By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | October 12, 2021
The effervescent Amelia McLean comes bounding into North Italia in Gilbert.
“Here I am!” she says enthusiastically.
McLean has plenty of reasons to be excited. She’s headlining her first show of all-original music on Thursday, October 14, at the Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. The day prior, the “American Idol” alum is releasing an EP, “Light I Can Follow.”
“I don’t know if there are any female artists right now in Phoenix who are doing the kind of music I’m doing,” says McLean, who is influenced by 1970s music’s harmonies and “big vocals.”
“We recorded ‘Light I Can Follow’ ’70s style, where the band got together and recorded in one room. Nowadays, everybody’s doing a drum session and then a guitar session, etc. The way we did it, it really captured a magic that you don’t just get with how they’re doing production now. I’m super stoked because I love listening to it. I cried multiple times throughout the recording process.”
McLean moved to the Valley five years ago from Jackson, Michigan, to pursue a career in music. She took piano lessons throughout middle school and high school.
“Growing up in a small town, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to stay and try and develop my career,” she says. “I always wanted to live out West. I came out here when I was 19 and chose Arizona because my sister lived here. I was hoping it would be my steppingstone to LA.”
Once she arrived in Arizona, she moved to Peoria and performed in coffee shops and at open mic nights. She did not expect the reactions or opportunities that were to come. She slowly evolved into one of the Valley’s most beloved singer-songwriters.
In 2017, she won Alice Cooper’s Proof is in the Pudding, her first competition. She, in turn, opened for Cooper, Tommy Thayer and Ace Frehley, Rob Halford and Slash.
Her success only grew from there. Two years later, McLean was awarded a golden ticket to Hollywood for season 18 of “American Idol.” She credits her friend, fellow Phoenician Wade Cota, who was in the top six of “American Idol” the previous year, for recommending her to a producer of the show.
“I saw the opportunities that Wade got, and I was like, well, it won’t hurt to try,” she says.
She traveled to Hawaii to compete in the Top 40 before being eliminated from the competition.
McLean frequents wine bars, private clubs and restaurants performing covers. She frequents the Cave Creek/Carefree area, which she loves for its small-town feel.
“I grew up listening to artists like James Taylor and Carole King and all that good stuff,” she says. “I love being able to cover those tunes, but every artist wants to play their own music. Now I get the big opportunity to do so.”
She chalks it up to maturity and a “really good circle of people — good musicians, good producers and good people in the industry to work with.”
“I also have the right people who want to work with me,” she says.
“There are a lot of people who just take advantage of you. It’s taken time, but I’m at a place where I have the perfect team. I have a band who’s just completely excited to play music with me, tour and go all the way, which is awesome.”
Her band features acoustic/electric guitarist David Martinez, who also produced “Light I Can Follow”; drummer Marty Welker; bassist Zorin McGuire and acoustic/electric guitarist Adam Simons.
“They’re stellar musicians,” she says. “That’s half the battle. It’s great to find people who are reliable and are good and able to commit to wanting to do music with me.”
As a producer, Martinez and McLean clicked right away before she collected her band.
“We were totally aligned in what kind of music we like,” McLean says. “That really helps because you don’t have to spend time explaining, ‘OK, I’m going for this sound.’ We just have a really good flow.”
McLean considers the band, her audiences and venue owners “family.”
“I love them all,” the 25-year-old Chandler resident says with a smile. “We become friends and I get to know them. I like the people side of performing, too.
“There’s a couple who started coming to my gigs in Chandler and literally, to this day, I call them ‘mom and dad.’ We went to Hawaii together. They became my family.”
McLean is hoping the Rebel Lounge gig leads to other original music performances.
“Ideally, I’m hoping to get started by going on a tour with a band as its opener,” she says. “I’m thankful because, over the last five years, I’ve made a lot of really good friends and good connections.
“I just haven’t really utilized them, because there hasn’t been a need to. I’ve never had a product to show. To be able to say, ‘This is the product. What can you do with it?’ That’s been the dream.”
Amelia McLean w/Adam Simons, Matthew Thornton and Shane Travis
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, October 14
Where: The Rebel Lounge, 2303 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix