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Former ‘American Idol’ contestant moves on … to college

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Jessica Srisourath, Studio M staff

Sara Sturm competed during the final season of “American Idol.” (Photo by Maggie Newell)


Two years ago, Sara Sturm left her small-town roots in Centerville, Virginia, to pursue a singing career. She began her journey on the farewell season of “American Idol” and has continued chasing her dream at Middle Tennessee State University.

Sturm, now 19, already has more knowledge about the music industry than most aspiring artists her age.

After her  “American Idol” journey, Sturm has moved to Nashville, Tennessee. She attends Middle Tennessee State University and is a sophomore majoring in songwriting. Sturm performs around campus, at events hosted by MTSU and the Nashville area. Although she is surrounded by the country music culture in Nashville, the genres she wants to pursue are R&B and pop.

“MTSU has given me opportunities to perform around campus, and a lot of MTSU students play in Nashville, and they will invite me to play with them which is really cool. It’s a community,” Sturm said.

Coming from a musically inclined family, Sturm always knew she had what it took to become an artist. She is a self-taught singer who learned her techniques from listening to her favorite artists growing up.

“I had a Walkman, and I listened to the same three artists all the time: Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera and JoJo,” Sturm said. “I would always mimic the way they sang, and that’s how I taught myself how to do runs.”

(Timeline: See a timeline of all of the Tennessee-based “American Idol” contestants over the years)

Sturm began her “American Idol” journey at 17 on the show’s farewell season. She surpassed all behind-the-scenes auditions leading up to the performance in front of all three judges.

“I walked into the room and saw the judges, and I literally blacked out from adrenaline,” Sturm said.

She received a yes from all three judges and was sent off to “Hollywood Week,” which is another round of auditions before the live shows begin.

Sturm said her favorite judge was Harry Connick Jr.

“He was so positive and funny,” she said “I could tell he was always really into my performances, and you could see it on his face. He always had something positive to say about me.”

Throughout her time on the show, she had the opportunity to perform in front of an audience of 500 and gain advice from Hollywood’s most sought-after artists. Her “Idol” journey came to an end on the last round of “Hollywood Week.”

Sturm has also had the opportunity to work with other artists and songwriters. Jordyn Stoddard is one of Sturm’s songwriting companions. Sturm and Stoddard help each other write songs and often perform together.

“I think the ‘American Idol’ experience was really beneficial for her. She learned a lot from it. The connections and the learning process are things she can apply still to this day. It definitely helped her grow as an artist,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard said some valuable advice she has received from Sturm is to write from the heart.

“Sara has always told me to write from personal experience even if it seems forced. Just to keep writing, because it makes you better, and you just get a good song out of it,” Stoddard said.

Sturm is currently working on her debut album, set to release in February 2018. Produced by MTSU alumni Anthony Pantalena, the album will consist of seven songs including one of Sturm’s proudest pieces, her single “Sick of These Boys.”

“I just love this song because it is a girl-power anthem, and a lot of my friends know the words to my songs. That pumps me up whenever I’m singing live. It makes me feel like it connects with people, and so I’m proud of it,” Sturm said.

Aside from writing and producing music, Sturm uses her social media platforms to update her fans and to grow her following.

Although Sturm’s journey on “American Idol” came to an end, she only has positive things to say about her experience.

“It was the best thing I have ever decided to do, because I met so many people, I made so many connections and I really feel like my stage performance got better. I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Sturm said.

Jessica Srisourath is a student at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.


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