When Aranesa Turner, Pomo, popped up on American Idol in January, many Natives (and this website) wondered whether she was the first American Indian to have a shot at winning the well-known talent search. Readers with better memories stepped forward and pointed out the case of Charly Lowry.
In 2004, Lowry, a Lumbee native from Pembroke, N.C., made it into the Top 32 on Season Three of American Idol. While Fantasia Barrino outsang the then-20-year-old Lowry and every other contestant to capture the coveted title that year, it was an experience that Lowry will long remember.
A decade later, Lowry is now a successful independent musician living in Chapel Hill and is the lead singer of Dark Water Rising, a popular, award-winning band who call their signature sound “rocky soul.” (All active members are Lumbee, too.) Their first release in 2010, a self-titled LP, earned the group a Native American Music Award (NAMA) for Debut Duo or Group of the Year.
In a conversation with ICTMN, Lowry shared some words of wisdom for Aranesa Turner — who was eliminated from the competition last week — and also reflected on her own experience all those years ago.
Now that Aranesa has been eliminated from Idol, do you have any advice for her?
First and foremost, I'd like to congratulate her for putting herself out there and for celebrating her Native heritage. I'd tell her to continue being a role model in the public eye because there aren't many of us who have the opportunity to be showcased on a mainstream level and it makes such a huge difference to not only our Native youth, but to our people in general. Now that she's been voted off the show and has a taste of what the industry is like, I'd advise her to sit down and reflect, really do some soul searching to design a path that is suited for her as an individual — to really visualize the kind of artist that she wants to be — and go after it!
What can any contestant who is eliminated from the show take away from it, moving forward?
Don't take your elimination personally. Understand that however far you advanced, that moment was written in the stars for you to enjoy and live through. Always keep in mind that there is a time and season for all things — and if you've been eliminated, it just wasn't your time. Now, does that mean that you should give up on everything? No, American Idol hasn't been around forever, and it certainly won't make or break you in the grand scheme of things. Keep forging ahead!
How does an eliminated contestant get over the disappointment?
On the night of my elimination, I knew in my heart that I was going to be eliminated. Honestly, I didn't even get my hopes up and remember smiling when the time came for me to exit the stage. I was happy that my parents and two of my best friends were in the audience to share that moment with me. I was happy that I was able to sing one of my all-time favorite songs on live TV. I found the positives and relished those days in the sunshine. I always viewed my experience on American Idol as a surreal moment and opportunity to share the gift that I've been given. You do what you can and continue to learn and grow, not only as an artist but as a person as well. Use the experience of American Idol as a tool of all-around growth and continue to relive the special moments of your experience — whether it be receiving the "Golden Ticket", rehearsing into the wee hours of the morning and pulling off that number, or driving down the highway with the anticipation of sharing your gifts upon arrival!
Let's talk about your own journey back in 2004 — how did you get the nerve to try out for American Idol?
I started singing as soon as I could carry a tune — maybe 3 or 4 years old. And my grandfather was the first one to put me in front of a camera. I sang publicly from age 12 all throughout high school and into college. I watched the first two seasons of American Idol intently and made up my mind that I wanted to audition. So in my sophomore year in college, when I was 20 years old, I did.
What song did you sing for your audition?
For the very first Atlanta audition, I sang "Proud Mary." On the actual show where people called in to vote, I sang "Chain of Fools."
You faced the original panel of judges, including the prickly impresario Simon Cowell — what did you think of him?
I liked him. I valued his opinion the most because I felt he was the most honest.
How did your family and tribe feel about you being on Idol?
They were very, very supportive of me. Some kids from the local elementary school made some congratulatory banners and sent them to me. Before I left in February, the chairman of our tribe had a reception to help raise money for me. They raised $1,200 to help pay for my wardrobe and food out there.
Were you sad that you didn’t make it past the top 32?
I’m glad I didn’t win. Just looking at some of the artists who have won and seeing the contracts they are under — I don’t know if they have as much freedom as I do as an independent artist. At the end of the day, my songs are still the songs that I write to the music that is coming out of my head — and out of my bandmates'.
Dark Water Rising's latest release is the EP "Grace & Grit," which can be streamed or purchased at the group's Bandcamp page. Here's a video for the EP's single "My Fun":