Singer-songwriter Leah Marlene became a household name when she placed third on American Idol season 20 in May, but she now admits that the show was not the “dream come true” that she thought it would be. Leah auditioned for the show at 20 year old and impressed the American Idol judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan with her incredible rendition of “Steal My Girl” by One Direction and her original song “Wisher to the Well.” Leah is from Normal, Illinois, but her energetic and quirky demeanor proved that she was anything but “normal.” She brought her special magic to every one of her performances.
Leah’s full circle American Idol moment came when she sang “Firework” with Katy Perry on the finale, after revealing that she had sung the song in a talent show when she was nine-years-old. Also, her single, “Flowers,” climbed the charts after it was released on May 13 and Leah performed it on the finale. The song uses the metaphor of flowers growing through the pavement to represent how people can rise up through difficult times. It was inspired by Leah’s own struggles with depression and anxiety and how she found her way back to herself. Since American Idol, she has used her platform to help other people who are experiencing similar situations.
In an Instagram post, Leah shared a song that she wrote with two friends that she called “a big ole safety blanket to me the past two months,” and opened up about how much she has been struggling since American Idol ended. She said that it has been “really freaking hard.” Leah explained that she has been working “nonstop to make something happen out of this and I feel like I’m going in never ending circles.” She said, “I feel very misunderstood by the industry and it has made me question everything about who I am and what I want.” Leah admitted that, although she is so happy and proud to see her friends from American Idol thriving after the show, in her “own selfish little world the comparison game has made these few months that much harder.” She said that she knows that she has “countless people” who are proud of her and believe in her, and that all of the American Idol finalists are on their own journeys and timelines, “but somehow I just feel so deeply alone in this experience. I’m at the point of complete emotional exhaustion and I can no longer pretend like it all doesn’t phase me. I feel incredibly lost, confused, stuck, and beyond all things, frustrated. I do recognize that many things have changed in my life because of the show, but in almost every way I still have found myself back at square one.”
Leah continued by saying that she did not join American Idol “with no experience and a naive little dream of pop stardom. I have been putting the work in for over half of my life time.” Leah confessed that this is why it feels terrible to her that she feels as though she is “back at the start all over again after such a promising opportunity. I know my value and I know that I have something incredibly unique and important to contribute to music and to this world. I just wish somebody that had any power could see it too (and not be afraid of the work it takes to think outside of the box and take the road less traveled in an industry of quick money and apathy).” Leah concluded the post by saying that she knows that this time in her life is “paving the way for something so beautiful in the future and it’s all going to be alright. I just can’t not be transparent about this current season not being the dream come true that so many people that follow me here think it is.”
Leah was a fan favorite on American Idol, so it is surprising to hear that she is struggling to find her place in the music industry. In recent months, several other past American Idol finalists have spoken out about the challenges that they faced after the show. Hopefully, Leah will find a path forward that is satisfying to her both professionally and personally. She inspired so many people, and she deserves to have some hard-earned success.