EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 31, 2014

'Idol' perfection

Judges heap praise as Andover vocalist heads to Hollywood

By Sonya Vartabedian

---- — ANDOVER — It doesn’t get any better than a “perfect” from Jennifer Lopez and a “gorgeous” from Keith Urban

Casey McQuillen said she had to check herself during her “American Idol” auditions last month to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. But it was more like a dream come true for the 21-year-old from Andover.

The judges heaped on the praise before handing McQuillen a golden ticket to Hollywood during the final night of auditions for season 13 of the popular Fox reality show, which aired last night.

“It was so insane. It was unbelievable,” McQuillen said from her apartment in Boston’s Back Bay moments after she watched the broadcast with a houseful of cheering family and friends.

“I don’t know if you could tell but I was shaking so much. I was so nervous ...,” she recalled of her experience at the taping. “I remember thinking this was a crazy experience.”

McQuillen, who traveled to Omaha to audition after missing the Boston try-outs, said it was hard for her to fully comprehend the judges’ comments in the haze of the “Idol” spotlight. But their words came through loud and clear last night as Lopez, Urban and Harry Connick Jr. all couldn’t say enough about the Phillips Academy graduate who is now studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Urban sat mesmerized as McQuillen, sporting a white dress with a pleated skirt and gray boots, performed an a cappella version of Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper.”

“I just loved the restraint. I loved the fact that you came in and just chill and just did it, and your voice just crescendos,” Urban said when she was done. “Gorgeous. You sing beautifully. I love your voice.”

Lopez followed with a “thank you,” calling McQuillen’s performance “perfect.”

“That was angelic,” she said. “I don’t need (to hear) another song. I just loved it.”

Connick made it unanimous,

“If all you had was that voice, that would certainly be enough to get you to Hollywood, but I’m excited to see some of the other aspects of you as you come through,” he said. “But I really enjoyed that very much.”

McQuillen said she chose the Lovato song, which she has performed countless times, including at several of Andover’s elementary and middle schools, because of its message.

“It’s about bullying and being strong for yourself, at least that’s how I see it,” she said. “It focuses on the idea of a positive self-image and anti-bullying, which have always been so meaningful to me.

“I picked it because in the moment (of the auditions), I could be singing it to myself and was convincing myself I was strong enough to be there,” she said.

As an overjoyed McQuillen exited the stage into the arms of her exuberant mother, Flora, who was waiting backstage, Urban told “Idol” viewers, “She is excellent. She’s got all the right things to blossom.”

As social media sites were exploding with love and support last night after her audition aired, McQuillen struggled to take it all in.

Now it’s onto Hollywood. McQuillen is among the 212 vocalists picked to advance to the next round, during which this season’s final, 30-odd contestants will be chosen. While the Hollywood round has already been taped, McQuillen is sworn to secrecy by “American Idol.” Fans will have to wait until next Wednesday night to see what happens next.

But if Connick is any indication, McQuillen seems to have won some early backing.

“That’s going to be a fun one to watch,” he said of McQuillen.