For a moment in time, Jackson Gillies believed the American Idol stage was where he belonged.
A lifetime of adversity had battered him emotionally and physically, but he found comfort and hope in the welcoming arms of the show.
From the thousands of people who auditioned, the show’s producers found him, and the judges, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan chose him, to be part of their television family.
Gillies, a 19-year-old singer-songwriter, with a rich voice, a country-pop style and a boyish charm, thought American Idol would rescue him.
Just a year prior, Gillies could barely move in his bed, suffering from a skin disease called hidradenitis suppurativa, which causes abscesses to form on the body. Gillies has scars on his neck and chest from the condition.
For a moment, American Idol took the painful memories away.
“I felt like I could conquer the world,” Gillies told Noozhawk. “I was holding the Golden Ticket overlooking the entire skyline of Los Angeles.”
Gillies’ moment would fade. More importantly, however, his heart would change. Gillies was cut in March after performing an original song. He knew his elimination was inevitable, and he welcomed it.
“I was definitely sad,” Gillies told Noozhawk. “But it was meant to happen for a reason.”
The Santa Barbara resident has put the American Idol experience behind him, and he is looking ahead to a bigger and better life.
“I’m letting things happen naturally,” Gillies told Noozhawk. “That is the biggest success I have found. Let things happen naturally. Leave room for serendipity. It is impossible to control and map out your own destiny. If you leave yourself open to the world and manifest, and ask for things and just live in the moment, things are going to come a lot easier to you.”
Inside his home in the hills above Santa Barbara, Gillies on Sunday strummed his guitar and sang some of his original song. He’s about to release a new single, called “Girl, Oh Goodness, Why?” a soulful, sultry ballad. In his living room, with James Dean posters on the wall, 10 guitars surrounding him and a hillside view, Gillies is downright giddy about his future.
He plays regular gigs around town and mentors young musicians. He has made celebrity friends around the world. He racked up 6,500 new instagram followers.
The show was a whirlwind of twists-and-turns. He got only 10 hours of sleep during the five days of Hollywood Week. Gillies was up at 4 a.m. to cook his meals every day — mostly steak, since he avoids processed foods because of his skin condition.
Gillies soared through the first solo round in Hollywood, singing “Dreaming with a Broken Heart” by John Mayer, one of his idols. All three judges gave him a standing ovation during his performance.
Other contestants broke into tears. Perry blurted off-camera, “you sang that song!”
Jackson Gillies auditioned for ABC’s ‘American Idol and appeared several times on the show before being voted off. (American Idol photo)
He moved to group round, when he found partners, and rehearsed until 2 a.m. Gillies and his group members decided to sing “Carry On Wayward Son,” by Kansas.
Gillies chose the song. There was one problem: His groupmates forgot the words to the song.
Despite their absent-mindedness, three of the four in his group advanced to the next round. The contest who forgot most of the words was eliminated. Gillies survived to the next round.
The producers told Gillies that for the next round, “you have to bring it all.”
Gillies was trying to decided between Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” or Billie Eilish’s “When the Party’s Over.” He wanted to sing “Broken Halos,” but three other people were singing it.
Performers must also meet with a vocal coach before performing, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to do that until about 3 a.m. He was too tired.
“My voice was not quite up for it,” Gillies said. “It’s a big song vocally, and I didn’t want to take the risk of having a vocal mishap and my voice cracking, which happens when it gets tired under stress.”
Instead, at the last-minute, he decided to perform one of his original songs that he wrote with a buddy, called, “Could It Make You Love Me?”
Gillies said it was masterful song, a perfect pop ballad, with strong lyrics and melody, but it wasn’t the right song, in retrospect, for him to sing.
“For the last round of Hollywood Week, when everyone is going all out, totally high-octane, full-out songs, it just wasn’t right,” Gillies said. “And I can only say to myself at this point, that it was meant to be that I sang that song.”
Gillies said he was tired and sleep deprived.
“In another context I never would have picked that song,” he said. “It was meant to be that I did not go to the next round and my self, my person at at that time, chose that song because that’s what was meant to happen.”
After he was eliminated, Gillies wrote his first single, “Miss Me Too,” which he said was better than any American Idol experience could have been.
“Thank God I did not go through,” Gillies said. “I wouldn’t have had ‘Miss Me Too.’ It wouldn’t have happened had I gone to the next round. It would have taken me on a different path.”
When his American Idol journey ended, Gillies said a new fire ignited inside him. He wrote 15 songs in a row and he’s driven in a new way.
“The path you are on will always change,” Gillies said. “What you think is your worst failure will lead you to your biggest success. Everything happens for a reason.”