Why is it that the winners from TV talent shows seem to flop in real life, while the runners-up make it big? Does anyone really remember Ruben Studdard? No. But we still talk about Clay Aiken, even if he hasn’t released an album in years.
Next in line for reality show runner-up stardom is Lindsey Stirling, the dancing violinist who made it onto America’s Got Talent as a finalist in 2010. She was eliminated, but she sure showed them. Lindsey has made herself into a YouTube music video star, with over 117 million views. That’s more than Taylor Swift.
Lindsey is known for backbending, kicking, hopping, moonwalking, and more, all while playing her violin. She also creates detailed and elaborate costumes for herself. Lindsey performs everything from medleys of popular songs, to themes from games like The Legend of Zelda, to her own electronic violin dubstep style.
We had the chance to talk with Lindsey about her rise to YouTube stardom. Keep reading to see what she has to say about America’s Got Talent and more.
Crushable: How did you get started playing the violin?
Lindsey Stirling: When I was just a little kid, my parents used to take me and my sister to all these orchestra concerts around town. We lived in downtown L.A., and that was a good family activity. So they would take us to all these free orchestra concerts. Neither of my parents played musical instruments at all, but they love music, and so they would always have classical records playing in our house. So just through that exposure to music, and classical music, and seeing violins at the concerts I just started begging for lessons at about five years old. They gave me lessons finally when I turned six.
When did you have the idea to start incorporating dance into your videos?
It’s not something that’s natural for me at all. It’s not that I’ve just always been able to dance and play. The violin is very… you’re supposed to have a specific posture and be very poised. I finally realized that I didn’t want to just impress people when I performed, because I did a lot of performing for talent competitions and whatnot, and recitals. And I got sick of just impressing. I wanted to perform, I wanted to entertain. And that’s what I found was my true love. I started to try to engage with my audience by kind of jumping around the stage as I played, and then that slowly evolved from stomping my foot into being able to moonwalk and do backbends, and leg extensions. I just slowly built it move by move.
Do you have dance training?
I don’t. I actually learned to dance by watching YouTube videos. Like when I want to learn a new move, I look up “moonwalk tutorials” or just watch So You Think You Can Dance. I watch their movements until I find one that I can do. One that’s not too skillful.
What was it like to be on America’s Got Talent?
It was a good experience for me. It taught me a ton, just about the entertainment industry. It was a very nice way to be immediately submerged into it, from being this girl that plays in her living room to being on national TV. It’s definitely a steep learning curve, and I got thrown right into it. So in that regard, it was a very good experience, and I met some really inspiring people that helped me realize that it’s okay to jump for your dreams. That’s a really awesome thing to do, and I don’t need to be afraid of failing because if I don’t try I’ll never know. I met some of the weirdest people I’ve ever met in my life, but I also met some of the most inspiring people. You get the whole spectrum when you’re thrown into that kind of environment. You wonder, am I one of the crazies or the cools? I don’t know, but I’m going to soak in this experience. And technically, we’re all probably a little bit of everything.
Getting kicked off the show was a little hard. It was my first huge, ultimate rejection in front of millions of people. But I feel like it was that make or break thing. They told me I wasn’t good enough, that I would never make it as a soloist, and I kind of wondered if I should believe them. It was really hard to get over that and get on stage again. But I was like, you know what, I’m going to prove them wrong. I’m going to do this. So it gave me a little extra oomph to work really, really hard.
How did you get into using YouTube?
YouTube started when I met Devin Graham. He’s a filmmaker, and he has a YouTube channel called devinsupertramp. He’s a cinematographer who loves to feature cool talents. That’s all his channel is. It’s featuring cool activities or interesting talents, and he contacted me and asked if he could do a music video for me for free. So as a musician, of course! I looked at his stuff, and he’s very talented, so I said of course you can make a great music video for me. And he threw it on his YouTube channel, and he had already grown his audience on there. This music that I had put on iTunes right after America’s Got Talent hadn’t really sold for months. And then as soon as we put this video together, my music started to sell and people started to say how much they love it, or that they enjoyed my performing. I thought, there’s something to this whole YouTube thing. So I decided to start pursuing my own channel, and this is where it’s led me.
A Mexican gymnast used one of your arrangements for her floor routine in the London Olympics. What was it like to see that?
Yeah, that was crazy! I was getting all these tweets and Facebook posts, saying that my music was being used on the Olympics. I kept thinking that they must be mistaken, that must not be my song, and then I pulled it up and realized that it was definitely me playing during her routine. I thought it was awesome. It just made me really excited.
How do you choose the songs that you play?
Well, my favorites to do are definitely my original pieces. But whenever it comes to covers, I like to kind of team up with my audience. Because they are my support, they are the ones that share my videos, and buy my music, and come to my shows. And because I’m an artist without a record label, there’s no record label telling me what I can and can’t do, or what I should do. It’s like my audience is my label, and so when they’re requesting a song a lot, I’ll listen to the song. And if I like it, of course I’ll do it. They’re my biggest supporters, and that’s what they want. That’s what they love. If it’s something that I can enjoy playing, or even if it’s just ok to me, I’ll make sure I play it or write it in a way that is wonderful for me to play, and that I love.
Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
I love apples. I almost always eat an apple before I go on stage. I don’t eat big meals, because I love eating huge meals after I perform. Like a reward. Either that, or a chocolate milkshake. I can’t eat a big meal before I go on stage, so I eat an apple and then after that I reward myself.
What’s next for you?
It’s kind of crazy, I’m all over the place! I’m finishing up my album right now, and it’ll be released on September 18. From now until then, I have rehearsals and performances. But on September 22, my tour starts. I’ll be touring across the U.S., hitting up 22 cities. All the way from New York City to San Francisco. I’m really excited about that. It’s my first headlining tour, and I’ve got a band and everything.
For more on Lindsey, check out her website.