For Courtnie Williams ’09, that fateful digit would be #113514, the number on the tag she wore for her “American Idol” audition in Philadelphia. Earlier this year, Williams—who earned a degree in music/vocal performance from Immaculata—made it into the top 42 at the television show’s Las Vegas competition.
Performing on “AI” has “opened a few doors,” Williams said. “Now I’m gigging and marketing myself, out there getting known in the industry and building my fan base. This has been my dream since I was 5. I have great faith the right person will hear me, and that will open even more doors.”
By day, Williams is an assistant recreation leader for the City of Philadelphia at the Finley Recreation Center in Mount Airy, where her job includes working with a program that focuses on performing arts for students ages 5-18.
“I like working for the city,” she said, “and seeing the kids happy makes me happy.” Another plus is the flexible hours, which allow her to “perform at lounges in the Philadelphia area such as Warmdaddy’s, The Arts Garage, Jollie’s, Lickety Split and the Walnut Room. I also get invited to sing at weddings and church events, and even did an oldies show at Germantown Live. It’s not just the club scene. It’s been diverse.”
In addition to singing, Williams plays piano, percussion and “a little bit of guitar, and I arrange and compose. I don’t have a favorite type of music, but mostly I perform pop and R&B. And when I am performing, it’s always essential to play some of my own music along with cover songs, but none of my music has been released yet.”
At Immaculata, Williams took to the stage with virtually every musical group on campus, from the Chorale and the Bell Choir to the Percussion Ensemble and the Gospel Choir. She was even in the Jazz Ensemble.
While still in high school at the Girard Academic Music Program, a Philadelphia magnet school that allows students to pursue music as a major subject, Williams had visited Immaculata, and said she “auditioned and it felt like I was home. I always felt like it was right where I belonged.”
Not only is singing what Williams loves to do best, but she does it to honor the memory of her nephew, who died two years ago, short of his second birthday. Named Izell for Williams’ late grandfather, the boy spent the first months of his life in the hospital, his aunt said, “but he was so strong, and such a fighter, undergoing so many surgeries and always with such great strength. We lost him suddenly, and it was devastating.”
She feels like Izell “is with me every day,” Williams said. “He didn’t have a voice and couldn’t speak, but when I would sing to him, he made these great noises, and I knew he was singing with me. I am truly grateful that I had him in my life. He died two years ago in April, but Izell is still a piece of me. I’m much more centered now, and more aware of the smaller things that I’m grateful for in life, and how important they are.” Now, she said, she builds her strength on her niece, Izell’s sister Hazel, born the day after his funeral.
“I got to be there with my sister to see my niece born,” Williams said, “and it was amazing. I had all of these thoughts going around in my head—to hear her cry was breathtaking.”
Working with children every day and performing the music she loves allows Williams, she said, “to learn more and more every day. For me, failure is not an option. ‘No’ to me means, ‘Next!’ I learned that from my mom, who keeps me rooted and grounded.”
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