When the top 48 American Idol performers take the stage for “Showcase Week” at the Los Angeles “House Of Blues” to perform before their first “live audience” Ellen Petersen, who performs in Branson with her family in the Petersen Family Bluegrass Band, will be among them. Although the audience was “live”, the show was taped and will lead into the selection of the final 24 that America will vote on.
I had a Valentine’s Day that was special in that I got to take my “Valentine” to see the Petersen show; meet the Petersen family, the “kids,” Ellen, Katie, Matthew and Julianne, and their mom and dad Karen and Jon and interview Ellen. I will be writing about the show in a week or so, but to see this amazing family perform and interact with each other and their audience was a joy.
After the show I had a chance to interview Ellen (EP) on behalf of the Branson Tourism Center (BTC):
BTC: How long have you been singing?
EP: I have been singing “all of my life.” When we were young we used to learn Christmas carols, with all the parts and harmonies, and go around singing in nursing homes and churches.
BTC: What’s your favorite part of this show [Petersen Family Bluegrass Band]?
EP: Interacting with my family members; it’s really fun to play music with the people that you love. We have such a good time interacting on stage, it’s different every show and you never know what’s going to happen.
BTC: Have you always had a pink banjo?
EP: No, I got my pink banjo for my 16th birthday instead of a car.
BTC: Is that what you wanted?
EP: It’s what I got and I love it!
BTC: What led you to try out for American Idol?
EP: The “Bus Tour” was coming through Branson, people had suggested that I try out for it and a friend suggested that I not only try out for it, but that I yodel and play the banjo. I thought it was fun idea because you don’t see many girls trying out for American Idol yodeling and playing a banjo, so I learned “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” and used it for my auditions in Branson and Kansas City.
BTC: How did that work?
EP: I auditioned in Branson and got a “Golden Ticket” to the Kansas City auditions which is what led to the opportunity that got me in front of the judges and on live national TV.
BTC: So, you are in front of the judges, sing “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” and get a “Golden Pass to Hollywood” and, like thousands of contestants before you, head for the exit. Then something happened. Could you give us some insight on that?
EP: I had just received my “Golden Pass,” was excited and was pushing open the door to leave when Keith Urban asked me if I could play the “Beverly Hillbillies Theme Song.” Although I had played the song once, about four years ago, as part of our “Character Camp” at the “College of the Ozarks, I just prayed, “God, please help me remember these chords,” said “Yes” and marched my little-self back out there. They must have sensed my nervousness because Harry [Connick Jr.] said that he’d sing it with me, Keith joined him and it was a really funny moment.
BTC: Was Hollywood Week as much pressure as it seems like when you are watching it on TV?
EP: The whole premise of Hollywood Week is to put the performers under a lot of pressure and they have to cut over 200 performers down to 48. I think I slept six hours total that whole week.
BTC: What’s your most memorable part about Hollywood Week?
EP: My brother Matthew and sister Katie came out to Hollywood with me. They stayed up with me and supported and helped me throughout the whole week. Just having them there was really special and meant the world to me. In a family like ours we stick together and support each other. That’s what they did for me and it was awesome. That’s what got me through it.
BTC: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about trying out for American Idol?
EP: Go for it. Regardless of what the outcome is of my American Idol journey I have learned so much, not only in terms of my preparation, but the advice you get along the way from the judges and the shows staff.
BTC: What is one of the major ways it has impacted your life?
EP: God has used it to open my eyes to music and how it can be used to reach people emotionally and on a level that few other things can. Regardless of how American Idol turns out, just being able to play with my family and being able to have a positive impact on people’s lives is amazing.
BTC: Putting American Idol aside for a moment, you are a very busy young lady. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
EP: I graduated from the “College of the Ozarks” in May of 2014 with a major in chemistry; work in Oklahoma City for the University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center as a lab technician in a pathology lab with a professor researching breast cancer and drive back to Branson on Friday night of each week, practice with the band on Saturday morning, do the show Saturday night, go to church with my family on Sunday and then drive back to Oklahoma City.
BTC: Has Branson been supportive of your American Idol journey?
EP: I have just been blown away by Branson and how supportive everyone has been. It’s an awesome humbling experience.
It was a pleasure to interview this young lady, who is enjoying the moment while fully realizing who is in control of her journey and has blessed her with her amazing talent, personality, looks and family. During the Petersen’s show, Ellen’s mom is featured in various numbers with her mandolin. The crowd urges her on by saying, “Get it momma.” I would paraphrase that and encourage Ellen, as she continues her American Idol journey with the admonition, “Get it girl! Godspeed.”