Calgary teen singer gets American Idol golden ticket

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Young Calgary singer Kaiya Gamble had no idea an appearance at the Lilac Festival would put her on the fast track to the spotlights of American Idol.

But when a casting director saw a video of Gamble, 17, performing at the 2023 event, she was asked to audition for the reality television show.

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That started the process of three rounds of auditions before Gamble was asked to appear in front of judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, which she called “surreal.”

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“I was completely speechless, seeing them there,” said Gamble, a born-and-raised Calgarian, after describing herself as someone who typically “yaps quite a fair bit.”

She described the environment as stressful and high-pressure, but was quick to acknowledge the kindness she received from American Idol host Ryan Seacrest. “He made me and my family feel so comfortable and so at ease,” she said.

Elementary school music teacher helped spark musical journey

Gamble’s musical adventure started young.

When an elementary school music teacher told her parents that she had natural talent, they enrolled her in piano lessons. Her gift came as a surprise to her parents, whom she describes as “not musical whatsoever.”

Soon after beginning piano lessons, Gamble realized that her passion was beyond just music — it was storytelling.

“There’s something really special about telling a story, about conveying emotion, about connecting with people through a language that isn’t just words,” she said.

Teen musician Kaiya Gamble practices at the family piano in her home northwest of Calgary on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

Her vocal coach, Brian Farrell, has been working with her since she was around nine years old. Comparing her stage presence and storytelling abilities to Ella Fitzgerald, he says, “It’s naturally a part of her artistic being.”

“There’s such a strength in vulnerability, and not a lot of people can pull that off. Only the really great artists can pull off vulnerability without trying. They just tell their story in a real way and they’re not afraid of who they are. And that’s who she is.”

Steve Jevne, a Calgary musician also coached by Farrell, saw Gamble perform at a session for Farrell’s students, saying she “blew the roof off the place.”

“You can be the best vocalist in the world, but performance is everything,” Jevne said when describing how powerful she was on stage. He thought the performance was so powerful, he recalls asking her if she had taken performance art classes.

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Life-changing and beautiful experiences followed

Gamble’s music career continued to take off after her stint on American Idol. The teenage singer-songwriter opened for Canadian musician J.P. Saxe in Montreal. Saxe hosted an online competition allowing emerging artists to submit covers of his songs, and he would select winners to open for his Canadian shows.

After posting a cover of Saxe’s song Fear and Intuition, Gamble was selected — but not for Calgary. Because of venue curfews, she was unable to perform in her home city. But Saxe invited her backstage to sing with him and was offered an opportunity to open for his Montreal show.

“I didn’t even ask my parents,” she said of accepting the offer on the spot.

She describes her Montreal performance as life-changing and beautiful: “I felt at home.”

Kaiya Gamble
Teen musician Kaiya Gamble practices at the family piano in her home northwest of Calgary on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

The day after the Montreal show, Gamble went to Toronto to finish recording some new music, which she says will be released soon. She plans to perform as much as she can in the near future, and thanks American Idol for the opportunity to grow and develop as an artist.

“I’m so incredibly grateful to have had that experience and to share that,” she said. Gamble also thanked all of the other artists she met at her audition and said she still speaks to people she met there.

Gamble got her American Idol golden ticket, and her experience on the show’s Hollywood Week will be aired on Sunday and Monday.

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