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Leah Marlene won an 'American Idol' Golden Ticket, but don't forget about her new album

Normal West grad Leah Marlene is going to Hollywood to compete on American Idol
Leah Marlene
Normal West grad Leah Marlene is going to Hollywood to compete on "American Idol."

Last week was a blur for Normal singer-songwriter Leah Marlene. The 20-year-old Normal West grad released her new album “Many Colors” on Friday.

Oh – and she made her network television debut two nights later when her "American Idol" audition from last November aired on ABC. Marlene punched her Golden Ticket to Hollywood when judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan all gave the energetic Marlene a thumbs up.

Though she can’t divulge how the next round of pre-recorded "Idol" played out, Marlene did offer how she approached the time between passing the audition in Nashville — and competing in Hollywood with 140 other Golden Ticket winners.

“When I got home from auditions, we were getting emails about picking our songs," she explained. “Hollywood week is three rounds. So, there wasn't too much time to overthink anything. I just spent several full days going through songs and being very intentional about my choices. Every day, I would run through them and make sure they felt good. Then I was just super stoked to go. I'd never been to L.A. I was so excited to see all my friends again and meet all the new people. So, it wasn't a super nerve-wracking two weeks. It was like, ‘Let's put in the work.’ Let's strategize and really lay the foundation to be able to present myself as authentically as I possibly can and not be super stressed about anything. Just be confident in what I'm bringing, and then just get excited."

Marlene said she wasn’t allowed to divulge the songs she played for the Hollywood round(s), or even if they were originals or covers.

“But I can say that I'm really excited for the song choice that you'll hear in the first round,” she offered.

Normally dropping a new album is the highlight of the week, or even half-year for any musician, but it’s understandable that national exposure on "American Idol" overshadowed the release of “Many Colors.” Even though it hints at struggles the then-Belmont University student wrote about on her 2020 album “The Space Between,” this release is more upbeat both musically and lyrically.

“The cool thing with this album is it's actually a selection of songs over the past four or five years of my life. And it's the first collective work that fully represents me as an artist, like my last album was a really beautiful necessary thing for me. It was very much a concept album at a very specific time in my life. This album is all the colors of what I do,” said Marlene.

“Noise” is the song that first popped as a single. Marlene said she wrote that as a senior at Normal West high school.

With all these opinions
And high expectations
And making decisions
I can't stop this noise
Get away from me

“I co-wrote it in Nashville with a guy named Tolan Shaw, who's amazing. That song was originally about what the hell I was gonna do after high school. I was so stressed about my college decision, every part of me wanted to be able to go to Belmont, but it was so expensive, and certain scholarships hadn't come through yet. And there are just so many things on the table. But it has evolved to be about so many different things. Like there's always so much noise surrounding so much … that I think everybody goes through in life. So, it's been cool to see it evolutionized — if that's a word — to different situations in life,” she said.

Another song on the album with a similar vibe is “Wisher to the Well." Marlene said the song is a twist on the fairy tale of throwing coins in a wishing well.

“And if we're gonna get really specific about it, it was me and my co-writers talking about how people pray and ask for things and expect to receive certain things. And that was definitely a very different point in my life when I was writing that. But I think it applies to so many things that we want and can kind of expect of certain situations. So it's just kind of calling that out,” she said.

Where “The Space Between” has a slower tempo, and is directed inward, “Many Colors” does a 180.

“I think that's a really good observation,” said Marlene. “I haven't even thought about it like that. But ‘The Space Between’ is basically just a depression album. It's very inward. It's all the sad songs about being sad. But this album is a much more vibrant listening experience. And it's just very colorful and meant to be shared and written to be like ... jam to it with your friends and that kind of stuff.

Another catchy song with an interesting target is “Statues.” It explores the idea of who gets to be immortalized in art and who makes that decision.

“I love this song too,” said Marline. I'm glad we're talking about it. I was watching a documentary. There's this like old museum of fallen communist statues. I was like, ‘statues are so interesting, I want to write a song about that.' So, I went to my friend Lauren Marie - who is an absolutely incredible artist and writer - and I pitched her the idea. I was like, ‘I just think statues are fascinating. I have a long list of different, brainstorm thoughts about why think statues are fascinating.’ We kind of went off of that, and she's an amazing lyricist. So, she helped bring that concept completely to life. And I couldn't be more like proud of how it turned out. I think it's a really well written song mainly because Lauren was part of it. And I'm really stoked about it.”

Leah Marlene’s new album “Many Colors” is now available everywhere. You can view her Hollywood Week appearance on "American Idol" soon on ABC.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.
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