Mad’s World: If you’re going to appear as a contestant on one of the reality TV music competitions (America’s Got Talent, American Idol, The Voice, X-Factor), your best bet is to get to the last few, and then not win. That’s a tactic that has worked for the likes of Adam Lambert, Kat Robichaud, Melanie Martinez, and many more musicians who have gone on to forge a successful career post-television. Madilyn Bailey is the latest addition to that list.
Bailey appeared on AGT in 2021, initially impressing the judges with a song made out of the hate comments she received online. She would go on to make it to the semi-finals before exiting, with magician Dustin Tavella eventually winning (Brooke Simpson, in fourth, was the highest placed musical act).
“If I were to go back and say should I do this again, yeah I would,” Bailey says, two years later. “I think it was cool, because it exposed me to a brand new audience. I’m really glad I did it with already having 10-plus years of experience in the industry, because then I wasn’t devastated when somebody didn’t like something that I did. I feel like if I’d done it when I was 16, it might have just destroyed any shred of confidence that I had. But at my point in my career, I realize that it’s a TV show, and it’s meant for entertainment purposes. But I had a really good experience. Simon Cowell was super supportive of me and my journey on the show. He had a lot of words of advice for me after the show, which was really encouraging.”
If you make your entrance on a show by flaunting your ability to make magic out of criticism, a few harsh words from Howie Mandel aren’t gonna phase ya! Bailey has been preparing for this shot for a long, long time.
“I practicality came out of the womb singing,” she says. “‘Hi world, I’m here.” Putting on little shows for my family, and then I think I started taking it seriously when I performed at my school’s talent show. My whole school was so supportive, and I was such a shy kid at that point that I was like, ‘I’m not even sure that you guys knew that I existed until this moment.’ But they were so supportive and also my parents were super supportive of everything. I posted my first video on YouTube I think in 2009 on my YouTube channel – I think that was my first video. I looked terrified. It’s still there, it exists, it keeps me humble and reminds me that even when we think we’re really awesome, we might not be. There’s a lot of room for growth.”
That first video, 13 years ago, saw (a yes, terrified-looking) Bailey covering Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” (“Adam Lambert-style”).
“I think after I posted that first video, I started getting a snowball, an overwhelming response of positivity, and people enjoyed what I was doing,” she says. “I posted more and more videos, and then I started getting phone calls from people in L.A. from management companies and TV shows, and shortly after my first year of posting videos, I was flying out to L.A. to start doing my first recording sessions and songwriting sessions. That was when I fell in love with L.A. I knew I was going to move here eventually.”
Bailey moved to Los Angeles in 2014 from a small town in Wisconsin. She told us, as she told the AGT judges, that her hometown has, “more cows than human beings.” Thanks to the internet though, she was able to reach a large audience from her home at a young age. Since then, she’s consistently posted new videos, and seen her fanbase steadily grow. The TV appearance didn’t hurt, and now she’s just released her debut album, Hollywood Dead.
“I would say the sound for Hollywood Dead is, it’s definitely a pop project,” she says. “But there are moments on this album that lean toward Avril Lavigne pop. There are moments that lean toward a Carly Rae Jepsen/Katy Perry pop. There’s some Lana del Rey moments. So I would say the best of pop music is what this album sounds like.”
She’s not wrong. The album is unashamedly pop, though it’s anything but vacuous. The lyrics are thoughtful, considered and heartfelt, including the title track.
“The title comes from a writing session that was in a year ago, right around this time, where I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m about to turn 30, I’m basically Hollywood dead,’” Bailey says. “It’s just this joke that aging in the industry is different to aging in real life. In real life, you turn 30 and you’re still just figuring out being an adult. You’re still at the beginning of your life. But in the music industry, you turn 30 and suddenly you’re like the older person in all of your writing sessions. In the rooms for America’s Got Talent, one of the kids I was singing with was 9 years old. My YouTube channel is older than him.”
Yeah, it’s fucking gross. And it’s harder for women, who have to deal with unrealistic image expectations, too.
“I would argue it’s a little bit harder especially for women, as there’s a certain expectation of youth and beauty,” Bailey says. “But again, I think the industry is moving in the direction of the artist being able to have a lot more control over their audience in the sense that they can have more of a connection, they can make a more authentic connection with the audience and have that personal bond, whereas like before, to access your audience, you needed a label, you needed radio or something. Nowadays, you can have a thriving career as an independent artist. Myself, I’m independent. I’m releasing this whole project independently, funded by the Bank of Madilyn.”
You’ve got to love that DIY work ethic. Musicians relocating to L.A. need that drive if they want to thrive here.
“I think the moment I stepped off the plane in L.A., I fell in love with the city,” she says. “I love the hustle, I love the people, I love the ideas, I love the culture. There’s so much here that can enrich your experience and your perspective as an artist, and there’s also a lot of things here that can distract you and get in the way, and cause unnecessary trauma and anger and frustration. Navigating Hollywood is about finding the right group of people that you vibe with to work with. It doesn’t need to be the people who have the biggest names. It could be – I’ve worked with 19-year-old producers who are here for the first time and they have the coolest, most interesting ideas and perspectives. So it’s just about finding people that you vibe with. Good, quality humans that are here for the art. Those people exist; there’s a lot of them here.”
Bailey, who becomes a mom in November, will be releasing more videos over the remainder of the year to support the album. This is a time of celebration for the singer and songwriter. She’ll likely receive more criticism online but, hey, she might get another song out of the comments.
Mad’s World: Madilyn Bailey’s Hollywood Dead album is out now.
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