Berklee's New Idol: Christina Isabelle Pasqualone
Berklee folks watching American Idol last week may have recognized a familiar face making it through to the Top 40: recent graduate Christina “Isabelle” Pasqualone.
No one listening to the power of Pasqualone’s voice could suggest that her success is due to anything but her talent. But that talent was highlighted by a new Berklee student club, the Berklee A&R Artist Development Group. A mixture of music business and music production and engineering majors, Berklee A&R auditions fellow students, works with them to produce professional-quality songs and videos, and submits them to talent scouts. The group is advised by Joe James, a MP&E Department staff member with 25 years of experience in production and A&R, most recently at Interscope/Dreamworks.
After a little more than a year in existence, Pasqualone’s isn’t the only placement the group has made. Student Sutton Gaddis’s band Think has been signed by the All Music Media Group.
On the recommendation of James and Berklee A&R, 14 Berklee students were sent directly to the green room for the first American Idol auditions in June, bypassing the long lines of the “cattle call.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that they jumped straight to the televised auditions. In September, Pasqualone went to Lincoln Center in New York for a daylong set of three more auditions with various production assistants and producers, before moving on to the judges the next day.
Hollywood week was even crazier. Pasqualone says, “They push you to your limits.” More than 400 people from across the country were called back in December. Half were cut in another a cappella round. The remaining singers were assigned groups, chose a song, and practiced overnight, sleeping for an hour before the group audition the next morning. After one more solo round with a band the next day, everyone went home for the holidays (and some sleep!).
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Pasqualone says. Finishing up her last semester at Berklee, she had to do some scrambling to make it to the December auditions. But her teachers were “super supportive” in helping her schedule her proficiencies early so she could do both.
“I couldn’t have done this without Berklee,” she says. “I wouldn’t have had the experience: the life experience or the musical experience.”
Pasqualone wasn’t an “official” Berklee A&R artist when the recommendation was made. James’s contact at Interscope had requested that a former contestant, Naomi Gillies, return for this year’s auditions. Gillies decided not to and suggested Pasqualone. After hearing her sing, James agreed. He helped prepare her for the audition and pin down her song choice (“Summertime,” which was praised by the judges). “He’s really honest with me, always there for questions,” Pasqualone says of James. "I wouldn't be on if it wasn't for him."
Even those who know Pasqualone may have been confused by the way she was identified on Idol. She chose her stage name because she felt that “Christina” didn’t fit her as an artist as well as “Isabelle,” which is her mom’s name and her own middle name. Before Idol, the professional music major (with a focus on music business) was about to release an album that she cowrote with fellow Berklee students as Isabelle. Now she’s waiting to see what’s next—maybe cannibalizing some of the material for a major label release?
For students interested in being a Berklee A&R artist, the next round of auditions will take place at the end of February.