Summer McMahan talks America’s Got Talent

Summer McMahanLast night during Mountain Faith Band’s successful run through America’s Got Talent’s Judges Cut Round on NBC, Summer McMahan shed what may be the most famous tears in bluegrass music. Certainly the most influential ones in a long time, as they may have turned the tide for the group she fronts with her dad, brother, and best friends against some stiff competition.

Following their grassy reworking of I Believe In A Thing Called Love, you could see Summer’s eyes getting a bit misty, something that celebrity judge Mel B picked up on right away. She asked Summer if she was crying, and she replied, “I was… This is my dream.” The audience let out a big “Aw…,” and the judges were in their hands.

Summer told us this afternoon that she got some mild grief from her bandmates over it, but that the tears were 100% for real.

“The boys had given me a really hard time about my crying face, but we cry all the time now. We’re so excited.”

It had been a very long day back in May when Mountain Faith made the trip to Long Island, NY and the big, warehouse-like building where NBC Universal shoots the program. “When we got there they gave us a little tour. It’s the same facility where Spiderman and Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed. We were just in awe as they took us around,” said McMahan.

But she tells us that all of the Judges Cut episodes, four in total, were shot that day, and there was a long wait of several hours between the time of their stage performance and when they were called back out to hear the judges’ decision. Summer said that they used that time to mingle and get to know some of the other acts milling around backstage, waiting for their time.

Mountain Faith backstage with some of the other acts on America's Got talent“We haven’t met an act yet that hasn’t been super nice. We’ve made a connection with all of them, and it was sad to see so many of them go home. Stacy K was so nice, and such a great singer! Every single one of them was great. Cailyn, the little ballerina was precious and so was her mom. They were there the day of our first audition, and we came to love them both. It was so sad to see them go.”

She was also very thankful for all the help they received from the music directors for America’s Got Talent. While the band had the final decision about what material they would play, the producers explained to them early on that covers of popular songs always go over better with both the studio audience, and the viewers at home.

“The audition song was completely our arrangement. But from there on, we work with a music team. We go in and show them some songs we like, and they show us ones that they like. We learn them all, and come up with an arrangement to play for them.

They’ve been in it forever, so we listen to what they say! Right off they told us that they really wanted to hear the bluegrass roots – we were a bit shocked when they told us, ‘Don’t be afraid to grass it up! We love what you all do.’

That final arrangement we played last night was only finished about 24 hours before the taping. We were working on it in our hotel room, and would come out every so often and play what we had for my mom. She would tell us what worked well and what didn’t, and we’d go back in and work some more. We kept making changes right up to the night before.

It was our mandolin player Cory Piatt’s idea to start with the mandolin chop and the audience clapping. The audience had been sitting there all day, and we wanted to wake them up and get them involved. Cory also came up with the idea for us all to shout ‘Hey!’ when the instruments stopped in the middle.

Right now, we have about 22 songs banked – we’ve worked them up, we know them real well. We have one picked out for the first round at Radio City, and have plenty of others ready if we make it forward.”

Summer wouldn’t share what song is next, owing to the strict rules enforced by the America’s Got Talent producers.

Mountain Faith at their viewing party/concert for America's Got TalentThe band had spent last night at a viewing party near their home in Sylva, NC. They played a set before a loyal, hometown crowd, and then they all watched the show together. Nobody knew the outcome but Mountain Faith, but everyone stayed to the end to hear the judges’ announcement that they were chosen to continue on to the live portion of the competition, where the television audience votes for their favorites each week from among the contestants vying for a chance at a $1 million prize.

When they were announced as finalists, the entire bluegrass world seemed to respond as one, with Facebook and Twitter exploding with posts celebrating their achievement far and wide. Summer said that the feedback they have received was a bit overwhelming.

“Sammy Shelor has always been so good to us, and he posted something very sweet when the show was over. Also, Blue Highway made a post on our wall this morning congratulating us and saying how proud they were. My brother almost wrecked the car trying to read it – we are such big fans! They are heroes to us all.”

Summer McMahan doing a local TV spot the day after being announced as a finalist on America's Got TalentThis morning Summer, Cory, Brayden McMahan, and Luke Dotson – everyone but Sam McMahan who plays bass – were off doing television and other media appearances near home. Sam had to stay behind to keep an eye on his business, High Country Tire, where all of the band works. But he says that he wasn’t able to get a lick of work done for all the people calling and stopping by to congratulate the band.

So now they wait for their next appearance, which McMahan expects will be toward the latter part of August. The show expands in two weeks to a twice weekly format, airing on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The various contestants perform live on Tuesday, and then find out on Wednesday’s show who made it through to the next round.

As they prepare for this next date in New York, Mountain Faith is also trying to get their next album completed for Mountain Fever Records. It’s not likely that they will have it ready by the time the AGT finals air the second week in September, but they are hoping to have it finished in time for the World of Bluegrass convention at the end of the month.

Still a bit overwhelmed by it all, Summer especially asked us to convey her gratitude for all the love that has come their way.

“Thank everyone so so so much for all the support and the positive comments we have gotten. We were prepared for some ugly or negative comments, but we only got a few mildly hateful notes. It’s so humbling to be received so well.”

There’s a lot of us out here in bluegrassland who will say, we knew them when.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.