Temple alumna and former American Idol contestant Claire Fuller explains the differences of performing in Rome, London and the U.S.
Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009 was like most other autumn nights in London – cold, dark and rainy. But inside the Troubadour Club in Southwest London, a rowdy crowd of fans was filling up the intimate music venue with warmth and excitement. Claire Fuller rushed from her flat to the Troubadour with her guitarist, Tali Trow. She had spent the last 45 minutes frantically teaching Trow the music they would perform that night.
Stepping on stage at the legendary venue, which has seen the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Sammy Davis Jr., Fuller felt an instant adrenaline rush. She sang a near-hour set of original songs and covers before boisterous applause took over.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a performance as spontaneous and wonderful,” Fuller said.
It’s fitting that one of Fuller’s favorite London venues is the Troubadour – a title originally given to wandering musicians. The word seems to perfectly define the 25-year-old, who performed regularly in Rome before traveling to London, and who now travels back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, booking shows as an aspiring pop star.
Fuller still laughs at the title “pop star,” and considers herself more of a “toddler in the industry,” she said. But Fuller is one toddler who’s experiencing a growth spurt in the international music scene.
In the Fall 2004 semester, Fuller enrolled part-time in art history and Italian classes at Temple Rome, joining her family in the Italian capital, where her mother was teaching. Eager to pursue her passion for music, she began singing at La Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and joined a British choir. One day, she was pulled aside by a fellow choir member and asked to perform for the Pope’s Benediction.
For the next six months, Fuller sang the opening psalm at Pope John Paul II’s Benediction every other Wednesday morning and continued the tradition for Pope Benedict XVI’ s first year-and-a-half.
“I knew I was going to be a singer. I just didn’t know how,” Fuller said. “Rome really put me on the map.”
After she moved back to the U.S., Fuller decided it was important to buckle down and finish school at Temple.
Scott Gratson, the director of the communications program, said he knew Fuller would learn how to produce and promote herself as an artist at the School of Communications and Theater.
“She is engaged with her craft, which is vital for a performer,” Gratson said. “She is one of the most outgoing, charismatic professionals that anyone could meet, and she’s always willing to take risks.”
In June 2009, Fuller took a chance when she auditioned for Season 9 of “American Idol.” After a promising performance in Boston, she received the go-ahead to fly to Los Angeles in January 2010 to begin taping with the show. With a few months to kill in between, she got the travel bug again and decided to spend her final semester in London with the School of Communications and Theater’s study abroad program.
Although Fuller had contacts in London, breaking into the British music scene was completely foreign and admittedly more difficult than she expected, Fuller said.
“People aren’t as accessible in London,” she said, explaining the complexity and cliques of the city. “New York is such a street city, and they’re always looking for new talent.”
When venues and booking agents wouldn’t answer her phone calls, Fuller started making friends and networking the old-fashioned way.
“The key to success is to just show up, go knock on doors and say ‘I have a big dream, and I want to do it,’” she said.
Fuller started a band with singer-songwriter Sam Greig, a friend from London.
Together, they played small venues across the city, mostly for free, opening for other bands. During a yoga class, Fuller met Cynthia Zichy-Thyssen, a German fashion designer who also had connections in the industry.
In the next four months, Fuller and her friends jumped at every opportunity. Once, they opened last-minute for British star Pete Doherty, the front man for The Libertines.
At Christmas, Fuller sang at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden as a featured artist with the Concordia Foundation, an organization that provides concert platforms for emerging artists.
Still, the exposure came at a price – one that she wasn’t pocketing.
“It’s harder to be a street musician in London than it is in New York because there is less money to be made,” Fuller said, adding that the most she ever got from a London show was 70 pounds, approximately $112, which she immediately gave back to her musicians.
One factor of the music business that transcended international borders was the party scene. Although the parties go later and longer in New York, Fuller said the rock stars in London are wild jetsetters, treating their bands to exotic weekends away.
Fuller enjoyed the party scene in London, but she said her main priority was staying healthy for “American Idol” when she got home.
Although she was cut from the show before making it to the semi-finals, she made lasting connections with the “American Idol” band and her fellow contestants in Los Angeles.
“I don’t know how to fight or compete,” she said of her time with the show. “But I know how to be myself.”
These days, Fuller lives and performs in New York with her cover band. She is also the lead singer of STARROCK, but she is taking a two-month hiatus to write, record and meet with producers.
Meanwhile, her list of international travel plans is growing by the minute. She’ll be heading to India in the summer and Berlin next September – two places she said she’s guaranteed to feel creatively inspired.
But it’s London that has left a stamp on her passport, and on her heart.
“I think it was the awareness of my independence in London. I had just turned 24, and I went to a new city and made it my own,” she said. “How? By singing. That’s what I do.”
Julie Achilles can be reached at email@example.com.