The crowd booed her off stage in elementary school when she performed The Cheetah Girls’ songs at a lip-syncing show. “American Idol” dismissed her after the group round at 17 years old. Every UT a cappella group she auditioned for denied her, yet none of that stopped Courtney Penry.
Penry, a UT human relations alumna and founder of UT’s first all-female a cappella group Beauties and the Beat, will be on “American Idol” on March 6. After graduating UT in 2015 and undergoing four years of vocal training, she aims to make a comeback to show her growth since her last “Idol” audition and fulfill her purpose of singing for others.
She said developing her artistry takes time, which is why she wasn’t ready in 2011. Penry has grown up performing since elementary school and said humbling experiences pushed her to grow.
“Every time I got kicked down, it gave me motivation to be where I want to be,” Penry said. “It hasn’t been an easy ride, but everything happens for a reason, and I stand proudly as who I am today.”
Penry’s vocal coach Winkie Jamail said Penry has matured as a human and a performer.
“As you mature, you’re the same person but more refined in connecting with people,” Jamail said. “Her performances are becoming more refined, connecting with her audience and conveying her messages.”
Despite the challenges she has faced, Penry said she loves the performance aspect of singing because she can feel the crowd’s energy.
Berkeley Mashburn, one of Penry’s close friends in Beauties, said she has always enjoyed performing alongside Penry.
“She’s so lively, energetic and expressive, (which) made people come watch us in Beauties,” Mashburn said.
Penry said anxiety contributed to her passion for performing as it allows her to express her soul through music.
“(Anxiety) has always been something I’ve dealt with,” Penry said. “I take all those feelings it’s giving me and put it into my music and performance.”
Penry said she’s beginning to realize the importance of voicing her anxiety because she values authenticity.
“I should talk more about (my anxiety) because that’s part of my truth,” Penry said. “It needs to be shared so people don’t feel alone.”
This authenticity drives Penry’s life. She said the music industry pushes an image onto artists, making them into something they’re not.
“If you’re not speaking your truth with every song you write or sing, then why are you doing it?” Penry said. “That’s what music is all about — speaking your truth, inspiring others and making people feel better with your music.”
Today, she aims to show her true self through exploring different genres, although she previously stuck to country. Newly married and currently working on her first album in Abilene, Texas, Penry performs on the side. Ultimately, she said she perseveres through hardships because singing isn’t for her own satisfaction.
“What motivates me to keep singing is God,” Penry said. “He’s given me this gift and wouldn’t have given it to me if it wasn’t supposed to be used for a purpose.”