Oh, say, can you see “American Idol"'s beautiful balladeer Pia Toscano singing the “Star Spangled Banner” over the holiday weekend? You sure can.
Toscano – once the odds-on favorite to take this season’s “Idol” crown before her jaw-dropping elimination – has a new chance to win America’s heart when she performs the National Anthem during PBS’ National Memorial Day Concert airing live May 29. The singer (who joins a star-studded lineup, including hosts Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna, Forest Whitaker, Kris Allen, Dianne Wiest, B.B. King, Jason Ritter and more) gave PopcornBiz an exclusive earful about her patriotic gig, Wednesday’s big blowout finale and life after “Idol.”
First up, that little performance from the Capital lawn on Sunday is something she’s been training for her whole life. “I started out singing the National Anthem in my junior high school,” says Toscano. “Then I moved on to the Mets’ minor league team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, and then on to the New York Mets. Yes, I've been singing the National Anthem a lot! That song always gives me goosebumps. I've performed it so many times and it's really one of my favorite songs – and the hardest song to perform. I have to make sure that I don't get emotional while I sing it, because it's our country and it's just an honor to be performing it again. I've never goofed – but I don't want to jinx myself!”
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When she chatted with PopcornBiz, Toscano was waking up fresh from a night on the stage at the “Idol” finale, where among other things she and her fellow hopefuls joined Beyonce for “Single Ladies.”
“It was spectacular,” she sighs. “Backstage was crazy. I got to shake Bono's hand as he walked past me, and Lady Gaga. It was packed with stars, that whole show. I couldn't believe the performances. I got to perform with Beyonce, which – I could die right now! – was amazing. She's just the most humble, sweet, down to earth person and she comes on stage, commands that audience and is a star. I was thrilled. Lauren [Aliana] is a winner, too – she's going to have an amazing career – but Scotty [McCreery] did his thing and he took his crown last night. We were all so proud of him.”
Her “Idol” experience can be summed up in a handful of moments that she’ll remember forever, she says. “I have two moments: one was my moment, the top 24 girls performance when I received a standing ovation with 'I'll Stand By You'. That meant everything to me, was completely unexpected and everything that I've ever dreamed of and more. And another moment was when Stevie Wonder joined us on stage and we sang 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' – and singing 'Happy Birthday' to Steven Tyler! That was a great moment.”
Toscano says a large part of this season’s standout status was due to the new, star-powered judging panel. “Steven Tyler has such a huge heart, and Jennifer Lopez’s always spot on with her critiques and how she goes about giving us constructive criticism. Randy Jackson has seen me grow since Season Six [as an auditioner], and so I really felt like he was family and that I made him proud throughout the whole process, because he's seen me since I was a teenager. Jennifer and Steven and Randy have been where we were, auditioning and going through this whole process, so they knew exactly what to tell us, what to work on, in a nice way that made us feel good.”
The singer said the shock of her earlier-than-expected elimination was soothed by how much support she received (including from Twittering celeb fans like Tom Hanks and Ashton Kutcher) in the wake of her ouster.
“I think the most important thing was that right after my elimination that I had tremendous support,” says Toscano. “I didn't realize that I had so much, and so it made going through that a whole lot easier. I think that's the most rewarding part: your fans, because they get you as far as you go on the show. You're not going anywhere without them, and so you have to be so thankful for your fans.”
With her forthcoming album due in the near future (“I'm not sure when exactly, but hopefully soon,” she says. “We don't want to rush anything. We want to make sure that we find the perfect sound, the perfect songs”) Toscano hopes to show another side of herself, beyond those power ballads that were her “Idol” signature.
“I'm going to have a pop album with an R&B influence,” she reveals. “It's definitely going to be big ballads, but there's also going to be those fun up tempo songs, those dancing songs, as well. I feel like on the show people really only saw me in one way and I want to show the world that I can do other things. It's just a way that the themes worked on the show and what song I thought was best for my voice that week and what was going to show me off the most, but I've always done up tempo stuff. I was in a cover band, and so I covered everything from Aretha Franklin to Lady Gaga.”
And in between, she’s always ready to ring out a new rendition of Francis Scott Key’s ode to America. “I've always wanted to do the National Anthem at the SuperBowl,” she says, citing Whitney Huston’s 1991 performance there as her personal gold standard. “That's been a dream of mine forever!”