Illinois native Grace Kinstler left her mark on the stage during Season 19 of American Idol, when she placed third during the finale. Since her time in the competition, she has not slowed down. Instead, she is on her way to building an incredible career for herself, starting with her debut album.

Kinstler has been dabbling in a few collaboration projects as well as fine tuning some of her original songs. Her single, “Love Someone” has already made it on the top 10 of the pop charts on iTunes, after releasing it ahead of the finale.

“Basically I’m singing on other people’s stuff and it’s music that’s, it’s really cool,” Kinstler said in an interview with Music Mayhem. “It’s different from what I usually do.”

“I’m also excited to release my original stuff and just show the world this is who I am as an artist. This is what I have to say,” she continued. “And I was so grateful to Idol for giving me the platform and the audience to do that with.”

Speaking of collaborations, Kinstler also shared that it would be her dream come true to work with artists such as Sam Smith or Demi Lovato.

“I feel like Sam Smith has collaborated with people like Yebba and I love Yebba. I don’t sound anything like Yebba, but I just think I connect with his music so much or connect with their music so much. And so I would love to collaborate with them, as well as Demi Lovato,” she said. “They talk about so many political and not political issues, just human decency things in their music and I think that’s absolutely so important.”

American Idol viewers aren’t the only ones who have been following Kinstler’s music career. She and hip-hop icon Drake have started to exchange congratulatory messages through DM’s on social media.

“When I made the top, it was either the top 12 or 16, he was like, ‘Congrats.’ And I was like, ‘Hey, Drake.’ So little things like that. So it was cool. It was cool.”

Although they might not exactly be categorized in the same genre for their work, these are just two artists supporting each other through the accomplishments in their careers.

Kinstler recently caught up with Music Mayhem to talk about her life following her American Idol journey, her upcoming debut album, her advice for Idol auditions, her career goals, and more.

Continue reading to learn more about everything Kinstler has been up to.

How’s life been since American Idol, what have you been up to?

It’s been amazing, I’ve been just working and creating and you know working on my own projects, getting ready to record some stuff, release some stuff and then, as well as, working on other people’s projects, which has been super rewarding. I think my favorite part of this industry is just all the collaborations that you get to do and the amazing people that you get to work with and learn from.

Awesome. So what kind of collaborations are you working on? Anything you can talk about?

So, yeah, basically I’m singing on other people’s stuff and it’s music that’s, it’s really cool. It’s different from what I usually do. So I’m excited for that. And I’m also excited to release my original stuff and just show the world this is who I am as an artist. This is what I have to say. And I was so grateful to Idol for giving me the platform and the audience to do that with. So I’m excited.

Let’s talk a bit about your Idol journey. What led you to audition for Idol and choose the Aretha Franklin song you chose for your audition?

Well, thanks. So basically, I mean, I had someone reach out to me over Instagram and then I was like, all right, let’s go for it. I had done it in the past and then with everything going on in my life, COVID was happening, so there wasn’t really anything else to do. So I was like, yeah, why not? Let’s do it again. I can’t lose anything. So yeah, I auditioned and it was amazing. I mean, I never expected, I don’t think anyone really ever expects to make it that far. So I was grateful that I did and I met so many amazing people along the way, friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life. So that was just pretty incredible.

Awesome. During your audition, you even brought Luke Bryan to tears and he even compared you to Jennifer Hudson and Kelly Clarkson. How did that feel to be compared to people of that status?

It was crazy for me because those are people that I’ve been singing their music since I was a little girl, not well, but I was singing it. But that’s what brought me to where I am today. Those are people that I’ve always looked up to and that I’ll always continue to look up to and aspire to be more like. Those artists, they’re not just incredible vocalists, they’re just incredible human beings and they’re so authentic in themselves and who they are. And that’s just something that I want to take throughout my career forever, because I just think authenticity is so, so important and there’s not enough of it. And I think the world needs authenticity right now.

We’re so used to seeing people behind the screen because of everything that’s been going on, so I think bringing less of, how do I explain this?

Bringing less of the highlight reel of my life towards the screen and bringing more of just the real moments is really important to me, if that makes sense? Because, we see everybody’s highlight reel on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, but you don’t really get to see a lot of the realness that happens behind those pictures. And so that’s something, especially right now, where everybody is so used to Zoom, I want to bring more of the realness and the authenticity to the forefront.

Definitely. So, during your Idol journey, you even covered one of Kelly’s songs throughout the show and I mean, the world just needs a duet with you guys. Would you ever be open to a duet with Kelly? Has she reached out to you since hearing your voice on that show?

She hasn’t, but I mean, I’m always open to that. I mean, that would be amazing. I’d be honored. Yeah, she’s incredible and I love her and who she is.

Yeah. So I know you mentioned that you previously auditioned for Idol in the past before this year’s season. You also auditioned for The Voice, and both times you didn’t actually make it through, but can you maybe talk about a little bit how that felt and how it felt to finally be accepted to Idol? And not only to be accepted, but I mean, make the top three and have thousands of people across America voting for you and still supporting you to this day, even after your Idol journey?

Yeah. So the first thing that I always say to people, and that I kind of had to realize before even walking into the first time audition for both of the shows was, it’s a TV show.

They’re not always looking for the most talented person. There’s more to it than that. It’s what kind of person are you? What have you been through in your life?

What have you overcome to be here? And honestly, at those points in my life, I don’t think I was ready yet, just in terms of who I was as an artist. I wasn’t so secure. I was 15, 16 years old. I was still figuring it all out. And so I think this was the perfect time for me this past season, just because I had been through more in my life and I had had more opportunities to figure out who I am.

And I had more of a chance to figure out what I wanted to bring to the table had I ever gotten the chance to be on a show like this. So for people that want to audition, I would say, if you don’t get through, don’t take it to heart, truly, because some of the most talented people in the world I know, who auditioned and just, they didn’t get it. And that’s just how life works. You’re going to get so many no’s before one yes is going to change your life.

Honestly your voice is just incredible. And throughout the show, you definitely put that voice on full display with covers of Whitney Houston and Demi Lovato and so many other crazily talented vocalists. And I mean, now you’re adding into that collection. So, not only did your voice impress the judges on the panel and America, but you also seemed to impress Drake. I mean, he’s followed you on Instagram. So have you guys communicated at all? Has he reached out?

So just little things. Like he won, I think it was artist of the decade and I was like, “Wow, this is so dope.” And he was like, “Thank you so much.” He replied. And then when I made the top, it was either the top 12 or 16, he was like, “Congrats.” And I was like, “Hey, Drake.” So little things like that. So it was cool. It was cool. But yeah, hit me up Drake if you want to collaborate.

Yeah, that would be an incredible feature. I mean, that would be life changing even more so.


So did you receive any off-camera advice from Lionel, Luke, Katie, that maybe you’ll take with you forever, the rest of your life?

Off camera, I would say just the whole authenticity thing.

Yeah. I feel like they’re all so authentic, all three of them judges. I mean, for the stature of people that they are, I mean, I feel like they’re all pretty down to earth and genuine with you guys. And I mean, feel like they support most of the contestants even after the show

Absolutely. That was one thing that was really cool about all of them was they were all just so excited for us as people. Artists aside, they just seem to be genuinely interested in who we were, which was really cool to see.

Yeah. I mean, have you been in touch with any of those judges since the show?

No. Not in particular, but no.

So have you kept in touch with any of the friends that you made through Idol? I mean, all of them, not just the people that you were in the top three? I mean, have you been in touch with Chayce, Willie, Hunter?

Absolutely. Yeah. So I talk to Alyssa a lot. I talk to DeShawn. I talk to Willie. So yeah, I do. I keep in contact. Those are the three main, like best friends that I made, which was so cool. You don’t come into a competition like that expecting to make amazing friends because it’s a competition, you’re competing. But the camaraderie between all of us was just super cool. And yeah, I talk to them a lot.

Cool. So going back to the topic of advice for auditions, do you have any advice for song choice or maybe how someone should approach their audition if they’re going to audition this year?

Absolutely. So I would say, don’t just choose something that shows you off vocally, but choose something that you emotionally connect to and brings a bit of who you are, not as a singer and artist, but who you are as a person, to the table. Because, there’s a lot of people who can sing. There’s a lot of people who can sing really well, but it’s the people that make you feel something and who can connect with you, who can make you connect with them. Those are the people that stand out and that I feel like are the most successful on the show, because there’s nothing more attractive to an audience than someone that they can connect with and who they can relate with. Even though you are going to be on TV, you are going to be glammed up, you are going to have all the lights, but to have just the general baseline of having that realness to you and being someone that people can connect with, is going to serve you really, really well on the show.

Definitely. So just for our listeners to get to know you a little bit better, could you share a little bit of your backstory of how you got into music?

Yeah, so, that’s a great question. So I have been doing music since I was four years old. We had a piano upstairs in a little hallway and I would just, I would go on that all the time and I would just play and I was no virtuoso, as they call them, absolutely not. But that was how I got my feet wet and how I started getting into it. My dad had leukemia when I was younger and so I feel like a lot of the reasons why I was so drawn to music is just because it was an outlet for me, where I could create. And even at that young age where I maybe didn’t realize, oh, this is my outlet, it was, and that’s where I went. That’s what I gravitated towards. And then when I was younger, I did dance for eight years and then I did musical theater for a really long time, all throughout high school. And then I was writing also during that time. And my dad was a huge inspiration for my music. He was the one who was always pushing me, sing, sing, sing, sing, even if it was for something as silly as a karaoke night, because he was like, you never know who’s going to be watching.

So what would you say your go-to karaoke song is?

Ooh, I would say either, “I Have Nothing,” or, “I Want to Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston.

You slayed those on the show. I know you’ve played a couple of Whitney Houston songs on Idol and I mean, you just soared through them.


So I know you grew up in Chicago.… And then you went to college in Boston and now you made the move to Los Angeles, right?

Yeah, I just got here a week and a half ago, so it’s been great. I’ve been doing a lot of recording and I have some co-writes set up for next week and I’m just creating every day and I’m excited to be here and just make more connections and work with more people and keep learning and growing and share myself with the people who I gained throughout Idol, with the people who have supported me since then.

What would you say are your next three big goals within your career?

I would say releasing my demo. Well, releasing the album that is currently a demo. I would say, that’s a hard one, releasing my music, going on tour. I want to go on tour. And, working with someone big.

I feel I want to work with someone who’s just super duper in and who has had a lot of trials and ups and downs in this industry. Someone who hasn’t always had it easy for themselves. Someone who’s been through a lot. Maybe they’ve been rejected, they made it, and then they were rejected, and then they had to find their way back up. Because I just feel like those are the people with the best insight, not only to the mental health side of being an artist, but also just the industry itself and what happens and how you build yourself back up from that. And I also think that those people are oftentimes, just the best writers, because they have the most to say.

Definitely. I mean, those are the people who are also not only just genuine, but they’ve been through it so they know what it’s like. Who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences that influenced your career or your songwriting?

Absolutely. I’d say Adele and Demi Lovato and Sam Smith are three people that I admire greatly. And Ben Platt. I love Ben Platt. He crossed over from Broadway and all that, but I love Ben Platt, too. But in terms of just my writing style and those influences, definitely Demi, Adele, and Sam Smith, the three people that I pull from a lot.

During the finale week of Idol, you released your debut single, “Love Someone,” and can you talk a little bit about that song and what it was like recording a track?

Yeah. So I got to work with Tricky Stewart for that track and that was just so crazy. It was super intimidating walking into the studio with him because he has “Single Ladies.” He has “Baby,” by Justin Bieber. He has all these hits. So it was pretty, it was just crazy. It definitely lit a fire under my butt to just excel, excel, excel and not be afraid. Because when I get afraid, is when I don’t do great. I’m really bad with nerves. So that’s something I had to work through over the course of the show, but yeah, that was amazing to record with Tricky and just to be in the studio with them.

I got to spend some time with Willie that day actually, too, which was behind the scenes, but he got to sit in on some of my session, which was awesome. So I just love being in the studio with friends and being able to create something magical, especially with someone like Tricky, who he’s seen it all too.

Going back to the topic of the music that you’re working on, do you have anything coming soon? I know you said you have a demo, so is the album pretty much written and do you have a title or release date in mind?

Not yet, but I do have a lot of it written and the co-writes that I have set up currently are just to polish and go over the stuff that I’ve written with someone who I trust and who’s been, he’s had some of those trials of ups and downs.

And so I think that he’ll just have an amazing perspective to bring to the music and he’ll help me see it from a different light and just help me create the best product. It’s not something, I want to release it still while the iron’s hot, when people still are like, oh Grace, yeah and before I fade in the background. But I also don’t want it to be something that’s rushed, because I feel like when something’s rushed, it loses the authenticity and the realness that I find so important to myself. So something that I don’t want to rush through, but definitely still in a timely fashion. So it won’t be too long from now.

Yes, I mean the debut album is always the most important one to get people’s attention and know, yes, I’m Grace and I’m not leaving. So let’s end with a fun one, a little bit of a fun one. Who would you say is your dream collaboration and why would you pick that person?

Ooh, that’s a really good question. Hmm. I’d say Sam Smith or Demi Lovato. Because I feel like Sam Smith has collaborated with people like Yebba and I love Yebba. I don’t sound anything like Yebba, but I just think I connect with his music so much or connect with their music so much. And so I would love to collaborate with them, as well as Demi Lovato. I would love to collaborate with them as well. I just think their voice is absolutely insane and music is something so important. They talk about so many political and not political issues, just human decency things in their music and I think that’s absolutely so important.

Yeah, I think that Demi’s very good at vocalizing how she feels and how she thinks she can help better the world. And I mean, she’s doing a great job with it. I mean, she’s making statements lately that are definitely beneficial to the way the world is these days. So, what’s next for you in 2021? I know you’re gearing up to prepare to go record your debut solo album. What else is going on for you?

So, I actually have some gigs coming up that I’ll just be announcing over on my Instagram soon that I’m really excited about. So yeah, just, I have some shows coming up and I’d like to book more, so I’m excited about that.

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Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her master’s degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Music Mayhem, she has been published in American Songwriter, Country Now, and Holler.Country. When she’s not attending a concert or adding new country music to her playlist, O’Connell spends her time dancing in the studio and traveling with her family.

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