Maddy Curtis
Maddy Curtis
Maddy Curtis, 17, made it to Hollywood Week on last year's American Idol season, but she ended up finding a platform for more than her voice. Curtis, who was the first contestant to be sent directly to Hollywood in Season Nine, is the ninth youngest child in a family of 12. Her older brother and three younger adopted brothers all have Down syndrome. The Bluemont, Va., teen - who is a member of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Purcellville - says that Idol allowed her to share about the special gifts of people with Down syndrome. She now wants to use her singing to help promote life issues, including advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.

Curtis plans to study vocal performance at Catholic University of America after she graduates from high school this year. The teen will be performing at the Jan. 24 Rally for Life concert at the Verizon Center. (All available tickets for that event have been distributed to area parishes, schools and youth groups.) Below, she talks about her faith, family and future career plans.

How did you become Catholic?

I converted three years ago. My parents, my older brother, my four brothers with Down syndrome and I all converted from being nondenominational Christians. My mom was actually baptized Catholic, but her mom didn't take her to church. A few years ago my mom felt called to go to Mass by God. She just fell in love with it. Seeing that switch in her made me want to see what this was all about.

I grew up thinking that Catholics weren't Christian, actually. But then I went to Mass while still going to our other church at the same time. I was reading Catholic literature and going to RCIA. I pretty much fell in love with the Mass, because it's so different from what I'm used to.

I really fell in love with the reverence, I guess.

I was confirmed in May 2008. I sing for my church, and I'm really involved in the ministry there. I'm happy.
What was your American Idol experience like?

I watched the show since I was a little tyke, but I never really wanted to try out, actually. I was really into musical theater at the time. [Friends at school would ask her if she was going to try out and she said no.]

But then one day I came home from school last year, and I felt called to try out. I don't know what put it in my head. I'm almost positive it was the Holy Spirit. I told my mom...and the very next day we were in Boston for the auditions there. It was crazy...

[Curtis sang Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" at the Boston auditions and was shown on the episode as the first Idol contestant of Season Nine to get unanimous approval from the judges to go to Hollywood Week. She was cut on Day Two of the finals.]

It was a crazy experience. Since I'm going to major in vocal performance, I'm leaning toward opera now. It's a much different kind of singing.

I just feel like God wanted to use that experience to show how special kids with Down syndrome are. Ninety percent of pregnant women given a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose abortion. That breaks your heart... My brothers are so special to me and have changed me in so many ways. Their whole nature is so happy. My brother Jonny is just a year older than me so we grew up together ... I've gotten to experience it firsthand how happy and content they can be with everything that's thrown at them. Jonny always put others first and always has been so happy and content at anything bad that's thrown at him.

[Curtis gave the example of when she was learning to drive, and Jonny asked why he couldn't learn to drive as well. Instead of getting upset at the explanation, Jonny decided it'd be a fun way for him and Maddy to hang out and do things together.]

It just shows the difference between how they can act and how we can act. They're really special.

What has it been like growing up in your large, unique family?

While I have that "youngest child" attitude, because I am biologically the youngest in my family, I've gotten a lot of responsibility given to me, but in a very positive way. I've gotten to see the better things in life through my brothers. I see the world in a different way than my peers, because I've gotten the responsibility I have.

I grew up in California, and one of the reasons we moved to Virginia is that it's a good state for support for kids with disabilities. My community in Loudon County also is very supportive of people with disabilities.

[Curtis says a local theater puts on productions with the main roles given to kids with disabilities. She also volunteers with Special Olympics, which all her brothers participate in. She's been glad to see her peers get involved in those groups.]

Do you think people have enough awareness about disabilities as part of a range of pro-life issues?

Not at all - they're not. Because if they were, there wouldn't be as many abortions as there are. I feel if people were more educated about it and they got to experience it, they would think much differently than they do. And so many times [with prenatal Down syndrome diagnoses], the doctor will come into the room and say, 'Your child has Down syndrome,' and they also bring in the abortion papers.

[Curtis says one of her younger adopted brothers came into her family after his biological father refused to go along with an abortion.]

Why are you performing at the Rally for Life?

I've been doing a lot of pro-life events. They're a lot of fun. I wouldn't miss this chance to speak for life and be able to sing for life. I'm completely excited. I'm stoked!

I'll be singing "How Beautiful" by Twila Paris, "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen with verses he wrote that people don't usually sing, and a pro-life song I wrote for my ukulele called "God Save the Children". I actually wrote it in one night. The words just started coming to my head and then I put cords to it. I'm also going to speaking about growing up in a family of 12 and using your gifts to further the cause of life. I'm really excited!

It's going to be the biggest crowd I've ever sung in front of. I'm excited that God's doing this in my life.

After college with the whole opera focus I hope to take, if I make it into the business I can talk about life in a lot of things. I feel like the way I sing, I have two different voices... the more mainstream voice and the opera voice. I'd love to keep doing the pro-life events while learning to do opera and stuff. It's going to be an interesting life.