Morris Plains teen bringing original work ‘Onstage’
This is the 1st in a series of profiles highlighting the finalists of Morristown Onstage, to be held March 1 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
MORRISTOWN – A Morris Catholic sophomore will shine this March when she performs a song she wrote herself, “Too Cold (For Roses),” at Morristown Onstage.
“It was at a vocal lesson when I decided upon ‘Too Cold,’” Phelan said. “I had shown (my vocal coach) my idea, and like many times before, we begun to collaborate. As I sang, he played and soon joined in on the vocals. We were both so caught up in the song, when I went back and listened, I knew this was the act. It was so real.”
Kelly Phelan, 16, of Morris Plains, is a Morristown Onstage finalist after auditioning each of the last three years.
“My first year I sang a cover. The next I used a rough track for one of my first originals, ‘Juliet,’ and this year, an acoustic performance of my latest song,” Phelan said. “With all my improvements and hard work over those years, I think now is the time to truly put my name and music out there for the world to see.”
Phelan said she knows that at 16 she has not been performing as long as many other contestants, only seriously singing with a vocal coach about five years ago, but she’s already developed a catalogue of original work.
“It soon became more than just a hobby,” Phelan said. “I could spend hours in my basement writing and playing my guitar. When I was in seventh grade, I started to show (my vocal coach) my original songs, and the rest is history.”
Phelan said she takes her inspiration for a variety of artists and genres, from Ed Sheeran and Gavin DeGraw, to Third Eye Blind and Sam Hunt.
“People always seem to ask me how I do it, how I write songs,” Phelan said. “I wish I could say it takes time and hard work, which it does, as anything else, but to start, it takes something more. Inspiration.”
For Phelan, her first true songwriting inspiration came in October 2012, when she lost her godmother to breast cancer.
“I was very fortunate to be able to have such a close relationship with my godmother, which I wouldn’t trade for the world. But at the time, it made me feel something, a sadness, an anger I’d never felt, which nearly five years later, would I understand was heartbreak,” Phelan said. “I was 12 and had never really seen death and the ugliness that came from it, so I didn’t know how to cope. Or what to feel.”
For her godmother’s memorial service she wanted to speak, but was unsure of what to say.
“Then a song came on the radio, Ed Sheeran’s ‘Autumn Leaves,’ and for the first time, I just cried and wrote everything down,” Phelan said. “By the time the song had ended, I had the chorus to ‘One More Day,’ my first song. And after that, with my songs, I’ve never been at a loss for words, or for a melody, again.”
Leading up to the competition, Phelan hopes to record her first EP with her vocal coach as her producer.
“Our goal is to get ‘Too Cold’ up as my first single before the show,” Phelan said. “So if people react positively to my music, they know where to find it.”
She’ll also likely make some time to watch some shows and movies on Netflix, and have a good meal.
“Anything with bread, pasta, or potatoes,” Phelan said. “My family calls me the ‘Carb Queen.’”
Phelan said she hasn’t even considered what she would do if she won Morristown Onstage.
“I know it’s corny, but just being a finalist, and having my hard work pay off, is my grand prize,” Phelan said. “I did this show for the publicity, not the money. But, if I happened to get $1,000 out of it I wouldn’t complain. I’d use every cent toward my music and recording, because it’s what would have got me the money in the first place, and it’s what I love to do.”
Following the show, Phelan plans to continue to write, record and perform.
“And no matter what happens on the show,” she said, “Continuing to put my name out there.”
Phelan hopes the story of her journey, continuing to audition until she made the cut, can be an example for other hopeful acts.
“Starting as an amateur singer in my first audition and ending as a finalist from singing an original song,” she said, “I hope will show other aspiring performers, how far you can come if you love what you do and strive for your dreams.”
Staff Writer Michael Izzo: 973-428-6636; mizzo@GannettNJ.com
What: A show featuring the best amateur talent from Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains, presented by and benefiting the Morris Educational Foundation.
When: Wednesday, March 1
Where: Mayo Performing Arts Center, 100 South St. in Morristown.
Tickets: On sale starting Feb. 1. Prices range from $25 to $75. For information, call MPAC at 973-539-8008 or visit www.mayoarts.org.