Two months after taking third place on Season 20 of “American Idol,” notoriously upbeat singer-songwriter Leah Marlene stunned fans with a lengthy and vulnerable post about how difficult things have been for her since the show ended.
Known for her eccentric personality and positive outlook, the 21-year-old from Normal, Ill., was riding high after the show’s star-studded, live finale on May 22, 2022 — including a duet of “Firework” with judge Katy Perry — when she joyfully told fans she felt like “the biggest winner” despite coming in third. She immediately dove into opportunities to advance her music career, including an overseas acoustic tour with the US Navy, signing with booking agency Madison House, and moving to Los Angeles to find an apartment with fellow “Idol” alum Allegra Miles.
But in a candid letter posted to Instagram on July 26, Marlene admitted that she feels like she’s back to “square one” in her career and has reached a point of “complete emotional exhaustion.”
Leah Marlene Feels ‘Very Misunderstood’ in Music Industry
Marlene started out her vulnerable post by saying that she “could write a novel” about what it’s been like in the weeks since “American Idol” ended.
“Moral of the story,” she wrote,” is that it has been really freaking hard. I have been working my ass off nonstop to make something happen out of this and I feel like I’m going in never ending circles. I feel very misunderstood by the industry and it has made me question everything about who I am and what I want.”
She then said it’s hard not to notice the success other “Idol” alumni are experiencing. For instance, she is not part of the just-announced Nashville shows featuring singers hand-selected by 19 Entertainment’s record label — the company that created “American Idol.” It’s not clear if all featured artists have been signed to record deals with the label, but the Season 20 contestants scheduled to perform include winner Noah Thompson and runner-up HunterGirl, as well as Marlene’s good friend Fritz Hager and future roommate Allegra Miles.
Marlene wrote, “I love my friends so much and am so incredibly happy and proud to see them thriving post show, but in my own selfish little world the comparison game has made these few months that much harder. I know I have countless people that are so proud of me and believe in me so deeply. And I know that we are all on our own journey and our own timeline. But somehow I just feel so deeply alone in this experience. I’m at the point of complete emotional exhaustion and I can no longer pretend like it all doesn’t phase me. I feel incredibly lost, confused, stuck, and beyond all things, frustrated. I do recognize that many things have changed in my life because of the show, but in almost every way I still have found myself back at square one.”
Because the note was too long to fit inside Instagram’s space for captions, Marlene continued “Part 2” of her vulnerable post in the comment section, about the frustration of working so hard on her music career only to feel like she’s starting all over again.
She wrote, “Anybody that knows me knows that I have been putting my EVERYTHING into pursuing this dream for well over 6 years now (+ the 7 years of performing and learning my craft even before that). I didn’t just come on this show with no experience and a naive little dream of pop stardom. I have been putting the work in for over half of my life time. So it feels pretty s****y to feel like I’m back at the start all over again after such a promising opportunity.”
“I know my value and I know that I have something incredibly unique and important to contribute to music and to this world,” Marlene continued. “I just wish somebody that had any power could see it too (and not be afraid of the work it takes to think outside of the box and take the road less traveled in an industry of quick money and apathy).”
Marlene finished her post by writing, “Anyway. I know this season is paving the way for something so beautiful in the future and it’s all going to be alright. I just can’t not be transparent about this current season not being the dream come true that so many people that follow me here think it is. Thank you for your endless encouragement, love and support. Here’s to brighter days ahead!”
To accompany her note, Marlene posted a video of herself with an acoustic guitar, singing a piercing and somber original tune that she thanked fellow artists Drew Erwin and Justin Jordan for writing with her. Before singing, she added text over the video that said, “If you’re feeling lost/confused/frustrated/stuck in life this one is for you.” She wrote that the words about overthinking her path and purpose have been “a big ole safety blanket to me the past two months.”
Marlene is Blown Away By Response From Castmates & Fans
As soon as Marlene uploaded her letter and video, fans and fellow “Idol” castmates swarmed her page with words of support.
One fan wrote, “You shouldn’t have to feel like you should hide the negative feelings and only show the good side of your life. We are all struggling and you shouldn’t have to hide that. We all support you and love you very much.”
Another wrote, “You absolutely rock, girl, and you must know that we all want you to hit it big and you will. It’ll happen.”
Marlene also heard from some of her “American Idol” family, including receiving “likes” on the post from the show’s music director, Kris Pooley, warmup host Josh Randall, and backup singer Felicia Barton.
Season 20 castmates chimed in, too. For instance, Emyrson Flora, who placed in the Top 10, told her, “You’re amazing.”
Jay Copeland, who made it to the Top 7, wrote, “Love you boop I’m HERE BESIDE YOU ALWAYS” with multiple red heart emojis.
Top 20 contestant Elli Rowe wrote, “Love u so much and resonate with u so much!! I am endlessly proud of you and here for you.”
All the love quickly made an impact on Marlene. About an hour after publishing her brave post, she uploaded a photo of herself — with her tie-dye hoodie tightened around her head — to her Instagram Stories.
Over the photo, she added text that said, “I think I’m going to write your comments on that last post every day for the rest of my life.”
In a separate caption, Marlene wrote, “thank you for all your words of wisdom. i debated posting about this for a while but holy guacamole do i feel like a weight has been lifted in being transparent with you all. i cannot tell you how much your encouragement means to me right now. thank you.”