Six Belmont Students Get ‘American Idol’ Ticket to Hollywood

collage of American Idol photos
Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business

Six Belmont Students Get ‘American Idol’ Ticket to Hollywood

April 4, 2024 | by Haley Charlton

Full Circle Moment: Mia 

Sophomore Mia Hartounian’s journey with American Idol came full circle this year, having first auditioned for the iconic singing competition show when she was 16. 

"I got three ‘no’s’, and they said I wasn’t ready," Mia recalled. But rather than becoming discouraged, she used that experience as motivation. 

mia-hartounian.png“Instead of reacting to that moment and vowing to never touch music again, I started honing into my artistry and actually started writing songs and learning piano." 

It was from this experience, signing contracts from the show, that Mia also realized her interest in entertainment law, ultimately leading her to choose to attend Belmont. "If it weren't for American Idol, there's no way I would be at Belmont," she said. “Belmont was the only school I applied to where I would get to do exactly what I wanted to do.” 

Years later, Mia found herself back in the American Idol audition room, but this time as a music business and marketing double major at Belmont. She delivered a powerful performance of "Your Words" by Tori Kelly, dedicated to her late grandfather, catching the attention of judges Katy Perry and Lionel Richie to earn her golden ticket to Hollywood.  

“I still can't believe that American Idol came back around,” Mia reflected. “It was like a redemption story for me because I went in and got the golden ticket this time. Katy said she could tell I had a big voice I was shying away from and had me belt out the chorus. She's like, 'There's your voice.’” 

mia-at-american-idol.pngWhile Mia didn't make it past the iconic Hollywood Week, she feels grateful for the full circle experience and opportunity for growth, crediting much of the development that took her to the next round to her Belmont student experience.  

“I think God brought me there to help me get the nerves out, and I did. It really helped me push myself more on social media, do more writer's rounds and gain confidence that I know that I can do the singing thing,” she said. “But, while we were waiting for the results in Hollywood, I got an email with a digital marketing internship offer from Sony. It made me very excited to come back to Nashville, take everything that I absorbed in Hollywood and start applying it." 

She concluded, “I'm still learning and growing every day, and it's just awesome to be in an environment where I know that Belmont is supportive of artists and musicians and creativity. I could not get this experience at any other school.” 

The Belmont Cohort  

natalie-and-conall.jpgMia was one of six Belmont students who earned a golden ticket to Hollywood this season, joining Conall Gorman, Aniston Pate, Gabri Levine, Natalie Dickerson and Meredith Aguirre.  

While the journeys were difficult at times, with eliminations for all during the intense Hollywood Week, the students expressed gratitude for the experiential learning and professional growth American Idol provided. 

"It was inspiring to be around such talented people,” Aniston reflected. “Iron sharpens iron, and being around that much talent makes you want to work harder." 

"Hollywood is definitely the best of the best,” added Natalie. “Going through an experience with high stakes can really teach you a lot about yourself. It showed me ways I should be proud of myself and things I can focus on in the future.”  

Conall summed up the universal advice: "Be yourself, you know, don't overthink it. And if it doesn't work out the way you want it to, it's not reflective of you or your talent in any way." 



finder-american-idol.pngConall, a freshman songwriting major and music business minor, decided to come to Belmont because it offered more opportunities and connections in the music industry than others. That decision would pay off as Conall learned about the Idol opportunity specifically for Belmont students through his songwriting class.  

“I went into it with the mindset that I wasn't going to get it because I really don't view myself as that much of a singer. It's always been more about the lyrics and guitar playing for me,” he said. "It’s such a huge singing show, so I was just doing this for experience. I was just, I was pretty floored to make it through.” 

Conall’s performance of “Backseat” for the judges was aired on TV, furthering his main takeaway from the experience: expect the unexpected. 


aniston-pate.jpgAniston, a junior music business major and music minor, impressed the judges with an original song about her mom called “Hummingbird,” which was aired on TV 

“It was inspiring to be there with people who live totally different lives than we do – working and missing their families – whereas in Nashville we get to chase this dream every day,” she said. “Everyone is very talented, but it felt more encouraging than it did a competition. We became close friends and even broke out in worship while waiting to film our b-roll at one point. It was such a special few days we had together.” 


A sophomore songwriting major and music business minor who transferred to Belmont last August, Natalie got the call to audition for the judges on her first day of classes at Belmont. “It was so cool – starting my dream school and getting the Idol call the same day,” she said.  


Her short time at Belmont has already made a difference in her journey. “It gives you confidence being surrounded by people who are pouring into you, and I had professors that had already been giving me feedback on my songs. Even though the auditions happened just a couple of months after school started, there was still that sense of camaraderie with the six of us.” Natalie explained. “Moving forward, there's a whole new family I'm able to embark on this journey with.” 

"On top of that, there’s also the real-world experience I got,” she continued. “I'm actively signing contracts and hearing all the music business lingo that I was actively learning in my music business classes at the same time. I had professors able to help me out. So, there's being a part of Belmont that I think gave me so much confidence and more helping hands.” 


gabri-levine.pngFor Gabri, a sophomore commercial voice major, classes like the commercial voice seminar provided invaluable coaching that prepared her for the feedback during her audition. “The judges gave me some tweaking here and there, but then I got three ‘yeses’, and I was in shock.” 

Gabri said going into the show, she never intended to win. “The biggest intention for me (besides meeting Katy Perry) was just to learn and network and meet new people,” she explained. “Listening back to a video I have of my rehearsal, I totally see what the judges were saying. I've taken their notes close to heart and worked on those aspects so much more now. I learned so much from the experience.” 


As they return to their classes, studios and writing sessions around Nashville, these Belmont students carry invaluable experiences from American Idol that will undoubtedly propel them further toward their musical dreams.  


Natalie advises, “I would say to anyone who's interested, go for it with full confidence and zero expectations. You get out of it what you put into it. All you are promised is a great learning experience. Lean into the connections and relationships you make because they are some of the most talented people from all over the world in one place.” 

Mia agreed. “I wouldn't think in a million years that I would be auditioning for American Idol again, but the opportunity just presented itself to me.” 

“If you have a story to tell, then you need to tell it,” Mia continued. “You have to put yourself out there if you want this kind of career. This experience taught me a lot more than just singing certain notes; it taught me a lot about how to develop yourself. Even just being around other creatives was so inspiring. It felt just like Belmont – but the big leagues.”