Elli Rowe

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Elli Rowe: American Idol

by Susan Marquez

Elli Rowe may be just twenty years old, but she has a lifetime of musical experience under her belt, and she says she is just getting started. Born in Minnesota, Elli moved to Nashville with her family when she was twelve years old.

She had a musical start in life since her parents played in a bluegrass band in Minnesota. “They played at festivals around the Midwest, so I spent my summers in that arena.” Elli started singing when she was young and picked up the guitar when she was only nine. “I figured out the chords and had a few lessons along the way.” She started writing songs at an early age and picked up the piano. “I am pretty much self-taught, but I have asked my parents for help here and there.”

Elli was homeschooled for a couple of years after moving to the Nashville area before attending high school in Murfreesboro. She also received a broad bluegrass education outside of school. Elli made friends with other kids who were into music, and soon many of them were on Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars. “Then, one day, my name was on it, which was quite exciting. It is always great to be a part of such a special community.” In 2016, when Elli was only 14, Kenny and Amanda Smith recorded one of her original songs, “Reaching Out,” on their album Unbound. In 2018 Ellis was chosen to be part of the “Kids on Bluegrass” showcase at IBMA.

After graduating high school, Elli enrolled in Belmont University in Nashville, where she is a commercial music major. “It’s because of Belmont that I was on American Idol,” she says. Elli explains that one day she was in the library, scrolling on the college’s homepage, when she saw a call for students to sign up for a Zoom audition for the show. “A lot of my friends signed up and encouraged me to sign up as well.” Elli signed up but almost skipped the audition. “I didn’t think it would lead anywhere, and on the day of the audition, I was attending a Mark O’Connor concert. They were testing out the new performing hall, and I didn’t want to leave the concert to do the audition.”

But she did the audition after all. “I sang for one producer, who asked if I’d like to sing for another producer, then another, then finally I sang for the executive producer who asked if I’d like to sing for the judges in Nashville. It got real very quickly.” Elli asked her professors if she could miss a couple of days for the audition in front of the American Idol judges. “They put us up in a hotel in Nashville, and the process was nothing like what I expected.” Elli got a Golden Ticket, which meant she would go to Hollywood week. To put that accomplishment into context, 300,000 people audition for the show annually, and only 300 audition in front of the judges. Of those, only 150 go to Hollywood.

For her audition, Elli sang an original song, Breathe Now, and she played guitar. However, when the judges asked her to sing an upbeat song, she made an impromptu choice. “I asked if I could play piano, and I sang Give You Blue by Allen Stone. I had not sung it in a couple of weeks and certainly hadn’t practiced it. It was a sink or swim moment.” The judges loved it. Elli chose a Fleetwood Mac song, “Everywhere,” showing her range in music, to sing at the recorded show in Hawaii.

She made it to the Top Twenty on the show but was eventually eliminated. “American Idol was an amazing journey for me, and I feel it set me up in a very good spot professionally,” says Elli. “I learned a lot from my time on American Idol. I learned to be more professional and how to work with a band. I look forward to applying what I’ve learned to my career.”

Due to the show, Elli had to take some time away from school, but she plans on being back at Belmont this fall. “I hope to keep on recording and performing. I want music to be a part of my life as much as possible. I am excited to release new songs, to show what’s in my heart.” While Elli loves to do solo work, she says she has learned that being in a band can be fun, too. “I’d like to explore that more.”

In her spare time, Elli says she enjoys the simple pleasures in life. “I love spending time with my family, hiking, hanging out at coffee shops, and playing tennis.”