The first audition out of the gate on Sunday night’s episode of American Idol was that of Laila Mach, a 15-year-old singer/songwriter from New Paltz. “You sound like you’re from New York,” said country star and Idol judge Luke Bryan with his Southern drawl. “Upstate New York,” corrected Mach, as she stood in front of music legends Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Bryan on a bare stage in San Diego, on the brink of auditioning for the world’s most renowned and successful singing competition.
When asked what she was going to sing, the young New Paltz High School choir student said with a smile that it was an original song that she had written based on Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” – “but angrier.” With that, she sat down at a piano with Perry, Richie and Bryan looking on and sang a moving rendition of her single “Drive off a Bridge,” which was released after the show aired.
“I thought you were the nicest, sweetest girl, and then…” joked Richie after Mach put some heat on the chorus of the song. “But as a 15-year-old songwriter, I have to give you props. Well done.” The judges teased one another about wanting an ex to drive off a bridge, but then Mach said, “He did crash his car two days after I wrote this, so I felt kind of guilty.”
“You have exactly what it takes to be in this competition and go far,” said Perry, and Mach’s face lit up. Bryan agreed, and Richie said, “It gives me so much pleasure to say, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’” “You’re going to Hollywood!” said Bryan.
Mach, in her modest way, thanked them and said, “I can’t wait to make my Mom cry,” which she did the second Mach stepped off the stage with the golden ticket.
That was in October. Laila Mach and her family had to keep it quiet until the big reveal on New Year’s Eve that she would be on the show, and then the second big announcement last week that her audition would air on Sunday evening, March 7.
This was last night.
It was a typical New Paltz neighborhood, half the lawns still holding onto some snow and the first blush of grass visible in between patches of mud and asphalt. On one mailbox, a simple bouquet of white balloons was tied to the post, but around the corner came a line of cars that stretched for a half-mile. Many of them were blasting the soulful, velvety sound of 15-year-old Laila Mach on the evening when the New Paltz High School student’s moving rendition of her original song, “Drive off a Bridge,” was scheduled to air on American Idol.
Family, friends, neighbors and even the New Paltz Police Department, Fire Department and Rescue Squad lined up to signal their support for the teenage singer/songwriter prior to the start of the hit ABC show, now in its 19th season, which reaches millions every week. At 6 p.m., they did a drive-by parade past the Mach home, with balloons and handmade signs that read, “Laila IS the NEW AMERICAN IDOL!” and “I’m Bat Shit Crazy for Laila!” with horns honking, her music blaring and sirens signaling celebration.
“I didn’t know I knew this many people,” responded Laila as she stood in the driveway surrounded by her two young sisters, mother and father, aunts and uncles and cousins and her new Idol bestie Victoria Lopez, who is also headed to Hollywood. “We met while auditioning, and then I found out that she lives in Monroe!” explained Laila. “I’m so happy to have found her and made this special friendship.”
“My Mom’s been so supportive. Honestly, I wouldn’t be here without her,” said Laila of SaraBeth Valentino-Mach, as the aspiring singer soaked in the support in the frigid March air. SaraBeth’s friend Nora Scandariato, who helped her organize the drive-by parade to signify how much work went into making it to the live singing competition, could not say enough about Laila’s commitment to her craft and her mother’s unwavering support. “It’s been hard,” said Scandariato, noting that SaraBeth “has had to deal with all of the scheduling and getting Laila to the studio and out to California with two little ones at home, and then all of the Covid precautions and quarantine to work through.” She explained that Laila’s father, James Mach, is a hospital nurse who – especially back when the auditions started, prior to the vaccine – could not afford to get sick. “She’s been a rock for her daughter.”
Natalya Mach, Laila’s aunt, who was there with her young daughters, could not agree more. “That kid has worked so hard to get where she is, and this is just amazing and unbelievable to see all of these people in our community come out like this to show their support. I’m so proud of her.”
“She was singing before she could talk,” said James Mach as he kept on eye on their younger daughters, Paityn, 10, and Mia, 6. Asked when he first noticed that something was different about her voice – that moment when he thought it wasn’t just a dad loving hearing his kid’s pipes belt out a tune – he said, “The first time I thought ‘She could make a career out of her voice’ was when she auditioned for New Paltz Rock Academy when she was 13. She sang Alicia Keys’ ‘Fallen,’ and the New Paltz Rock director said he thought it was the radio, when it was Laila.”
Scandariato and her husband R. J. remember watching Laila perform at the Highland Street Festival two years ago. “She was singing, and there was no one there except a few family members and friends like us,” she said. “Within just a few minutes of her singing, she had drawn a huge crowd to her. It was amazing.”
As Laila posed for pictures and waved and thanked people for their show of support, her mom took a moment to speak with Hudson Valley One. “I’m so grateful for people to have taken the time and come out here to show Laila that her community supports her,” said SaraBeth. “I don’t know if there are words for this.”
Gesturing to the parade of cars and family and friends gathering in the driveway, James said that, after all of these months, “This is making it all a little more real. And then there’s Hollywood!”
In fact, we know from the promotional video that American Idol released on New Year’s Eve that Laila moves on to Hollywood. There she’ll have the opportunity to try to get through three rounds before moving on to the voting stage, where the television audience gets to decide whom they want to stay on the show. Laila said that she can’t reveal anything, but “If she were to have to choose a cover song,” she’d be inclined to go for Alicia Keys, Clinton Kane or Avery Lynch.
While the glitter is in the air and Hollywood looms closer, the Machs are just another young family, trying to make it through their days one step at a time, with the two younger ones mostly homeschooled due to Covid-19, Laila having a new host of American Idol responsibilities and preparations and travel, and Mom and Dad trying to keep it all flowing. “It’s been challenging, but worth every second,” said SaraBeth as her younger girls swirled around her and the dog jumped.
For Laila, the hardest part hasn’t been preparing for the show, the pressure of appearing live in front of such music icons or the show itself and all of the learning curves that come with it and the intense competition. She said that everyone she has met through Idol thus far has been great, and her friend Lopez is a testament to the friendships she has already made on this journey. She admitted that navigating having her boyfriend break up with her just after she auditioned for the show, as well as some of the cattiness than can creep up in a small school, can be hurtful. But she’s grateful for her family and her community and this opportunity.
If she can win the hearts of Perry, Richie, Bryan and most of America, chances are that Laila Mach will go as far as she dreams she can go. New Paltz will be tuning in every week to see her performances. Her Hollywood debut is slated to air two weeks from today.
To see her performances, videos or download her music, visit @lailamachofficial. If you missed the audition, just go to YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z908qgHNJWg.