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People Profile: Johnny Drennan

by Kathleen Toohill | University of Notre Dame

F Posted in: College P Posted on: July 1, 2011
Screen shot 2011-06-30 at 9.49.19 AM Image Courtesy of Aaron Weber

When Johnny Drennan went to talk to his professors at the University of Tennessee about rescheduling his fall semester finals, he had a reason that they had probably never heard before—he was heading to Hollywood to compete on American Idol.

Drennan’s professors refused to cut him a break—evidence, perhaps, that the no-nonsense mindset that Simon Cowell is famous for is also alive and well in academia.

Drennan describes his experience on American Idol as, “absolutely insane.” Drennan tried out with his younger sister Olivia, who was fifteen at the time. “My sister can sing me under the table,” Drennan said.

Though nineteen-year-old Drennan had been eligible to try out for American Idol for a few years, he said he mainly focused on football and baseball during his time in high school.

“I could have gone to play at a couple of colleges for either but I decided to choose music,” Drennan said. “I always wanted to try out for American Idol to get that experience under my belt.”

The selection process for American Idol is much more drawn-out and complex than its viewers might be led to believe. After multiple days of singing for producers and executive producers, Drennan made it through to see the real judges, though his sister was cut before this round because producers thought she was too young.

“That was pretty scary,” Drennan said of auditioning for judges Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. “You walk in the room and there’s three huge superstars and ten cameras in your face.”

Drennan then advanced to the Hollywood round that coincided with his final exams. In the few months between this last audition and his flight to Hollywood, Drennan and the other Idol contestants were each assigned a private investigator to perform background checks on them.

“They keep everything secretive,” Drennan said of the whole process. On his flight to Hollywood, “…almost all my plane was American Idol people and people who weren’t had no clue. We couldn’t say anything.”

He describes the whole experience as, “all kind of a blur. It’s honestly more of a TV show than anything but I made a lot of contacts and connections.”

Drennan cites his parents as his greatest source of inspiration. He grew up on a 14-acre, 1860s farmhouse, though he said that he isn’t quite the farm boy that American Idol portrayed him as. “It’s a big rundown farm,” Drennan said. “I don’t do any farm work.”

Drennan transferred from the University of Tennessee and now attends community college in Nashville, though he says he doesn’t plan to stay there forever. While at the University of Tennessee, Drennan commuted to Nashville every weekend to work on his music and said the three-and-a-half hour trip each way made things difficult.

Balancing his musical aspirations and course-load can be a challenge, and Drennan says he tries to focus only on his studies during the week when class is in session. “Summer’s really nice,” Drennan said. “I’ve got music on the brain 24/7.”

A country duet is in the works now for Johnny and Olivia. Drennan explains that the uniqueness of their style makes it difficult to find songs in the same vein for them to cover.

He describes their music as having, “a John Mayer-flair with Taylor Swift-like style where we can appeal to younger audiences but have a younger rhythm,” Drennan said. “We’re trying to break the mold, to do a different genre no one’s trying to take one yet.”

Drennan writes much of his own music and usually sings in coffeehouses. He and Olivia are working on expanding the type of venues they perform at in the Nashville area, though he said that they don’t want to rush things.

“We don’t want to be under-developed,” Drennan said. “We want a strong fan base.”

When asked for his advice for aspiring musicians, Drennan quoted an artist who is one of his own idols. “I met John Mayer one time,” Drennan said. “He said drop everything that you ever even dreamed of doing and if you’re really serious about music, practice constantly, every day, all day.”

If you practice hard enough and want it bad enough, Drennan advised endeavoring artists, you’ll be successful.

Check out Johnny Drennan’s facebook fan page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Johnny-Drennan/208504432494289

Kathleen Toohill Kathleen Toohill Kathleen is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is majoring in English and minoring in journalism and is currently an editorial intern at Notre Dame Magazine. She worked as an editorial intern at San Diego Magazine and a news intern at CBS News 8 this past summer. She works for Notre Dame's student magazine and coordinates high school visitation weekends for the Notre Dame admissions office.

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