Earlier this year, Austin Wolfe made her triumphant return to her native Utah following a brief, yet captivating, run as one of American Idol’s top 30 finalists. I caught up with the soulful teen crooner on life after reality TV, a precocious toddlerhood and what’s next. (Disclaimer: Mild John Mayer fan-gushing included.) Wolfe opened for Five for Fighting last Saturday at Deer Valley Resort.
CC: Here you are, still quite fresh from your American Idol breakout. Do you feel any pressure at your young age to live up to media and fans’ expectations?
AW: I’m not scared for anything. I’ve been doing this for my whole life and singing since I was about 5 years old, and everything I’ve done has been in preparation for what’s to come.
CC: How have things been ever since you’ve gotten back to the “real world?”
AW: The Idol experience has really propelled me into furthering my career. I’ve gotten a lot of people contacting me that didn’t really know who I was before, asking me to do shows and interviews.
CC: So, do you think in a way it will never be back to the way it was?
AW: I mean, I think everything dies down…unless I choose to audition again or do something else [that’s] big to get more recognition. But I’m hoping it doesn’t go back to the way things were because I actually really like the attention (she laughs).
CC: You’d mentioned that you started singing when you were 5, and I read that you started writing music when you were 6. How did it dawn on you at that age that you wanted to be a musician? That must’ve been quite the revelation.
AW: One of my biggest influences was my mom’s best friend. She’s a musician, so she’d always come to the house and play guitar, and I’d sing with her. Then, another one of my mom’s friends was like, ‘Hey, she has a pretty decent voice for a little kid! So I started taking classical singing lessons when I was 5 or 6, and I loved it.
CC: Who were some of the artists you listened to growing up?
AW: I listened to a lot of John Mayer and Jack Johnson because that’s what my parents had on: My style is kind of soulful pop—a lot of slow ballad-y songs and some up-tempo stuff as well. And this has nothing to do with my style, but I listen to Nickel Creek a lot; I think they’re just so cool.
CC: Out of all the songs you’ve written, which one would you say is your most personal?
AW: I actually wrote a song recently called “Too Much.” We haven’t released it yet but it’s my most personal one so far. It’s about a relationship—not necessarily a boy-girl relationship, but a friendship gone wrong that’s hard to deal with.
CC: I like that; how your subjects aren’t conventionally pop, but they’re just about life.
AW: Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do. A lot of the songs I’ve written in the past have been about relationships…and not all of them were real (she laughs), but as I’m growing up and experiencing more things, I’m trying to expand my material.
CC: People here were really proud of you and your fellow Idol contestant Kenzie Hall for representing Utah. How important do you feel it is that there’s exposure given to our local artists?
AW: I think Utah has just as much to offer as anywhere else. There are so many talented people based out of Utah. People think it’s a strange place; a lot of people I’ve met during the Idol experience have never actually been [here]. The exposure that our towns give off is incredibly important. In Park City, where I live, they formed a little bubble. My friend went around town and put up posters telling people to watch the show and vote for me. Everyone rallied for me.
CC: Were you intimidated, or did you have reservations about trying out on such a big, commercial stage?
AW: I kind of psyched myself out before it happened, like, ‘Oh my god, JLo; Harry (Connick, Jr.); Keith (Urban)… But once I was standing in front of them, all my nerves went away. I was like, ‘They’re just people, doing their job, and giving us their wisdom.’
CC: Any collaborations you’d be interested in doing in the future?
AW: I’ve talked to Kenzie about doing some stuff together so that’s always a possibility. And I love John Mayer, so that’d be a really fun one. He’s amazing.
CC: What’s your favorite John Mayer song?
AW: Either “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” or “I Don’t Trust Myself.”
CC: “Slow Dancing” is amazing. Tragic yet beautiful. He paints the most vivid pictures.
AW: Exactly! See, that’s what I mean! You know what I’m talking about!
CC: For sure! So, ultimately, where would you like to see your career go?
AW: I’d like to one day go on tour, have a bunch of albums out, and have a big following of people that really like my music. The most important thing for me is that no matter where I end up, my music makes an impact. I just want people to be able to honestly relate to my music.