Updated: September 29, 2022
Singer and songwriter Lily Meola of Maui wowed judge Heidi Klum and drew a standing ovation in her Season 17 performance of “Daydream” on the 2022 edition of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, Tuesday night.
“To have that kind of reaction was amazing and unexpected and really special,” said Meola in a phone interview with Maui Now this morning.
The 27-year-old Meola performed the original song, which she wrote a couple of years ago when her career was taking off. She had signed with a major label and was named one of the “10 new country artists you need to know” in 2016 by Rolling Stone magazine.
According to Meola, the meaning of the original song evolved over the past two years. “I wrote it at a time in my life when things were really beautiful, and I was essentially living my daydream. I had a major label record deal. I had a publishing deal. I had butterflies I was hatching. It was magical. It was just so beautiful, and I wanted other people to be able to feel that. And so that’s where it originated,” she said during the televised performance.
Then, in her words, “my life flipped upside down.”
She let go of her dreams to focus on becoming a full-time caretaker for her mom who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “I lost my record deal during that, but I think maybe it was a bit of a blessing because it gave me some extra time to really be there for her,” said Meola of her mother, who has since passed away.
“She was my biggest cheerleader… Singing was something my mom and I really connected with, and it’s how I fell in love with music in the first place… so I’m just trying to make her proud, and continue to live my daydream,” said Meola during the show.
“I had no intention of even telling my mom’s story, but Simon (Cowell) had asked me ‘What’s your story?’” Meola recounted. Instead of telling him her life story, Meola shared the meaning and inspiration of her song.
Taking a little of her own advice, Meola sang with all of her heart… and a lump in her throat: “Darlin’ don’t quit your daydream / It’s the life that you’re making / It ain’t big enough if it doesn’t scare the hell out of you.”
She traveled to the audition by herself and did so without much planning or discussion.
“The opportunity kind of presented itself, and I was like, you know what, I’m taking any stage I can get at this point to share my message with the world. What greater opportunity than one of the biggest stages in the world,” Meola told Maui Now.
“I didn’t really have much of a plan. All I knew is I wanted to share Daydream with the world, in the hopes that… someone would connect with it and hear something that they needed to hear,” she said. “Getting the Golden Buzzer was like… Holy s!@#… What just happened!”
Notoriously harsh Judge Simon Cowell, was endearing when critiquing Meola, saying, “There is something special about you… I know you’ve gone through a very difficult period. I think the fact that you’ve come back after what you’ve gone through–that says a lot about you Lily, so good for you.”
“I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless.. Just everything about you–you just light up,” said judge Heidi Klum during the show. “I see a light around you, and I don’t know. Immediately I fell in love with you. And for this season, Season 17, I was like–there’s always a lot of singers on the stage, and I was like, I want to give someone else a shot. But I can’t help it, because I really, really like you, so I’m just going to this,” Klum said as she hit the Golden Buzzer dropping a blanket of golden confetti across the stage and sending Meola on a ticket straight to the live show.
“I think you’re going to knock it out of the park,” said Klum to Meola.
When asked by host Terry Crews how she feels, Meola laughed and said, “I honestly–I’m just… I want to know what my mom has to say.” She continued saying, “She’d be so mad at me if I wasn’t pursuing what I love… and ‘Daydream’ was one of her favorite songs, so I think she’d be really happy wherever she might be.”
Charmed encounters: “It seems like a fairytale”
In grade school, Meola got the lead in a school musical at Waldorf School of Man of La Mancha. “I started taking singing lessons for that, and my mom realized how much it was helping me mentally, and also how much I loved it, and she started getting me gigs,” Meola recalled.
By the age of 11, Meola has been performing regularly at spots across the island including Stella Blues, Charley’s, Mulligan’s, and Café des Amis. That transitioned into events, weddings, and corporate events.
According to Meola, country music icon Willie Nelson would occasionally come to the weekly Tuesday night shows at Café des Amis in Pāʻia with his wife Annie. On one occasion, he sat in and sang Crazy at Meola side.
“After I was done with my set, he handed me a napkin and it had a few songs written on it, and one of them was Will you remember mine. He had said, if you would like to record any of these, let me know,” said Meola. “It seems like a fairytale, now that I talk about it.”
In the years that followed, Meola went on tour with Willie Nelson, and also recorded Will You Remember Mine as part of his duets album, and live at Farm Aid in 2014.
In addition to her mother and Nelson, Meola credits legendary producer Bob Rock (produced for Metallica, Michael Bublé), with taking early interest in her music. “He actually was one of the first people to take an interest in me as a singer,” said Meola who grew up with Rock’s daughters.
In 2016, Meola worked to produce a record of her own so that she could have some music to back her name.
Her debut album, They Say, under the Interscope label, was never released, but it featured duets with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, both of whom own homes on Maui.
“The issue for that record for me was, I hadn’t written before,” said Meola. She explained that the album included songs that either people had written for her, or covers.
At the end of production for that record, Meola was invited to Nashville to go and write. “I absolutely fell in love with writing and realized that I could do it. It fully changed my whole perspective on what I was doing and gave me an outlet to actually say things that I wanted to say, and have songs about things that I’m going through or have been through… and so I kind of threw that record away in some sorts, you know, as heartbreaking as that sounds. But it just wasn’t true to who I was,” Meola told Maui Now.
Vibe: singer/songwriter pop artist with folk/country in the mix
“My biggest goal as an artist and a songwriter is just to connect with people, and share my experiences and hopefully people can relate to what I’ve been through–so we can all just feel a little less alone,” said Meola.
“You know, I hate to be put in a box,” said Meola of her style, which ranges from country to folk, and pop. “I love so many different kinds of music, and I connect with a lot of stuff. I want to be able to do whatever my heart desires. I’d say, it’s kind of like a singer songwriter pop, with potentially a little folk-country thing in the mix.”
Lily’s road ahead and return to Maui:
With a Golden Buzzer performance under her belt, Meola advances straight to the live episodes of America’s Got Talent, which are set to air in August. America’s Got Talent airs weekly on NBC Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
Meola returns to Maui in September, and is scheduled to perform with her friend Goth Babe at Da Playground in Māʻalaea.
She said she is looking forward to putting out new music as well.