Below is the second edition of a new series of “Audition Stories”, a fistful of firsthand reports on what it takes to get on From the Top. We’ll cover details from the toughest application question to the fateful phone call and everything in between. Of course, the best way to find out what auditioning is like is to do it yourself – download the application here.
Violinist Caitlin Kelley had always thought about auditioning for From the Top, but it was not until From the Top came to the Aspen Music Festival and School to hear auditions that she finally took the plunge.
“It was always in the back of mind to audition, and since they were right there, I figured why not?” Caitlin said. “From the Top had been on the radio station in Seattle since I was young, and I always loved it. It was a hysterical show.”
Caitlin had always liked the interviews with performers after they played, but From the Top’s unique format meant an extra dimension to the written application – a series of questions prompting applicants to reveal memorable moments and personality quirks.
“We auditioned in a little church [where] there was not much room to warm up, so we warmed up on the street,” Caitlin said. “But the part I was most stressed about was figuring out what to write on the form! It has questions like ‘What’s a funny thing about you?’ So we were practicing, but we were all sitting there like, ‘Oh no, what’s a funny story about me?’ “
Caitlin didn’t stress for too long. When she auditioned, she said, “Lisa Utzinger, From the Top’s Scholarship Program Manager and Tom Vignieri, Music Producer, were there and as soon as I went in they were both so friendly, and Tom was really funny. I was relaxed right away.”
She played the two pieces she had prepared, and then did a little Irish fiddling at Tom’s request. (Caitlin had mentioned her talent for fiddling, which she picked up from a family band in Seattle, on her application). Then, she said goodbye to the From the Top team, and it was back to business as usual – until she got a call in the fall.
From the Top told her they wanted to have her on the show in February, but they also gave her some surprising news: she was a finalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award!
Caitlin had applied for the scholarship on a whim at her live audition in Aspen. She hadn’t known about From the Top’s award program (in its first year at the time) until she picked up the From the Top application. Luckily, she applied anyway.
“I just kind of filled out the scholarship form because my family doesn’t have a lot of money,” she said. “I was really surprised [I got it] at first. When you apply for that kind of scholarship, you never take it that seriously, because there are so many people applying… I was so excited! At that point, I didn’t know where I was going to college, so I knew I could put it towards my tuition if I needed to. It was really comforting to know I had that support going forward.”
Caitlin decided to attend The Colburn School, which doesn’t charge tuition to its music students, so she was able to use the $10,000 award from the Cooke scholarship for other important and costly tools: a new bow, a recording device, textbooks for Colburn, and a year of violin maintenance.
Besides all that, she got to be on the show! However, that wasn’t the end of her relationship with From the Top.
“I just kept in touch with Lisa [Utzinger] for various reasons,” Caitlin said. “She told me she was coming to L.A. and needed someone to do auditions with her, and she knew I was living there. Those were the first auditions I’d ever run, so that was exciting. Being on the other side of auditions made me realize how much [the people auditioning you] want you to do well. I was thinking, ‘I hope they are comfortable, and not nervous.’ It was hard just trying to take notes and remember who was who!”
As someone who has been on both sides of the From the Top audition process, Caitlin has some wisdom to share with potential From the Top performers.
“Don’t be afraid to apply more than once. It just depends on the show and what they have space for. If you audition once and they turn you down, it doesn’t mean they don’t want you,” she said.
These days, Caitlin is looking forward to entering her senior year at Colburn in the fall. She’s also back at the Aspen Music Festival for the fifth summer in a row.
“I just ran into a flute player at orchestra who auditioned [for From the Top this year],” she said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t make it, but now I’m playing a gig with him this weekend.”
We’re wishing Caitlin good luck with her senior year – and to the flute player, whoever you are, don’t give up on From the Top!
– Lily Kaiser, From the Top intern