Brief time on American Idol lights fire under Mel Bryant

Mel Bryant on the American Idol stage Photo credit: Mel Bryant
Mel Bryant on the American Idol stage Photo credit: Mel Bryant

If you’ve ever heard the soulful croons and soaring high notes of “High Priestess,” you know exactly how American Idol producers felt when they handed Frost alum Mel Bryant her ticket to Hollywood.

In her year since graduating from Frost’s CAM program, the singer-songwriter has moved to Nashville, where she teaches music, plays gigs and co-runs a recording studio. Her American Idol audition was never part of the plan – when the opportunity presented itself, she took it on a whim.

“Initially, I didn’t take it that seriously,” Bryant said. “My initial audition for the producers was immediately after I landed in New York from Miami, like, fresh off the plane, so I sort of looked like a mess, my hair was barely brushed and I had no makeup on. I was already prepared with songs I’d been playing for years, so I wasn’t too nervous.”

Bryant, whose roots are in musical theater and pop-punk, developed her signature blues-rock sound while majoring in creative American music at Frost. There, her bandmate and boyfriend Connor McCarthy introduced her to rock classics such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd as well as blues artists Robert Johnson and Ida Cox.

As one of the lead songwriters in AME, the Frost American Music Ensemble, Bryant began writing and playing the songs that would eventually make up her first LP, “High Priestess.” The record calls on all the styles she’s come to love: wailing guitars from classic rock, soulful blues vibrato and the crashing drums of pop-punk.

Mel Bryant's 2017 album, High Priestess Photo credit: Mel Bryant

After impressing the American Idol producers with a Beyoncé song and the title track off “High Priestess,” Bryant advanced to the next round. The success was serendipitous; she didn’t even consider auditioning until a friend and fellow Frost alum, Andrea Lopez, hooked her up with the opportunity. But as excited as she was to advance, the rest of her experience proved to be overwhelming – especially once she arrived in Hollywood.

“Being in Hollywood made me realize that I didn’t have the resolve for this kind of competition,” she said. “When I play a show, I’m as relaxed as ever, I feel at home and at peace with my music and with the audience. As soon as I showed up to audition for the judges, I was an anxious mess – couldn’t keep my heart rate down or stop my mind from racing, and that’s not how I like to perform.”

Unfortunately, after an emotionally taxing week in Hollywood, Bryant was eliminated on her birthday. Her audition never aired on TV. The only record of her being there is a short, awkward clip of her talking to her family.

“The show did make me realize, there’s more to success in this industry than just being talented,” she said. “Getting lost in the stress of whether I’d advance or not made me forget about showing them my personality, and I think that’s what got me eliminated.”

Bryant didn’t let the loss discourage her, though. If anything, the already multi-talented musician is inspired to work harder in her career. Aside from teaching bass, voice and guitar at Nashville School of Rock and gigging with local musicians, she and her boyfriend run the Nashville-based Electric Church Records. There, she is currently recording a follow-up to her 2017 LP. She’s also been booking shows in Nashville and across the country, some with Nashville singer-songwriter Caitlin Lucia, a friend she met on American Idol.

“The show really lit a fire under me,” Bryant said. “It’s not going to make me stop making music.”

Follow Mel on Instagram and Twitter, or visit her website for more information about her projects and whereabouts. You can follow her studio, Electric Church Records, on Facebook. She has three upcoming Nashville shows: April 6 at 8th Street & Wedgewood, April 7 at The End and April 11 at 404 Bar & Grill. If you can’t make a live gig, check out her music on YouTube and Spotify.