Mary Desmond, a sophomore, brings something to campus that most students don’t: 58,000 Twitter followers.
As a young recording artist, Desmond, 20, appeared on American Idol in 2015-16 and got the golden ticket to go to Hollywood Week before being axed.
“Auditioning for the celebrity judges was the most nervous I’ve ever been, but it was fun to be with people who have the same strong passion for music that I do,” Desmond says. “It was cool to see the process of filming.”
Desmond comes from a family of strong Christian values—and music. Her older brother is a worship leader at a Mission Viejo church, and her younger brother performs in musical theater, just as Mary did from a young age.
“I was not a shy child at all,” she says. “I worked in musical theater and at Legoland doing shows, singing and dancing.”
She grew up around her parents’ non-profit organization—a rehabilitation center for brain-injured people—and in a Christian school which deepened her faith.
Concordia teaches you how to be successful in the industry and make a living in it. That is very exciting for me.
“Having a Bible class every day and being set in that way really helped me in my walk with God,” Desmond says. “From early on I was interested in music and singing and using that gift in church. A really pure way to worship God and connect with God is through music.”
At age 13 she transitioned from playing kid parts in musical theater to writing songs, playing guitar and posting her music on YouTube.
“It was scary at first, but I didn’t know if anybody would watch it anyway, so I did it because I loved it,” she says.
Her cousin, a wedding photographer, helped her produce some videos, and Desmond started to get a fan base, especially when, as a high school freshman, she made a music video of a popular new song before the original artist did.
“That brought a lot of views and YouTube subscribers,” she says. “We were all cheering it on. It was a cool moment.”
Desmond kept up with demand, creating more videos and live-streaming herself singing and playing. Her American Idol appearance gave her national attention.
“When it comes to social media, I try my hardest to be myself and not compromise my values to get likes or followers,” she says. “I stick to what I believe and how I want to be presented. I’m very public about my faith, so I am careful with the words I use and the things I post. I know people are looking who might not know Jesus, and they might see something they want to be part of.”
Desmond chose to enroll at CUI because she had heard about the new music building and commercial music program, and wants to build a lifelong career in the industry.
“Concordia teaches you how to be successful in the industry and make a living in it,” Desmond says. “That is very exciting for me.”
Desmond is clear-eyed about the shelf life of many pop stars.
“The entertainment industry is short-lived. I don’t know how long performing will last,” Desmond says. “There are so many one-hit wonders and you never hear of them again. Knowing that, I really think I have gained a more realistic approach to the industry. It’s best to put your work in and reach for your goals but also have an understanding that if you want this as a life career, you’re going to have to do more than one thing. That’s the reality. If the performing part of my life goes away, I want to be prepared with skills to be a producer, or a teacher, and have different facets of what I can do. That’s why I chose to go to school and continue to pursue music on the side as well.”
If the performing part of my life goes away, I want to be prepared with skills to be a producer, or a teacher, and have different facets of what I can do. That’s why I chose to go to school and continue to pursue music on the side as well.
In addition to studying music theory, ear training and music production skills, Desmond sings in CUI’s commercial music ensemble and choir.
“Our concerts have been so much fun because we do so many different types of music, like pop and oldies,” she says. “I can’t stop dancing and smiling the whole time during rehearsal and when performing.”
Desmond’s YouTube videos have drawn millions of views, but she is just as interested in having “a fun college experience.”
“I’ve loved being at Concordia because it’s so Christ-centered,” Desmond says. “I’ve met so many wonderful, Jesus-loving people that I will call friends the rest of my life. I’ve gotten the chance to serve on worship team, and that’s something I wouldn’t find at a lot of other schools. Concordia is a community where people are really focused on Christ and showing God’s love. It’s important especially in our young adult years to have that foundation set. I am really thankful that God worked it out this way.”
This summer Desmond will take a break from her typical summer employment— working at her parents’ charity—to sing at the LCMS’ National Youth Gathering in Minneapolis. Then it will be back to school in the fall.
“I’m really excited for what my life looks like right now at Concordia,” she says. “I really do love Concordia so much, and I’m excited for my life after graduation, too. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I’ll continue to pursue my passion, put out my own music and see where that takes me.”