First published in the April 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Growing up, Sage McNeely spent her Saturday mornings listening to the Beatles while her father cooked pancakes. The band later became her greatest musical influence.
This week, millions of viewers watched her impress a panel of “American Idol” judges with an original song. The father of the 21-year-old Burroughs High School alumna who’d first introduced her to the Beatles stood alongside her as he strummed on his guitar. And he was by her side as, one by one, the judges voted to award her a golden ticket.
A Valley Village resident, McNeely appeared on the show on Sunday, March 27, to perform her original song “Again.” The clip, in which celebrity judges praise her voice and approve her transition to the next stage of the competition, gained nearly 200,000 views on YouTube this week.
McNeely said in a recent interview with the Leader that while she was nervous during her audition — even saying she felt like she was seeing her performance for the first time when the episode aired — the amount of support she’s received has surprised her.
“I’ve just gotten so much love and positivity that [have] almost been overwhelming,” McNeely said in a recent interview. “I didn’t really anticipate [having] this many people behind me.”
While attending Burroughs, McNeely joined the Sound Sensations show choir, performing as a main soloist in her freshman year. She later performed with the school’s Powerhouse show choir and went on to win multiple musical competitions, even performing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2019 and Miami’s New World Center in 2020.
The process of auditioning for “American Idol” last year was intimidating, McNeely said, especially considering she hadn’t released her music to a wide audience yet. But for show judge and singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, McNeely brought a “package” to the stage.
“I can’t wait to vote because I do believe that this package is going to be a little eye-opener to the rest of those contestants,” Richie said after McNeely’s performance.
McNeely explained that having her father, Raymond, accompany her onstage provided an advantage, as the pair write music together.
“As a singer, you get comfortable with someone playing [alongside you],” she said. “So, when it’s your father, that’s like two halves of one brain.”
McNeely, who said her support network also includes her mother, her aunt, her best friend, her boyfriend and others, headed to the “Hollywood Week” portion of the show, where judges will decide which contestants will continue to the next round. She intends to work as hard as she can, whatever the results.
“I feel like for me, if I continue to put in the work that I’ve been putting into my career thus far, I feel I will have a pretty good shot at making it,” she added. “Whether that’s … leaving in Hollywood Week or winning the whole thing, it doesn’t matter for me. It’s just my journey, and my journey ends as it started.”
“American Idol” airs on ABC at 8 p.m. Sundays and Mondays. McNeely’s first EP, a two-track album titled “Metamorphosis,” is available on Spotify and Apple Music under the artist name Sage.