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Maddie Zahm exclusive interview: American Idol, regaining confidence and musical therapy

Maddie Zahm and Marcus on American Idol
Maddie Zahm and best friend Marcus during her audition on American Idol. Pic credit: ABC

The latest episode of American Idol features the kind-hearted and super-talented Maddie Zahm. The 19-year-year-old singer, from Boise, Idaho, took a leap of faith in herself last August and went to audition at the show’s Bus Tour in Salt Lake City.

In high school, Maddie had to overcome the physical setbacks of a polycystic ovarian syndrome diagnosis and rebuild her confidence up. Despite a previous disappointing audition with rival series The Voice, Maddie learned from her mistakes and picked herself up and moved forward, never looking back.

She now works as music therapist for kids with autism, helping those who truly benefit from her musical talent, friendship, and guidance. It created a whole new level of accomplishment for her, one that set the wheels in motion for her tryout on American Idol.

Since that moment, Maddie, her family and best friend Marcus Burlington, who has Down’s syndrome, have been on a huge journey together. Monsters and Critics writer April Neale, who is also from Boise, spoke to Maddie about her appearance on the ABC show.

Monsters and Critics: Everybody’s so excited for you. Are you still at Boise State?

Maddie Zahm: Oh, you know what? I ended up…I told myself at the audition that I was gonna try and do classes and right before my audition with the celebrity judges I dropped all my classes. So I’m not at Boise State currently but I might be back next semester just depending on how things happen, and yeah, what my life plan is.

M&C: Sure. What were you studying, just out of curiosity?

Maddie: So my major, I wanted to become a music therapist or an occupational therapist. I hadn’t decided. It’s only my third year, so.

Maddie Zahm
Maddie teaches people with autism and other disabilities to express through song. Pic credit: ABC

M&C: You grew up here in Boise?

Maddie: Yes, I was born and raised in Boise.

M&C: What’s your favorite thing about Boise that you like to brag on it about when you talk to people?

Maddie: My favorite thing about Boise…I love how kind people are and that it’s kind of just the norm to be able to say hello to strangers, and, I don’t know, I just love the spirit of Boise.

Everyone is just really inclusive and not only that but I love downtown. I just love the area and the people. It’s such a great place to be.

M&C: When you first met Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Ritchie, what went through your mind? Who kind of got to you the most? Who got your heart thumping?

Maddie: You know what? I really believe, I think Lionel Ritchie was the one that I was most nervous to meet. He has been kind of an inspiration in my family. So when I got to see him in the flesh it was a weird feeling walking into that room.

Mainly, I felt instantly, I don’t know, just grateful that I was even able to meet them. So, it was a wild experience and just overall I just hoped that I didn’t trip or puke walking into that room. So those were really my thoughts. “Oh my goodness, I’m here,” and also, “Maddie, don’t make a fool of yourself.”

M&C: Now in one of your previous interviews you had mentioned you had tried out for another musical competition. Which one did you try out for?

Maddie: So I auditioned, I wanna say, three-ish years ago for The Voice, and I walked in, I accidentally sang an Adele song that I didn’t practice. I sang in too low of a key and when I was finished I shrugged and I said, “Yeah, okay. This was awful.” And I left.

M&C: It didn’t kill your ambition to try for Idol?

Maddie: No, it didn’t. I feel like when I was struggling with confidence and everything, I told myself I wasn’t really gonna do anything like that again. But I don’t know, this year something changed. I just felt like I was supposed to be there.

M&C: That’s so cool. Are you glad that Simon Cowell is no longer on American Idol? Be honest.

Maddie: You know what? Yes and no. I mean, he’s such a…I always enjoyed his humor so being able to meet him would have been fun, however, I really love the judges this season.

M&C: They’re much kinder.

Maddie: Much kinder, much kinder. And just people that understand that we are new artists and we are people that are trying to mold ourselves into the people that we wanna be. And just to be able to know that Luke Bryan, he was a normal dude before the music industry, you know? And he knows exactly where we’re at.

M&C: Right. Now tell me, you brought your best friend Marcus Burlington with you on this trip, correct?

Maddie: Yes.

M&C: Your segment’s introduced on March 18. Do we get to meet him then?

Maddie: You do! So Marcus actually got to sing for Katy Perry as well. So you’ll be able to not only hear me sing, but Marcus. He was really excited. That was so fun to have him be involved and everyone was so kind to him, and I honestly think the judges preferred him over me, so.

Maddie Zahm, Marcus, Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan on American Idol
Marcus and Maddie talk to judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. Pic credit: ABC

M&C: How does Marcus’s family feel about you taking him under your wing? How has that affected him in his growth and his maturation and his family? How have they reacted?

Maddie: It’s funny when people ask me that question because I have seen Marcus grow through our friendship, but I also think it’s very mutual. I think there are all of the things that Marcus is able to learn about what it means to have a peer and what it means to support friends, and live a life with people who support you.

But I also think that I’ve grown from his friendship, so I’m equally as grateful to his family for allowing our relationship to grow, and I don’t know, I think we both just feel grateful for just the relationship that we’ve both been able to be a part of.

M&C: You have some other people too, that come to your home for these kind of casual music lessons. Are there any other people you want to mention?

Maddie: Yeah! I mean, I have so many of my friends that have absolutely just loved doing music classes. So my friend Colton, he was the one, his mom originally approached me, just mentioned starting a music class for people with disabilities and immediately I was on board.

So I wanna, I mean, Colton has been a huge inspiration for that. Not only Colton but I’ve got Ryan and Marcus. He’s just, he’s got a good group of people.

M&C: That’s so cool. Now I’m gonna think big for you. You’re gonna win. You’re all the way.

Maddie: Okay!

M&C: Are you still going to remember us in Boise? Will you still be based here or are you going to ditch us for LA and the big city?

Maddie: You know what, I think, I don’t really know what’s gonna happen or where I’m gonna be. However, I think wherever I go I’m always gonna make sure to bring the spirit of Boise with me because I always wanna be remembered for being kind. And bold. And I feel like that is a great way to describe Boise. So even if I’m not in Boise I will always remember to be a Boise person.

M&C: What song did you sing for the show?

Maddie: So I sang, for the judges I sang, New Rules by Dua Lipa.

M&C: Okay. You’ve made it. We’re all rooting for you. What Boise restaurant do you bring with you to Los Angeles that you can’t do without? Which Boise landmark restaurant? You can name two.

Maddie: Oh, shoot! That is such a good question. You know what? Okay. Two restaurants that I can bring with me. I would say Blue Sky Bagels and Java?

Yeah. Blue Sky Bagels and Java. I love coffee. I think those two are…I love breakfast and you really can’t get breakfast like you can in Boise.

American Idol airs Sundays and Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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