Now in its 20th season, the vocal competition show, American Idol, continues to draw in competitors and fans. More than 100,000 aspiring singers sent audition tapes for this season in hopes of getting an invite to audition in front of celebrity judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie.
One of those 100,000 or so who sent in a recording was Thomas Patrick Moran, a 2015 graduate of Bishop Machebeuf High School. While many of the competitors consider themselves aspiring musicians, Moran entered not as much to be discovered, but as more of a “bucket list” item – just to say he did it.
“A couple of my friends decided to go audition years ago at one of the big open calls. I was too afraid to do it and then I kind of regretted that for years, so basically decided to do it (now),” Moran said. “I don’t sing professionally at all or certainly in front of famous people. I literally just sing for myself in the shower or in my car.”
He was a little surprised, then, when an associate producer called him and told him he’d made it to the second round. He made it past that one as well, and another before heading to the live audition with the three judges.
“I couldn’t believe it every time I got an email. It’s like ‘Hey, Thomas, we’d love for you to audition for our next level.’ And I just said a prayer of thanksgiving. It’s just like, I have no idea how or why I’m making it through these but God, thank you for this opportunity. If it’s your will to let this happen well, I’ll run with it, but if it’s not – I’m not going to be sad – because my bucket list item was not to be on the show – my bucket list item was to just give it a shot at some point, to see what happened, and then it just kept working out.”
The producers loved Moran’s back story about his family formerly living in Ireland and their love of Irish step dancing, so the judges asked Moran to show them a few moves, which he admits now was very few. He told them he hadn’t done the dance since he was eight years old, but they wanted him to try anyway.
“The producers were just really excited by the idea that I was super Irish, that my mom met my dad when she was in Ireland for an Irish step dancing competition, and they were just so caught up in how romantic that was.”
In the audition, the judges then asked his mom, Ellen, who was traveling with Thomas, to come into the room and show them a few more moves, which she did.
“My poor mom – she is such a superstar for going along with that!”
Moran admits that his audition, aside from the dancing, didn’t go exactly as he’d hoped. A key change to his first song, “Chain of Fools,” threw him a bit, but the judges took mercy on him and asked him to do another song, so he sang a religious-themed song entitled, “River” by Leon Bridges.
“I sing that song a lot because it means a lot to me, and I think it has absolutely beautiful lyrics and it’s just a beautiful, almost Gospel kind of song. I just said a little prayer before I started, and I launched into the song and luckily was able to muster more vocal control that time.”
Afterwards, the judges made a big deal about how Moran had a little too much energy and was talking nonstop in his interview, with Perry finally saying to him, “Thomas! OFF.” They cautioned him to take the audition more seriously. Moran says it was mind blowing that he was even there… actually singing in front of three icons in the music industry.
“I was so high energy, so nervous. I was kind of jumping off the walls. I’m a pretty high energy person; you can ask any of the teachers I ever had at Machebeuf. The only thing I think I ever got critiqued on in school was the fact that I talked way too much and out of turn. I’m a pretty chatty and upbeat individual, so going in there, it was like that natural disposition stacked on top of however many tons of adrenaline pumping through my veins, excitement and nerves, like disbelief that that was happening. So many things are running through your head when you’re about to step into a room of three super famous people, let alone when you have to sing for them, you know. It was just like electric and terrifying and exciting and fun all in one feeling.”
When it came time to vote as to whether Moran would make the cut and get a golden ticket to Hollywood week, he was doubtful about his chances. Katy Perry started off by sharing how she cartwheeled into her first audition but that she also had to learn how to ‘bring it down’, and that she felt he deserved a shot, and voted yes. Luke Bryan followed with a ‘no’, leaving it up to the final judge, Lionel Richie, to determine whether he would get a golden ticket and move on.
“I was like standing there, and I was like, ‘Oh, I definitely am not making it through,” Moran recalled.
However, impressed by Perry’s comments, Richie called himself a former class clown who also wanted to give Moran a shot, so he voted yes as well.
With that vote, Moran had officially sung and entertained his way to Hollywood.
“I stepped out of that room with a golden ticket in my hand, and I think I just felt tremendously accomplished. It was one of the most rewarding and crazy acknowledgements I had ever received for a particular effort or talent.”
Thomas says he isn’t sure whether he’ll be featured in the “Hollywood Week” episodes that are airing this week. Filming has already happened and while he can’t share whether he made it through to the next round, he says his goal was never to win American Idol. His goal was to simply audition, which he did. It was gravy that he made it past several subsequent rounds.
Those who watched the IDOL audition noticed the cross hanging around Moran’s neck. Producers initially asked him to tuck it under his shirt, as it might interfere with the microphone. But Moran challenged that and asked if there wasn’t a way they could make it work.
“My faith is really, really important to me and being able to kind of embrace this creative part of myself on a national level or potentially international scale with my cross around my neck, even though that seems like a small witness, I was really grateful for that opportunity. It was pretty cool to represent the faith that my parents have passed on to me on a huge platform like American Idol.”
When asked about his Bishop Machebeuf high school experiences, he says he was a little bit all over the place.
“I got multiple detentions for speaking too much in class, but for the most part, all of my teachers were really understanding and empathetic. But it does add a little something to the classroom and let’s be honest – if it weren’t for class clowns, classrooms would be a little flavorless. So, I represent all the class clowns and I will wear that badge with pride.”
Thomas says he has a lot of great memories of times spent at Machebeuf and cites his favorite teachers as Sr. Miriam and Mr. Marc Lenzini.
“He was one of the most impactful teachers I’ve ever had,” Moran said.
Moran also has classmates who remain good friends.
“I’m still very much connected to my graduating class. I live in downtown Denver with two of my fellow graduates and a couple other friends from Benedictine.”
Moran says while in high school he was involved in theatre, student government, Students for Life, and briefly played football. He and friends also liked to pull pranks. He recalls one memorable incident where they caught a rabbit on the soccer field and put it in the courtyard where it lived for months until a custodian set it free outside of the courtyard again.
“That bunny was thriving because it had its own mansion without the threat of foxes and coyotes.”
Moran hopes other Machebeuf students will have the confidence to also follow their dreams and be authentically themselves.
“I would say in high school, speaking from my own experience, it can really be pretty hard to live into your own authenticity and it can be really hard to accept the gifts God’s given you when they – at times – make you feel like you’re different or you’re not in line with what’s stereotypical or culturally popular. But at the end of the day, those are the things that God has given you as a gift and those are the things that you’re actually going to create the largest impact by pursuing and following and leaning into. Trust the things that God has placed in your own heart and in your own mind and in your own personhood that allow you to stand out as an individual, because, not to sound corny, but there really is no other you. You know when you’re putting on your uniform every day, even though it’s the exact same thing everybody else is wearing, underneath the uniform there’s a very unique person who has their own gifts and talents, so lean into that, embrace it.”
And Thomas shared a little more wisdom for people in general:
“Put yourself out there a little bit and you’ll potentially open yourself up to some of the most amazing and extraordinary experiences you’ll ever have. There are countless ways that you can add color to your life, and there are countless ways that you can put a little spark under yourself. For me, it was a groggy hot summer’s day in my bedroom when I decided to film an audition video and send it in just because I regretted not having done it years previously and look where it got me.”
Regardless of how far Moran makes it in this American Idol competition, the entire Bishop Machebeuf and Denver communities are proud of him for stepping out of his comfort zone and putting himself out there.
“Honestly, whatever happens moving forward with Idol, I will struggle to be sad about it because honestly I can’t believe I got to take it, and that feels so beyond rewarding.”