America’s Got Talent has begun its 10th season on NBC television, and there may be a reason for bluegrass fans to set aside Tuesday nights to follow the program this next few months. Young North Carolina band Mountain Faith has been invited to audition, and could be included when the live audience voting begins later this summer.
In fact, the audition portions of the show has already been completed, but producers keep the results secret until the preliminary shows air. Acts that make it past these auditions are invited to perform before AGT’s celebrity judges, who deliberate and then choose who goes on to the live voting. At that point, television audience ballots determine which artists move on to perform again.
Ultimately, a champion is chosen by audience vote to receive a top prize of $1 million and the chance to headline an AGT show in Las Vegas.
It is a common misperception that America’s Got Talent is a clone of the long running American Idol program, but the show is actually a spin-off from Britain’s Got Talent, and produced by the same company that launched the UK show. The biggest difference between this venue and its many similarly-themed competitors is that it allows all sorts of stage acts to compete, in addition to vocalists. Dancers, magicians, comedians, and animal acts go up against singers and bands in a vaudeville-like environment.
Even before this opportunity, Mountain Faith had built up an impressive following in the bluegrass and Gospel worlds. Over the course of three critically-acclaimed albums the band has grown from a noteworthy teen group into a solid touring unit with strong original material. A big part of their appeal has been the singing and writing of fiddler, Summer McMahan, who at 21 years of age has already demonstrated a grace and presence on stage that can only come from years of experience.
Summer and her younger brother Brayden, who plays banjo with Mountain Faith, started singing and picking together as young children, along with a cousin close to their age, John Morgan. As pre-teens they performed at churches and revivals across western North Carolina. When Summer was 13, and Brayden 12, they began performing at festivals as Mountain Faith with their dad, Sam, on bass and John on guitar.
Brayden has since moved on to focus on college, but the three McMahans remain, along with Luke Dotson on guitar, and Cory Piatt on mandolin. Even though the band now works a very full schedule, all of them also work at High Country Tire during the week, an auto service shop near their home in Sylva, NC.
Summer described it as a little piece of Americana…
“It’s as Andy Griffith as you can get. We come out and pump your gas, check your tire pressure… everything. There’s a little deli counter, and we have a Breakfast Club of older men who are there for meals every day. My dad and his brother own it, my grandpa worked in there, and now all the band members work there too. When it gets slow, we just pull out the instruments and practice some.”
She tells us that they were all talking and joking one day about submitting for an audition on America’s Got Talent, but figured nobody in New York would care about a hillbilly band from North Carolina. But unbeknownst to the band, her mom submitted their music video for Madam, a song from their current CD, Blue, and it earned them an invitation to audition.
“The people with the show seemed to like it. I think that people are drawn to the mountain style music, and thats what we hope to accomplish if we can make it on to the live portion of the show, which goes out to over 13 million viewers. If we can get in front of that audience, I think we can show these people that bluegrass can be cool! That would be awesome for us – and the music we love – to take it to that many people.”
So up to New York they went in March to film an audition, which Summer says was a blast.
“We had the best time doing the audition in NYC – the best, best, best time! Seeing the judges and working with the music producers was great. They helped us choose and arrange a song that would be a good fit for their audience, and we came up with Counting Stars from One Republic.
I’m a big Heidi Klum fan from watching her show, Project Runway, and I grew up seeing [AGT show host] Nick Cannon on Nickelodeon.
Ever since we auditioned, we have started including a pop song in each set – they are fun, transitional songs in our stage show.”
Summer wouldn’t spill any more about the process, so we’ll have to watch on Tuesday nights this next few weeks to see how they did, but given their skill and professionalism, I think it’s a long shot that they won’t move on to the judge’s round.
Whichever way things go on TV, Mountain Faith is pushing forward. They have a new CD scheduled for September, and a busy schedule of festivals and churches to fulfill. They may have to move some dates around if they make it through to the finals on AGT, but no matter how that turns out, they’ll have a summer to remember.
Look for America’s Got Talent Tuesday evenings at 8:00 p.m. (EDT), 7:00 central on NBC.