Mason Via, other grassers, headed to American Idol

When you think of American Idol, you don’t typically expect to see and hear bluegrass artists audition. This year on the show’s 19th season, there are four such performers vying to be the next American Idol. One of those is Mason Via.

“For American Idol, I used Mason Picks for a stage name,” the 23-year-old shared in a phone interview from Nashville where he now resides. “I chose it because I thought it sounded really cool.”

Via, a native of Danbury, NC, is the son of award winning singer/song writer, David Via (who penned songs such as Ronnie Bowman’s One Life and Left this Country Boy Sittin’ All Alone). Surrounded by music, he began playing guitar when he was 12 years old. The young picker experimented with different genres of music. He first played folk and even had a funk band, but at age 16, Via took to bluegrass.

“I competed in fiddlers’ conventions at Galax, Mt. Airy, Fries, etc.”

While attending Warren Wilson College in western North Carolina, Via began playing regularly at Isis Music Hall in Asheville.

“I really began to hone my stage skills playing before a listening audience.”

Performing solo and with his bluegrass band, Hot Trail Mix, Via garnered attention in music circles. 

The TV music contestant shared, “I was initially contacted about American Idol through Instagram. I thought it was a scam.” It was legit! Via (Picks) was soon performing on a Zoom call for three of the show’s producers and was selected to audition before the panel of celebrity judges. 

“They flew me out to Ojai, CA (northwest of Los Angeles).”

Via sang three songs for Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan. 

“A lot of folks sing 2-3 songs, but they only show one (on television).”

His song selection included a country song, an Appalachian ballad, and an original, Number 15. The latter is a tune he penned about his stepdad, Gary Mabe, and his dirt racing car. 

The musical artist described his audition. “It is really larger than life. You’re out there in front of really bright lights. The judges are miked so they’re really loud, they’re all in make-up, and they talk to you like they know you. My voice dried up like a cotton ball.”

Though his audition was not selected to be one of those featured on national television, Via (Picks) impressed the celebrity judges and was presented a golden ticket to advance to the next level of competition in Hollywood. He feels fortunate.

“To be selected from over 100,000 contestants on Zoom and from the 500 to 1,000 who auditioned, I was one of the 200-300 picked to go to Hollywood! Nothing feels better than that golden ticket,” he stressed.

In Hollywood, Via had to make a choice. “When I got there they asked you to sing a solo in your genre of music, I decided to go for the country angle since I had friends there in bluegrass.”

Via (Picks) will appear March 21 on this Sunday night’s episode of American Idol, recorded in Hollywood. Viewers will have to wait and see if he, along with other bluegrassers who earned a golden ticket (Savannah Church, Presley Barker, and Alex Miller) will advance in competition. We will be speaking with each of them about their Hollywood experiences in the near future as well.

Mason Via’s music is available on Spotify.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.