Student shares story of “American Idol” journey

Denise Natoli Portrait
Randi Homola/THE REVIEW
Although this was not the first time sophomore nursing major Denise Natoli auditioned for American Idol, it was the first time she made it to Hollywood Week, bringing a longtime East Coast girl out west..



Denise Natoli waited for the light to turn green. Even though family and friends stood just outside the door, she was alone inside the room they called “the chamber.” With the go ahead and after a deep breath, she found herself standing in front of three musical icons: Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Adam Lambert. It was her time to shine.

Although Natoli had auditioned for “American Idol” when she was 16, she was left without a ticket to Hollywood Week. But now three years later and near her Long Island home, Natoli seized the opportunity to showcase her talents again.

At the Brooklyn auditions back in September, Natoli sang “I Had Me a Girl” by The Civil Wars. Impressed but not satisfied, Adam Lambert, a fill-in for Keith Urban, tasked her with singing something different—something more her style.

With her rendition of Melody Gardot’s “Your Heart Is as Black as Night,” Natoli successfully won over the judges, quickly moving the longtime East Coast girl out west.

“I never had intentions of doing this in the middle of my college career,” Natoli says. “I really didn’t want to chop it up like that, but I would never say no.”

Natoli has always dreamt of pursuing a singing career. Taking singing lessons since the second grade, she continued to learn and grow through musical theater, choir and jazz choir.

“I’ve always wanted this so bad,” Natoli says. “Not only for the singing aspect but also because I want to be someone that people can look up to as a person and show people you can be yourself and that’s beautiful.”

Before entering the university, however, Natoli made the challenging decision to major in nursing instead of music.

“For me, I like security and comfort and that’s what nursing is to me,” she says. “It’s something that I feel I’m going to be passionate about, something I want to pursue. I like helping people.”

Instead of studying music, Natoli planned to learn through experience and joined the university’s a cappella group, Vocal Point, during her freshman year.

“That was a huge thing in my musical journey in general because I learned so much from my peers, more than I feel like I would learn in a classroom,” Natoli says. “I developed my pop voice even more, and honestly, I don’t think I would’ve been able to be on ‘American Idol’ if I didn’t have that year with Vocal Point.”

Courtesy of Denise Natoli/THE REVIEW
Inspired by artists like John Mayer and Ingrid Michaelson, Denise Natoli found her singing niche within the soulful pop and jazz music realm..

Inspired by artists like Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz, the sophomore found her own niche and personal talents within the soulful pop and jazz music realm.

Once in Hollywood, Natoli was challenged with utilizing her knowledge and voice through several other auditions, including group auditions, in which the group needed to choose a song, choreograph and perform it to the judges.

“It was really crazy and tests your patience and strength as a person and a musician,” Natoli said. “But I was just trying to learn and experience as much as I could and try to keep an open mind.”

Natoli made it through line auditions, a feat she says she was proud of, but her time with “American Idol” was cut short during Hollywood Week, and she has since returned to school.

Undiscouraged by her leave and inspired by the experience, Natoli doesn’t ever plan to stop singing.

“With music I’m always going to be doing these opportunities when they happen,” she says. “I see myself in my life being someone in the spotlight, pursuing music and somehow making that happen—whether it’s through ‘American Idol’ or through something else entirely different. I don’t have it all figured out, but I think I’m on a pretty good path.”

Denise Natoli’s music can be found on her YouTube channel at Denise Natoli and all “American Idol” videos can be found at

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