.