From her early years in Toronto, Canada, to growing up in Normal, Illinois, to the unexpected opportunities presented by American Idol, Leah Marlene’s musical journey is a testament to her resilience, self-discovery, and the power of a devoted, hometown fan base.
From an early age, it was clear that music was more than a fleeting interest for Leah. Growing up surrounded by musical instruments, with a father who was an 80’s rocker, her path was set.
“I grew up in a household of music,” Leah says. “There was absolutely no way that I was not just going to be slapped in the face with the idea of doing music as a career.”
The deep-rooted love for music drove her to pursue a career in the industry. This passion, nurtured by the beauty and space of the cornfields and the boundless blue sky of Bloomington-Normal, would serve as the foundation of her artistic journey.
By studying and mimicking her favorite singers, Leah honed her vocal abilities, weaving together a tapestry of influences. Over time, she says, her voice would evolve into a distinctive fusion of styles, embodying the essence of her idols while remaining true to her own artistic expression.
A minor setback occurred during junior high when a series of head injuries forced her to give up her passion of playing hockey. In the face of this identity crisis, music would become her solace, providing a lifeline for self-discovery.
"I really started to lean on music at that time to console me because my whole identity had just been ripped away from me. And I was going into high school and I was like, 'I'm not the hockey girl anymore.'"
After graduation, Leah pursued her life-long dream of attending Belmont University in Nashville. She quickly immersed herself in everything it had to offer. However, the pressures of excelling academically and artistically took a toll on her well-being. After two years, she made the decision to drop out and return home to Central Illinois.
“I really came back to myself for the first time in two years,” Leah says about this period. “I just had this idea that I want to go travel the world and go find myself and just go be free and reevaluate everything.”
As fate would have it, American Idol entered the scene. Despite initial doubts, Leah followed her gut feeling and took a chance and auditioned. The rest, as they say, is history.
The American Idol experience proved to be a whirlwind of excitement and growth, granting Leah the opportunity to meet and perform with her idols. She would make it all the way to the finale, while getting propelled to the national stage.
“You really are on the rocket ship to the stratosphere. You just came off the highest, quickest, most accelerated climb you could ever imagine in the industry. And then you have to figure out what to do with all that momentum.”
The experience would come to serve as both a learning experience and, ironically, a way to endear her to her hometown and her Central Illinois roots.
“You can view American Idol as my launchpad”, she states. “But it was the Midwest coming together around me during Idol that really was the launchpad. It was Central Illinois, coming around me during that time, that really made a huge difference.”
The power of her community, both the people in her inner circle and the community and fans from the place she calls home, are what propels Leah Marlene today. While American Idol may have put her on the national stage, it’s her love of Central Illinois and the people who call it home that are driving her on her musical journey. That rocket ship that Leah Marlene got on years ago might still have a few stops to make, and we’re excited to see where it takes her.
Check out Leah Marlene on Spotify: