It was just four years ago when Iowa City West junior and singer-songwriter Abbie Callahan picked up her classic black Fender guitar and posted her first singing cover on Instagram, armed with nothing but a big dream and a huge passion for singing.
Since then, the 17-year-old pop artist has accomplished what few could. One of her many feats includes a blind audition on “The Voice” as the second-youngest contestant of the season in 2017.
“‘The Voice’ was probably one of my favorite experiences ever in my whole life,” Callahan said. “Doing these shows, you just immerse yourself in such a different world.”
Her journey culminated with performing on a big flashing stage in front of renowned celebrities such as Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus, Blake Shelton and Alicia Keys, as well as a full cheering audience.
“Looking back on it, it doesn’t even feel like I was there. I can’t even believe that I did that because it’s been such a big dream of mine to even audition for these shows, let alone be on the stage in front of the judges,” Callahan said.
A year later, Callahan received another opportunity to sing on the national level — this time on the set of “American Idol.” After a Skype audition with the show’s executive producers, Callahan was sent to the golden ticket round in Denver, Colorado. There, she sang up-close in front of star judges like Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie for the chance to go to Hollywood.
“I kind of expected myself to freak out a little bit. But really, you get there and you sing. That’s the most anxious part, performing and making sure that you do everything you’ve prepared and you do it well,” Callahan said. “Meeting [the judges], you just realize that they’re just people. I hugged them all and it’s just like hugging anybody you know.”
Back home, many of Callahan’s fans have celebrated her success.
“Since I posted about ‘American Idol’ people have started to treat me somewhat of like a celebrity, which I’ve never experienced,’” Callahan said. “People were coming up to me, out of breath, scared to meet me. They were almost crying. I’m just in high school and that’s the craziest reaction.”
One of Callahan’s long-time friends, Maia Degrazia, a junior at Iowa City West, agrees that the reactions are justified.
“Abbie radiates positivity on the stage. She seems so sure of herself and just gets up there and owns it,” Degrazia said. “When I see her perform I am so proud. It makes me think of how far she’s come from when I first saw her perform in fifth grade. It’s so fun to see her doing what she loves and doing it well.”
From doing these shows, Callahan gained experiences that have strengthened her passion for music and solidified her decision to become a songwriter and a producer.
However, all of her success began with a simple hobby in sixth grade, when she first started posting singing clips on Instagram after being inspired by an “America’s Got Talent” performance.
“On that first cover, my sister and I were counting how many followers I got. In my first day, I had 100 followers and we were freaking out,” Callahan said. “I’ve never been nervous about sharing music because if anyone’s going to listen, they’re going to listen because they like my music.”
With that philosophy guiding her, she eventually took her singing live wherever she went, ranging from the Iowa State Fair to open mic nights at local breweries.
Callahan has started the next step in her career to write her own songs. During the summer, she spent hours honing her craft to write over 100 songs, 10 of which are going to be in her new original album.
“The 10 songs are actually my babies. I’ve worked on them maybe seven months now and my mom’s heard them on repeat,” she said. “We’ve spent all of winter break working on them staying up till three in the morning.”
The songs depict her whirlwind of experience as a teenager in love, pulling her own personal feelings from relationships.
“In my very heightened state of emotions, I wouldn’t even talk to my mom or my friends about it. I would sit down with my guitar and play what I was feeling. Then I realized that other people feel the same too, so I refined it and made it an actual song,” Callahan said. “I can’t force a song. It has to come from a real feeling so that other people can really feel it with you.”
Throughout the entire process, Callahan has had her mom, Kate Callahan, by her side to support her through every event.
“I used to be a little nervous for Abbie when she performed. I wasn’t sure she understood that she was working and people had certain expectations from her,” Kate said. “Now I just enjoy it. Abbie never gets nervous before she performs and is always prepared.”
With a supportive family comes with a little pressure to do better as well.
“It’s the craziest thing for someone to have so much faith in you, which is probably the scariest thing on these shows,” Kate said. “As I get up there, I’m just thinking about my mom because I want to make her proud.”
When it seems as if Callahan’s career is destined for success, she still keeps the same dream she’s had since she was little, with a determined focus on the future.
“The ultimate dream is to have my music on the radio and [have people] listen to it in the shower and jam to it when they’re happy and cry to it when they’re really sad,” Callahan said.
Since the beginning of her career, she’s learned important advice for other aspiring musicians.
“You really have to be very emotional and let yourself in that state of mind. Being original is what makes a good musician. Don’t listen to your brain — listen to your heart because that’s how you get good music. That’s how you perform well,” she said.
Check out Abbie’s audition on American Idol on ABC March 3 when season two premieres. You can keep up with Abbie on her website meandmymusic.co.