You may have heard of Grace Leer, the locally raised singer who finished in the top 11 on American Idol this spring. Leer’s neighbors certainly heard her, as she belted “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for the broadcast from her mom’s backyard in San Ramon.
“After performing in Los Angeles and Hawaii, the final 21 contestants had just returned to L.A. when the shelter-in-place was called,” says Leer, 27. “They decided to send us home, and I decided I wanted to go back to my mom’s house.”
Leer, 27, is an East Bay native who has spent the past few years gigging with the Grace Leer Band in Nashville. She auditioned for American Idol in Milwaukee and made an instant impact with the show’s judges—Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie—as well as the national audience.
“Katy Perry told me that she loved the twang in my voice, that it was sort of my secret sauce,” says Leer. “I had never noticed it. But she’s right—it’s the part of my voice that stands out.”
This wasn’t Leer’s first experience with American Idol. At age 10, she performed on the show’s Juniors competition. She did well, but was eliminated after singing “To Sir With Love.” Leer had wanted to perform her favorite song, Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
“Looking back, I can see why they probably didn’t want a kid singing that song,” Leer says, laughing. “One of the great thrills of this year’s experience was finally getting to perform that song on the show.”
Leer says that she has been amazed by the outpouring of messages from fans all over the world. She recently returned to Nashville to work on her brand of country music, which she compares to the style of the Dixie Chicks and the Highwomen.
“Lionel Richie encouraged me to devote myself to that country audience,” says Leer. “I’m excited to see where I can go as an artist.” thegraceleerband.com.