116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two national singing contests, two television channels, two different days — two separate spotlights shining on two Cedar Rapids area residents.
Haley Slaton, 23, living in Swisher but moving soon to Cedar Rapids, will be among the “American Idol” hopefuls whose taped auditions will be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 20, on ABC.
The following night, Alisabeth Von Presley, 35, of Cedar Rapids, will be performing live from Hollywood on “American Song Contest,” which debuts at 7 p.m. on NBC.
“American Idol” has been launching music careers since Kelly Clarkson won the title in 2002. Maddie Poppe of Clarksville, northwest of Waterloo, won over voters in 2018 to earn the title.
The new “American Song Contest” is based on "Eurovision Song Contest," the European Broadcasting Union’s wildly popular 65-year tradition that reels in 200 million viewers worldwide each year. The eight-week U.S. version will feature one artist or act from each state, five U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., performing a new, original song in qualifying rounds, hoping to advance to semifinals, then the grand finale for the best original song.
Viewer votes will factor into both competitions.
Haley Slaton on ‘American Idol’
With COVID-19 protocols still in place, “Idol” hopefuls started their journeys with virtual auditions. Iowa’s Zoom auditions for producers were held in August, and those who made it through several more rounds were invited to audition before celebrity judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry in October in Austin, Texas.
“American Idol” loves a good back story, and Slaton’s already has fairy tale written all over it.
Not only did she travel to Austin with her “biggest cheerleader” — her mother, Sarah Gorman of Swisher — but Slaton also met her husband, contestant Jordan Myles, at the auditions. The couple married in December, and viewers should see his audition in an upcoming episode.
“We got married pretty quick,” she noted. “We just knew. We started right off the bat talking to each other, and it ended up being an everyday thing. I was already pregnant, and he stepped up to be a father, and I couldn’t thank him enough for that. We’re very in love, we’re very happy that we met, and I feel like another reason why I was on the show was to meet him. That was a great experience — to meet someone that I finally could spend the rest of my life with.”
Myles moved here from Louisiana and baby boy Jaelyn will be 2 months old Sunday. They plans to move to Cedar Rapids in May.
Being an “Idol” contestant has been Slaton’s dream “for a long, long time,” encouraged by her mother and late grandmother, Alice Fitzpatrick of Marion, who died two weeks before the audition.
Slaton said she doesn’t really fit into a genre niche, and likes to sing covers of country, pop and soul.
“I sing anything,” she said. “I grew up on country, I grew up on even gospel music. I grew up in church. I was singer since I was 3 years old. Just being able to actually show my voice to the world — that was the biggest thing for me.”
And even though the Texas audition was nerve-wracking, she said the three judges eased her fears.
“I was definitely very nervous, because being pregnant on the show, I obviously didn’t have a lot of wind,” she said. “I was very nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to hold a note, or something was going to happen, but once I got up there in front of the judges, they made me feel really at home. They made me feel like they’re just humans, too, and we’re all human, so I went up there and gave it my best.”
Alisabeth Von Presley on ‘American Song Contest’
Von Presley is a familiar face on the Corridor arts scene, whether starring in theatrical productions, shooting photographs, appearing in concert or pouring coffee and showcasing local talent at Stillwater Coffee in Hiawatha.
As much as she enjoys her side ventures, she said, “Music has always been at the forefront of what I want to do and what I want to be. Music has not always been financially the only option. … But music has always been the thing that sets my soul on fire.”
She made it to the Hollywood rounds of “American Idol” in Season 12, which aired in 2013. And as a fan of “Eurovision Song Contest,” when she heard rumors of a U.S. version, she jumped at the chance to audition for a new competition.
“‘Eurovision’ being a mix of visual, musical, original music and costumes, I was like, ‘I must be a part of this.’ So I submitted and here we are today, being honored to represent Iowa,” she said.
Her odyssey began last year, and she’s in Hollywood now, preparing to perform the song she wrote for the show.
“Everything is live,” she said of the episodes, which begin Monday night, with hosts Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg. “So America is experiencing it at the same time we’re performing it. …
“You’ll see our home-story videos, and then just a really amazing spectacle that is ‘American Song Contest.’ It is going to be beautiful. Visually it’s going to set itself apart from the other shows, for sure. A huge part of that is because we’re performing own original music.”
She spent a couple of months revamping and rewriting her song, “really honing in on what lyrics and chord progressions we wanted to use. It’s been a really cool experience to get to work with different people on something like that.”
Her local bandmates won’t be with her, but she will have backup musicians and she’ll play the keytar, a keyboard worn like a guitar.
"We’re making keytar cool again in 2022,“ she said with a laugh. ”I was born and raised playing the piano, and I love to dance. The keyboard is not an option when want to be swinging my hips, so the keytar I can just wear around my neck, and I can still do choreography. It’s the best of both worlds.“
A colorful pop rocker known for her messages of body positivity, she said her competition song is “definitely a girl power anthem. It is pop, rock, inspirational, motivational — the kind of song you listen to when you want to get pumped up for something.”
She also wants to shake up the country’s perception of Iowa.
“I’m looking forward to representing Iowa in a way that (viewers) are not expecting,” she said. “It’s fun to think of a pink-haired pop-rocker representing the Corn State. That juxtaposition is the most fitting metaphor for my life.”
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