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Grace Under Pressure

American Idol alum Grace Leer personifies a lesson in patience, perseverance and gratitude

It’s a humid, cloudy afternoon in Nashville, TN, where I’m waiting on West End in the eclectic  Graduate Hotel lobby to meet up-and-coming country artist Grace Leer. As of now, the songstress is perhaps most widely recognized as a contestant on Season 18 of American Idol;  more specifically, the contestant who pop superstar Katy Perry stated made other competitors look like they were performing in a talent show. 

But after sitting down and talking to Leer — a woman who possesses all the warmth and humidity you’d expect from your quintessential girl-next-door — it’s clear that her time on the long-running reality show hardly qualifies as the most interesting thing about her [even if the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the COVID lockdowns demanded she acts as artist,  producer, camera crew and lighting technician, too]. 

Currently sporting a denim corseted top, blue jeans, and cowboy boots, she regales me with the story of her life, an adventure that led her from the West Coast to the heart of Tennessee.  As we converse in a quiet corner of the room, surrounded by walls adorned with flowers,  butterflies, and cardinals, my first observation is that Grace is clearly a woman of determination and perseverance— traits she attributes to her identity not only as a musician but as a former  Division 1 athlete. 

“It was the biggest slap in the face — my first realization of ‘You might be the best where you come from, but you go to this next level and you’re starting over,’” she recalls of her time playing soccer at UC Berkley. “It was a lot like when I first got to Nashville. It was like ‘Oh yeah, Grace, you’re a great singer’ — but you get here, and it is saturated as hell. All these  female country artists, all these pretty girls with good voices and their stories, the hard work  they put it in; it’s really hard to feel confident in the middle of that.” 

The self-described “Type-A” singer first moved here in 2017 at her mother’s behest, and immediately picked up a classic 9-5 job in sales in the name of a steady paycheck. She admits that much of the time she was supposed to spend cold-calling was actually spent “living for the weekend,” working on posters for her shows when her manager wasn’t lurking nearby.  

Two and a half years into that routine, Leer auditioned for Idol. Her journey came to an end after appearing in the Top 10, whereupon elimination she received a call from Red Light  Management (whose impressive roster currently boasts the likes of Chris Stapleton and Maren  Morris).  

“I was very giddy on that phone call,” she imparts with a self-deprecating smile. “Tom Lord was  like, ‘That’s great, we love your energy — but you don’t have the songs yet.’ So shortly after  they got me in the writing room, and that was a really good experience for me.” 

Her debut single Brought A Girl was the byproduct of one of those writing room sessions, an upbeat-comedic track inspired by the real-life moment when a former flame showed up at her party with a new partner in tow. 

“I think that song was special because down to everything, it was true. The best part was when  they were like, ‘We’re going to make a video; what do you want to do?’ And I decided that I  wanted to just recreate it. So the house where I threw the original party, we really used that house. And I called the guy who I wrote the song about, and we were good, we’re friends — so he’s really the guy in the music video,” Grace says with a laugh.  

Upon this revelation, I find myself itching to watch, and I tell her so. It’s the kind of Swift-like honesty that inspires both incredulity and devotion from the collective.  

These days, Grace is living more than just one dream come true. She’s touring for the first time with Logan Mize, an artist she’s long since been a fan of and with whom she just released a brand new single “Nothing With You” (a song guaranteed to make you feel single and heartbroken even if you’re not).  

Noting that her career goals eventually include Grammys and selling out arenas, Leer concludes our conversation with an anecdote that we would all be wise to adopt and apply to our own lives. 

“We all want that instant gratification, but there’s a reason I’m at this place where I am now. I  know I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I’m so grateful.”