Crystal Lake Central grad to appear on 'American Idol' season premiere

Grace Kinstler can remember going to a Katy Perry concert as an 8-year-old, so she says it was surreal when, years later, she got to audition for "American Idol" in front of Perry.

"It was super fun," the Lakewood native and Crystal Lake Central graduate said. "It was really crazy, but it was a super, super awesome, amazing experience."

Kinstler will be on "American Idol's" season premiere on Sunday, Feb. 14, on ABC.

This is hardly Kinstler's first foray into the music industry - the 20-year-old has already released two EPs. In high school, she even won a national vocal competition.

Kinstler, who has been singing since she was about 4 or 5, said she used to watch "American Idol" with her mom and dad. She'd see the singers, and think about how she wanted to be just like them.

"I loved those big, powerful voices," Kinstler said.

Because of COVID-19, the first audition Kinstler had was a Zoom audition for the show's producers. Then, she went to Los Angeles to perform for Lionel Richie, Perry and Luke Bryan.

"It was crazy," Kinstler said. "I went from the comfort of my home to L.A., in front of three of the biggest stars right now in the music industry."

For her L.A. audition, Kinstler sang "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Natural Woman," originally sung by Aretha Franklin and co-written by Carole King.

"Natural Woman" had a special significance for Kinstler, especially after her father's death a year ago.

He loved Aretha Franklin. One of the last shows he saw his daughter in was a tribute show for the singer.

"He just loved every moment of it," Kinstler said. "I have a video from when I was younger; he videotaped me singing 'Natural Woman.' So I was like, it would be really cool to pay tribute to him by singing that song for the audition."

Kinstler said her father would be "freaking out" about his daughter's "American Idol" appearance.

Having a career in music, Kinstler said, is something her dad always wanted for her. Her father would sing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" at karaoke nights and invited Kinstler to sing with him.

"He loved music, and he was what inspired me to get started in music," Kinstler said. "So I really wish he was here to see (the audition), but I know that he would just be so ecstatic and so proud of me."

During the audition itself, Kinstler kept telling herself to stay in the moment, to stay focused and to not overthink.

"For me, it was just trusting myself and knowing, 'I prepared for this and I'm ready for this,'" Kinstler said.

Kinstler says family members have always been her biggest supporters. Her parents have gone to all of her shows, even flying out to ones she performs at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she is currently a student.

"It's bittersweet for all of us to not have my dad here," Kinstler said. "But I just want to make him proud. And I think my mom is just so excited for me that in such a dark year, I got to have something to brighten it a little bit."

Now, Kinstler is looking forward to watching herself on Feb. 14 - though she admits she's a little nervous, too.

"I can already pinpoint in my head, a few things I wish I'd done differently," she said. "But ... being imperfect is being human and being human is authentic. And that's what makes people special."

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