Life during the coronavirus pandemic put a lot on hold for “American Idol” winner Maddie Poppe. But it also showed her what she wanted – and didn’t want – out of the music business.
“It’s been a hard year, for sure, for everybody,” she says from her home in Iowa. “We’re all in the same boat. It’s definitely been challenging.”
Poppe had planned to tour in support of an EP she had scheduled for release “and that shut down pretty quickly. A lot of things got postponed.”
Like many people, she told herself she should be using the time at home to create new material. “But I’ve lacked so much motivation. I have no energy to do it.”
Still, the 23-year-old Clarksville, Iowa, native, did manage to record a five-cut Christmas album in October. “I went out to L.A. with one of my friends and it came together very quickly,” she says. “I had a pretty good idea right away what I wanted to record.”
On the album, “Christmas from Home”: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “O Holy Night,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Sleigh Ride.”
They’ll be part of an acoustic holiday show she’s taking to Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Arnolds Park, Red Oak, Davenport and Sioux City this month.
“It’s just going to be me with my guitar,” Poppe says. “Everything is socially distant, very scaled-back, but it’s what a lot of us need now. People are desperate for entertainment.”
Poppe says she’ll also sing a few of her original cuts and give the audience a chance to feel the joy of the holiday.
“I thought people needed (the holiday album), but I didn’t really think I was going to put out something this year. It wasn’t a good time to release original music.”
The Christmas covers idea, however, was too good to ignore.
Because she’s an independent artist, Poppe also didn’t have to clear her choices with a record company.
“I didn’t want to do ‘Santa Baby,’” she says. “It’s a great song for whomever, but it wasn’t for me.”
The home-state tour was also a quick idea. Because she didn’t have to travel far (she’s sheltering at home with her parents), she could make the dates and not have to worry about air travel.
Like others in the music industry, she hopes 2021 will be better. Virtual performances and other internet-based ways of reaching an audience are difficult. “It’s a one-in-a-million chance that you really take off and have a lot of success.”
Luckily, Poppe got that great “Idol” launching pad.
Winning in 2018, she had the luxury of working with marketing and recording executives, helping her best present herself to a widescale audience.
“'Idol’ really cares for its contestants,” she says. “While you’re on the show, they want the best for you…the show is really about them and their journey.”
Interestingly, they don’t feel the need to craft a “story” for each of the contenders.
“I didn’t have a story,” Poppe says. “I had a good childhood, parents who love me. I had a very normal life and I didn’t have a lot of struggles to overcome. I’m grateful that I don’t have a story. A lot of people think you need one, but you really don’t.”
Previously a contestant on “The Voice,” Poppe saw how the two shows differ. On “The Voice,” she says, “they sculpt an artist. They pick your songs, they pick your outfits. They make you into something super genuine that isn’t you.”
“Idol” uses its clout to prepare singers for the world after the show. “It’s not about the TV show. They’re there to make careers, not just get the ratings.”
When Poppe left “Idol,” she signed with a label, got a business manager and a booking agent.
During the pandemic, she says, “I was able to reflect back on my experience in the music world and the writing sessions I took for granted. That helped me realize what it was I wanted to do and what I didn’t.”