Marisa McKaye: 12-year-old Franklin local appears on ‘America’s Got Talent’

Photo by Tayhlor Stephenson / Lifestyles Editor

With an acclaimed title like Music City, U.S.A., Middle Tennessee attracts thousands of aspiring musicians on the daily, some great and some not-so-good. But every now and then, a diamond arises from the rough.

Marisa McKaye, a 12-year-old local to Franklin, recently represented what it means to be an ambitious artist in the country music scene with her presence on NBC’s hit show “America’s Got Talent.”

“In my audition, I was definitely really nervous, but I don’t think I was as nervous as I thought I was going to be,” McKaye said with a sigh of relief. “(Plus, everything) definitely looks a lot smaller than it does on TV.”

Though her original audition performing Maren Morris’ “My Church” was never aired, McKaye did advance to the Judge Cuts, the second round of the competition, which demanded a second performance.

But leaving her quiet home-life for a star-studded show wasn’t something McKaye sought to do, not alone at least.

“She’s not one to compete or stand in line for something like ‘America’s Got Talent,’” said McKaye’s mother, Karrie Galdino.

Sometimes, all it takes is the right person hearing the right song at the right time.

That’s just what happened as a staffer at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt’s Seacrest Studios’ listened to McKaye’s original song “Warrior (Emilia’s song).” It’s dedicated to a family friend battling cancer. From there, the hospital staffer reached out to “America’s Got Talent,” an act that ultimately led to McKaye’s television debut.

“I wasn’t able to tell many people until later, but I did tell my best friends, and they were very surprised and like, ‘We promise we won’t tell anybody,’” McKaye said with a chuckle. “They were super supportive, and I’m really lucky to have friends who enjoy listening to me.”

And what better time for McKaye to step out of her comfort zone than the season following another 12-year-old’s victory on “America’s Got Talent?” Grace VanderWaal took the Season 11 title, which led to a record deal with Columbia Records and the release of her first EP. If anything, that bit of encouragement could only serve to drive McKaye further.

As McKaye approached the infamous Judge Cuts, she prepared with a true country music anthem, Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing.”

“I really love that song,” McKaye said. “I’ve been singing it for a really long time, and I’m really comfortable with (it).”

As she graced the stage, the entire audience could easily pick up on her seasoned talent as she belted impeccable vocals while strumming along with her guitar, a new ability.

“How it worked was we (all performed before the judges) and then the next day we went back for the results,” McKaye explained. “We didn’t know if we made it or not after our performance.”

As far as the competition, McKaye’s journey would end there, but her time with “America’s Got Talent” was merely one of several experiences to come.

McKaye holds no regrets, nor any feeling of bitterness toward her competition.

“I just learned that there’s some amazingly talented people in this world, and they are just as nice and kind as they are talented, and I think that’s awesome.”

McKaye now plans to “stay local and just go with the flow and see what happens” as she continues to explore the world of country music, where she has already been granted endeavors others dream of.

Not only has the middle-schooler already released a seven-track EP called “Colorful Girl” via her own label, Marisa McKaye Music, but as of May, she also became the youngest Song Suffragette, a writer’s round comprised of all-female songwriters held weekly at The Listening Room Cafe.

On top of that, her regular gigs prove quite impressive as well.

“I mainly play at Sopapilla’s (a Franklin restaurant) every Thursday and Margaritaville every Saturday,” McKaye said. “I also do the Bluebird Sunday night round.”

Regardless of her tight schedule, McKaye still manages to find time to write original songs, such as the one that landed her the headlining gig at the American Girl Doll unveiling of the company’s newest Nashville-based dolls, Tenney Grant and Logan Everett.

For McKaye, the best is yet to come, even with an “America’s Got Talent” appearance behind her.

“Ever since I was really little, I would always hum along to songs and I would always be memorizing the lyrics,” McKaye said. “(Music) was always something that I just loved, and it’s kind of like a part of me.”

For more information on Marisa McKaye or to view her weekly schedule, click here. Her music can be found on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email

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