In 2019, Amara Valerio ’24, then a high school junior, was tapped to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at her school’s graduation. But the honor turned to horror when a senior stepped to the podium, grabbed the microphone out of Valerio’s hand and sang the national anthem herself.
Three years later, Valerio posted video of the incident on TikTok, where it drew more than 10 million views – including one from an American Idol producer, who invited her to audition for the show.
And on March 12, moments after the Academy Awards broadcast ended, Valerio soulfully covered Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” on American Idol’s early season auditions.
The superstar judges harmoniously shouted their joyful reaction: “You’re going to Hollywood!”
Valerio got the golden ticket, as she now heads to the show’s next round.
“I was singing in front of Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan,” said Valerio, an American studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences, from Yonkers, New York. “That’s insane to me. But once I walked into the audition room, my nerves went away and I felt like I was doing something I’d been working toward for a long time. That made me more excited.”
Quite literally, this was a childhood wish come true. “I've been watching American Idol since I was a little girl,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed of being on the show – like anybody else who sings.”
Idol judges Richie, Perry and Bryan played the notorious graduation video on the show Sunday night.
Beyond academics and her love for lattes from the Temple of Zeus campus cafe, Valerio sings in the Nothing But Treble all-women a cappella group, and she hopes to work toward societal equity.
She works at Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives and she interned at the Broome County (New York) public defender’s office. She collaborated with Bruce Levitt, professor of performing and media arts (A&S) on his research on the healing power of the Phoenix Players Theatre Group, which was founded by incarcerated men at the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York.
Valerio aids other students as a peer ambassador for her college, and works toward diversity and inclusion for Kappa Alpha Pi pre-law fraternity. She’s a Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar and a security student leader at Cornell’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art – where she happily sings within the walls of that I.M. Pei-designed building.
She said she’ll treasure the American Idol experience for the rest of her life. “As you can see in my audition, the judges were super kind and they were super on my side and supportive,” Valerio said. “It ended up being an awesome experience and the outcome was obviously awesome too.”
Valerio does not know the dates yet for her next steps on American Idol.