How “American Idol” Influenced + Inspired 2018 Winner Maddie Poppe’s First Album, “Whirlwind”

Maddie PoppePhoto Credit: Shervin Lainez

For Maddie Poppe, the last year of her life since winning the 16th season of “American Idol” has absolutely been a whirlwind—which is, quite aptly, the title of her first album. “Whirlwind” is an up-close-and-personal portrait of all the magic and joy and occasional hurt that comes from chasing your dreams. In her debut release for Hollywood Records, the 21-year-old Iowa native joins forces with producer/songwriters like Johan Carlsson (Ariana Grande, Charlie Puth, Demi Lovato) and Drew Pearson (Kesha, Pentatonix, Michelle Branch), for songs that are part indie-rock, part pop. Here, we talk to Poppe about both whirlwinds—her album, and her life.

Maddie PoppePhoto Credit: Shervin Lainez

What makes “Made You Miss” different from other songs you have written and performed?

At first I was a little afraid of this song, just because it has such a different sound than any other songs of mine. But I’m so happy I tried it out, because it’s a brand new sound for me that I really like and would love to experiment more with.

How has your music evolved since you first began performing?

I really loved the singer-songwriter/acoustic sound for so long and was super afraid of production at first. It wasn’t until I was pretty much forced into using more production that I started really loving it. I find that sometimes the things we’re trying to avoid most are the things we never knew we needed.

What’s it been like to now reflect back on your music career from winning “American Idol” in 2018 to the musician you are today?

I think my sound has changed so much, for the better. I’ve experimented with my voice so much since “Idol” ended, and I’ve fallen in love with so many different types of music I never thought I’d wanna try.

Maddie PoppePhoto Credit: Shervin Lainez

How did the show shape not only your career, but you in general?

It reassured me that being myself was totally okay. I was afraid people wouldn’t accept me for the music I wanted to create. I was scared I would have to conform or try and fit a mold that I didn’t want to in order to make it in the industry. Luckily the producers, judges and America accepted me just the way I was.

How did you come up with your album name? What do the different objects on the album cover represent?

I’ve always been one to “call out the obvious/weird” so that others couldn’t judge me or make fun of me for it. I find that if you call it out or laugh at yourself, then others are simply just laughing with you. So that’s what I wanted to call out with this album. There’s so many musicians, producers and songwriters, so many different genres and sounds, and I had only forty-two days to create the entire thing from start to finish. For lack of a better term, it’s messy. I wanted to let the world know that I’m aware it’s not perfect, but I did the best I could with the time and resources I had. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of it and had such an awesome time making it. There’s a few songs on there that I’m so happy I get to call mine, but it definitely was a whirlwind of an experience creating it. So all of this, plus my life this past year, I thought the title was extremely fitting. As for deciding to include the icons and objects on the album cover, it was my way of sort of wrapping it all together and sort of tying up the loose ends. I wanted to incorporate an item that most represents each song on the album in a whirlwind surrounding me to sort of explain the album as a whole.

What is the most significant change in your life today?

I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with my family and friends. I realize that’s a big sacrifice you have to make while traveling and pursuing a career in this industry, but it’s a very unfortunate one. I’ve always been extremely close with my family and have always considered them my best friends, so it’s very hard to be away from them. I feel I miss out on a lot in my family life.

Maddie PoppePhoto Credit: Hollywood Records

What has been the most surreal, pinch-me moment you’ve had to date?

There’s been so many it’s hard to pick just one, but I think just that moment winning the show and the couple hours after that seemed so surreal. So much happened that night before we were whisked away on a plane headed to NYC. A lot of it seems like a blur, but I would say that was definitely the most punch-me moment so far.

Who has been some of your biggest musical inspirations along the way?

Anna Nalick, Rachael Yamagata, Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles would be at the top of my list of musical inspirations. I love all of them and their music so much and I think you can probably hear some of them in my music as well.

What advice would you give to other young artists who want to follow in your footsteps?

Never ever give up and always be yourself! Life is about being happy and doing things the way you want to do them, so don’t ever let anyone tell you something is impossible or that you don’t measure up. Don’t change for anybody, because you will without a doubt be happiest when you are being yourself.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects? What can we expect of Maddie Poppe moving forward?

Joining the Ingrid Michaelson tour and she has had an extraordinary influence on me and my music career. When my music managers called me with the idea that I might be able to join her as the opener for her upcoming tour, my fourteen-year-old self would never have believed that an opportunity like this was possible. Ingrid truly has paved the way for so many aspiring artists and joining her on “The Dramatic Tour= D 4 will be a tremendous opportunity to meet fans and be nothing short of a dream come true.

Maddie PoppePhoto Credit: Hollywood Records