By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN Though they’re not sisters, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake Kassidy Knaus of Delano and her cousin, Casey Carlson of Eden Prairie as not falling far from the same tree.
Knaus, a sixth grade student at Delano Middle School, has similar aspirations to those of her cousin Casey, who made it into the top 36 contestants of the hit television series “American Idol 8” this winter.
Knaus invited her cousin to speak to her sixth grade classmates at Delano Elementary School April 28 about her experiences on the show.
Carlson was in the first group of 12 contestants to perform out of the top 36. She didn’t receive enough votes to secure a spot among the finalists, and the judges did not give her a second chance on the wild card show.
Carlson’s presentation to the students in Delano included a Powerpoint slideshow of “behind-the-scenes” photos from “American Idol,” as well as fielding questions from the students and giving out autographed photos.
After sharing with the students, Carlson and Knaus were excited simply to see each other and also about how the presentation went.
“I thought they were pretty good ones,” Knaus said of the questions her classmates asked Carlson. “They basically got the gist of what really goes on behind the scenes and how it all works. Hopefully, they liked it.”
Carlson agreed, and said, “They definitely focused on what it’s like to be on the show and backstage, and I thought those would be the kinds of things that would be fun for them to know.”
Carlson is presently in the process of recording a demo to use to shop for a record deal. At this stage in her life, she is continuing to find herself as an artist and looking to take the next steps in her career.
“A lot of the fans that talked to me and saw me on the show said that they really heard a country twang in my voice, which is definitely true,” Carlson said. “I think that, naturally, that’s just the way my voice sounds, so I think that my music is going to sort of lean in that direction and my voice is going to make it tie all together. It’s not like I’m from Nashville and have all these country roots, it’s just that that is sort of the style I really like. Sort of a Colbie Caillat kind of meets Taylor Swift not a severe country pop, but more like a folky pop.”
She hopes her sound will be well-received.
She hasn’t made any visits to Nashville yet, but has plans to do so this summer to visit a few fellow Idol contestants who live there.
“I’m really excited for that,” Carlson said.
Carlson described being back from Los Angeles and trying to get back to a sense of “normalcy” as interesting.
“It’s like being on a really, really long roller coaster, like high highs and low lows, and you get off and you’re so dizzy,” she said. “You’re turned around and you don’t know where to go. It’s definitely taken the last month-and-a-half to feel some sense of normalcy right now.”
Carlson said she will have to take summer classes this year at the University of Minnesota, since she got behind on her class load while being in Los Angeles for “American Idol,” and she said it’s important for her to graduate on time.
In between her studies, she has landed a job working for the CW Television Network, which will keep her busy with on-air segments and events. Her college major is in mass communications, and Carlson said her dream job would be to someday work the red carpet and “to be like a female Ryan Seacrest,” as well as continuing to pursue music.
Her immediate plans call for her to continue creating original music and finishing her demo, and then ultimately moving to Los Angeles with those experiences under her belt. She hopes to venture into songwriting more this summer, as well.
“I’ll probably have to collaborate with some songwriters before I can create something good on my own,” Carlson said.
Carlson has also done some modeling, which she explained will be secondary moving forward in her career.
“For me, I love modeling, but I think in my life, that will be sort of a thing that comes along with the rest of my career,” Carlson said. “I would much rather be a celebrity who goes on photo shoots, rather than a model.”
Carlson grew up in Eden Prairie, graduating from Eden Prairie High School in 2006. While there, she took part in choir and musical theatre. She has also been a competitive cheerleader.
When Carlson was attending high school, she received the opportunity to attend a summer program at New York University, and moved to Greenwich Village.
“I didn’t think that I was going to go into music theatre. I always thought that I was going to be the Broadway girl,” Carlson said.
That experience also made Carlson think she may not be cut out for life or a career in Los Angeles or at least ready for it yet. She returned to Minnesota, finished high school, and began attending college. After two years, Carlson said she wasn’t really sure what direction her life was taking.
“I was bored. I didn’t feel like I had any purpose,” she said. “I stopped singing, and I was like, ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ I lost my goals.”
After New York, Carlson said she “went home and grew up a little bit,” and then decided she was ready to try the west coast. “American Idol” had also been an aspiration of Carlson’s throughout most of her teenage years and into her early 20s.
“It was always something I knew I was going to do someday,” Carlson said. She started watching the show when she was in the eighth grade, and said she knew she wanted to try out for Idol while watching it the year Carrie Underwood won.
“I knew that was something I could really see myself doing,” Carlson said. “A lot of people sort of consider it to be a sellout for artists, like, if you’re a singer and you go on ‘American Idol,’ that means you can’t make it on your own. I don’t think that way at all. I think Carrie Underwood once said that you pay your dues on ‘American Idol,’ and you work really, really hard, so it’s not like you are just popping out to get instant fame it’s work.”
Carlson tried out for Twin Cities Idol in 2007 and finished fourth, then tried out for “American Idol” the following August in Kansas City.
One of the things that surprised Carlson the most about being on “American Idol” was the ability for her to make friends with the other contestants on the show.
“I expected to make friends, but I didn’t expect to be so close to the people because you’d think that everyone was in competition,” Carlson said. “You don’t have your friends and family to support you, and no one knows what you’re going through but the people who are going through it with you, so you really, really use them as a method of support.”
Even though they weren’t there in Los Angeles with Carlson, her extended family in Delano was cheering her along every step of the way.
“The night before the Kansas audition aired, we saw, like, a three-second blip of her face and we all started screaming it was so funny,” Knaus said. “When the judges were making their comments, we’d be screaming at the TV screen.”
“Your heart just breaks when they say bad things,” Knaus’ mother Renie, who is Carlson’s aunt, said, “but that’s just part of the show.”
Renie said one of the most difficult things while watching Carlson go through the audition process was keeping quiet as she kept advancing her way to Hollywood.
Carlson said she isn’t able to spend as much time as she’d like with her family, but said she is planning a vacation with them in a few weeks.
“I really wish that we lived closer to each other,” Carlson said. “The times that I do come out and see them for holidays and special events, it’s the best. I love being with my cousins.”
Carlson has one older sister, Carissa, who lives in San Francisco. Looking fondly at 12-year-old Knaus, Carlson said it’s “like she’s my little sister.”
Taking one look at the two girls, most people would probably think the same thing. Knaus has already been following in Carlson’s footsteps and finding herself in the spotlight, as well.
“I love acting, singing, dancing anything in that field, and she’s been helping me get through that,” Knaus said. “I’m trying out for all the plays here in Delano. It’s something I love to do, and I can see myself in that field when I grow older.”
Carlson said she and Knaus may be working together on a project this summer with a friend of Carlson’s who is making a movie for a senior thesis project.
Much like Carlson has taken the stage on a nationwide level, Knaus has followed her footsteps and has taken the stage at Delano Middle School, having a part in the production of “Mulan” as Mushu the dragon in September 2008, under the direction of Barb Roy.
“That was really exciting,” Knaus said. “I had so much fun doing that.”
Knaus also played the part of a snail in “A Year with Frog and Toad.”
“She has a great voice and stage presence,” Roy said about Knaus. “Kassidy has a great voice with the ‘Broadway Belt’ quality which could take her far. When she is on stage, she really lights up and draws the audiences eye to her.”
Carlson confided Knaus’ aspirations for being cast as Veruca Salt in the upcoming Delano Middle School production of “Willy Wonka Junior.”
“We’re crossing our fingers she’s going to get that,” Carlson said. Rehearsals begin in August, and the play will make its run Sept. 10-12.
Knaus was born in Eden Prairie, and moved with her family father Jason, mother Renie, and younger siblings Kaily, 10, and Cole, 7 to Delano about two years ago from Rockford. Between Renie and her sister, Monica, they have five children who grew up more like siblings than cousins.
“I’m the big sister, and I have to set a good example, so it’s good to have Casey. She’s my honorary big sister and I can look up to her,” Knaus said.
One thing Knaus has learned from her older cousin is that the most important thing is to set goals for herself.
“I’ve learned, basically, even from her whole ‘American Idol’ experience, that all I have to do is set a goal, and if I just dream and work hard for it, I can achieve it,” Knaus said.
And that’s exactly what Carlson is hoping to share with students when she speaks at schools or at other events.
“I do believe that if you know you’re made to do something and you really believe that it’s in your reach and you don’t accept no for an answer, that it’s gonna happen,” Carlson said. “The top 36 out of a hundred thousand people, and it was my first year trying out I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I don’t think that was luck. I think that was really just because I set a goal and I worked for it. I think that any small- town person from Minnesota can do the same.”
Since she has been back in Minnesota, Carlson has spoken at several schools and made a handful of appearances at some non-profit events. She said she’ll be singing at a Little League game next week, but said there is a three-month period where she is limited to what she can do because of her appearance on “American Idol.”
“We have to send in and get permission to do small stuff,” Carlson said. “Just to make sure it’s documented.”
Carlson fans can expect to hear her version of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” as the first offering from her demo that she did during an Idol audition.
“It’s going to be a ‘Taylor Swifty’ kind of version of that song, so that fans from the show who originally saw me and liked that song will want to go out and buy it,” Carlson said.
Looking at the future possibilities for her niece, Renie said, “I think with Casey, this is just the beginning. Whatever path she takes, she’ll be very successful.”
‘American Idol’ questions as asked by Delano sixth graders
Delano Middle School sixth graders asked Carlson a variety of questions, as well as asking some of the same questions more than once.
Carlson said she is still getting used to being recognized when she goes to the mall or out shopping.
Do you play any instruments?
Carlson said she did not, but encouraged youth to play and have music be a part of their lives.
“If I were your age again, I’d definitely encourage you to stick with it if you play an instrument,” she said, adding that doing so can help when it comes to arranging music.
What was your favorite part of the show?
“Getting to know people,” Carlson replied. She said in actuality, there wasn’t a lot of singing that was done during production of the show.
“I probably learned more about reality TV than singing,” she said.
What was your favorite song you sang?
Carlson said her favorite was a song that didn’t actually hit the airwaves called “Fall For You” by the band, Secondhand Serenade.
Will you go to the finale?
“I had the opportunity to go, and could get tickets through my friends who are on the show,” Carlson said, but said that is when she has her family vacation planned, so she won’t be attending.
How tall is (“American Idol” host) Ryan Seacrest?
Do you have a band?
Carlson presently does not have a full band behind her, but is utilizing some powerful musicians from the Nashville scene to help her create her demo.
Who is your favorite past Idol?
“It was Jordin Sparks, but now it’s David Cook,” Carlson said.
How far did you make it on Idol?
“I made it into the top 36 and was on two live shows,” Carlson said.
What is your favorite type of music?
Carlson said it’s probably a mixture of indie rock and folk music.
Who is your favorite singer?
“I listen to bands a lot more than solo artists, but probably Katy Perry or Taylor Swift.”
What is your favorite song?
“That’s a good question,” Carlson said. “Probably something by The Postal Service.”
Will you try out for “American Idol” again?
Carlson explained that once someone makes it to the semi-finals, they’re not eligible to try out again.
Who are you rooting for this season?
Carlson said she was rooting for Matt Giraud, but since he was eliminated last week, she favors Kris Allen now.
Do you like AC/DC?
“I don’t really listen to them much,” Carlson said with a smile, “But, they’re great musicians.”
For more information
For more information about Casey Carlson, visit her newly-launched web site, www.caseycarlsonmusic.com, or her crew page at www.thecwtc.com. Both are still works in progress, but can be used to keep tabs on Carlson and her latest career updates.
“They can also follow me on Myspace and Twitter,” Carlson said, noting she has been posting video blogs and photos.