Normal Ill. singer-songwriter places third on ‘American Idol’


Photo courtesy of @leahmarlenemusic

Leah Marlene (middle) joins in a selfie with other American Idol contestants, Noah Thompson and HunterGirl, and judges. Marlene, a Normal, IL native, placed third for the show.

By Matt Troher, Interim Features Editor

Since the show’s premiere 20 years ago, American Idol has produced some of the biggest stars in pop music. Although its position in the wider American cultural canon has wavered throughout the years, appearing on the show can jumpstart the career of any aspiring musician.

Traveling from her hometown of Normal, Ill., to Los Angeles, 20-year-old singer-songwriter Leah Marlene competed in American Idol’s 20th season. The finale aired yesterday, and Marlene was one of the three contestants who made it to the show’s finale where she placed third.

Marlene auditioned for the show in Nashville, Tenn., where she attended Belmont University. Her audition was a success, and she cruised onto the show’s live rounds.

Marlene’s standout performances en route to the final included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” “When She Loved Me” and Børns’s “Electric Love.”

The finale began when the season’s top 12 contestants joined rapper Flo Rida on top of a Hollywood building for a cover of his song “Good Feeling.” 

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The theme for the first round of the finale was all about Bruce Springsteen, with each contestant having to cover one of Springsteen’s songs. 

Marlene gave the night’s first performance, singing a rendition of Springsteen’s “Cover Me.” All three judges praised her interpretation of the song along with her guitar playing and stage presence.

After the first round of performances, each contestant was featured in a video package highlighting a visit to their hometowns. During Marlene’s segment, she visited Normal West High School and reunited with her former music teacher for a performance with the school choir. 

The town of Normal also threw a parade for Marlene, culminating with Normal Mayor Chris Koos naming Tuesday, May 17, to be Leah Marlene Day.

Following the video segments, the second round of performances began when each contestant sang an original song. Marlene performed her original song “Flowers,” an uptempo country-pop ballad written to her former self. The judges praised Marlene’s original lyrics.

Following the three contestants’ original songs, votes from the show up to that point were tallied, with the lowest scoring contestant being eliminated. Marlene scored the lowest of the three, wishing her fellow contestants luck before leaving the state.

During the remainder of the finale, the finalists and previous contestants from the show performed duets with musicians who’ve inspired them throughout their careers. Marlene sang “Firework” with judge Katy Perry, which was preceded by a short clip of Marlene performing the song with her dad at a childhood talent show.

The night culminated with Noah Thompson, a country singer-songwriter from Louis, Ky., being named the newest American Idol. HunterGirl, a country singer from Winchester, Tenn., placed second.


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