'Idol to be?' Former Rochester resident Elli Rowe sang her own song for Katy, Luke and Lionel

Former Rochester resident Elli Rowe played an original song in front of the celebrity judges in Nashville.

Elli Rowe will be on this season's "American Idol"
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ROCHESTER — Like many kids, Elli Rowe used to pretend she was a musician auditioning on “American Idol.” In Rowe’s case, she also had parents who played along.

“They would act as judges and critique the performance,” Rowe said.

Rowe, who spent much of her childhood in Rochester, realized a long-shot dream and is appearing on this season’s “American Idol” on ABC.

Rowe, a sophomore at Belmont University in Nashville, wasn’t even sure she would audition for the show. She had other obligations the day producers offered Belmont students a chance to show them their talent.

“I almost didn’t want to do it,” she said.


A bit of parental prodding might have helped.

“Every time (“American Idol”) would come on in previous years, my dad would say, 'you should audition,'" Rowe said. “I’d say, yeah, okay, sure.”

Rowe knew people auditioning face multiple hurdles. However, an audition via Zoom last fall from her dorm room seemed easy enough.

The producer she sang for bumped her to another, and then another. After several rounds of remote auditions, Elli was invited to perform live in front of this season’s panel of celebrity judges.

The day of her audition, she was instructed to arrive at the a theater at 8 a.m. She sat for promotional photos and practiced the original song she was going to play to kill time.

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At 9:30 p.m., she was rushed on stage, she said.

It was time for her to perform in front of Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.

“Walking into that room, it felt like a hologram; it felt so unreal,” she said. “One minute you’re sitting around, the next minute, they say, ‘go in, you have to go right now.’”


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Elli Rowe
Contributed photo

Rowe said there were pros and cons to performing her own song. Playing her own song would mean the judges would also be judging her written work.

“It’s sort of the most vulnerable state to be in as a musician,” Rowe said.

It was also comforting, she added.

“I could be my most authentic self,” Rowe said. “It was just me, my guitar and my song.”

In addition to playing “Idol” judges, both Rowe’s parents play music.

“My dad is always humming something,” Elli said.

Elli’s mother, Kari Rowe said she knew Elli had talent, but also knew the odds of making it onto “American Idol” were steep.

“I don't know that we ever really expected her to be on the show,” Kari Rowe said. “We knew she was talented at an early age, but the number of people that get a chance to appear on a TV show like that is so small that I don't think it's ever really ever able to be predicted.”


The episode featuring Elli’s performance will air later this season. “American Idol” airs on ABC at 7 p.m. and streams on Hulu.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or
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