Growing up, Turlock native Ashlyn Ruder could turn anything into a stage. From her grandmother’s bed where she’d belt out “The Sound of Music” to the tailgate of her dad’s truck performing the songs she had written, music has always served as a way for the 22-year old to express herself.
On Sunday, Ruder will sing on one of the world’s biggest stages when she appears on the newest episode of “American Idol” in its 19th season.
“Music has been a pastime of mine my entire life. I was always doing something music related, and that’s just how it was for me growing up,” Ruder said. “Now, it’s become a dream that’s real and it’s a career. It’s crazy.”
Ruder was born and raised in Turlock and graduated from Turlock Christian in 2017. During her younger years, she kept busy by performing in her church’s worship band and even recorded an album at age 13. That endeavor never came to be — producers saw Ruder as a pop star, while her heart was with country music — and it would be almost a decade until the singer got her big break.
Ruder is recently married and attending Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles County, where she’s working toward obtaining her degree in both business and music. Ruder’s husband, an actor, noticed a casting call for “American Idol” last year and decided to sign her up for the hit show, which has launched the careers of singers like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Scotty McCreery, to name a few.
For the girl who once forgot the words to a song during her camp talent show as a child, the thought could have been daunting — but Ruder was prepared.
“Growing up, I was kind of shy performing unless I was around my family,” Ruder said. “It’s not that those butterflies ever go away, it’s that you have to train them to fly in a line.”
The saying was one that Ruder’s mom used to tell her, and one that Ruder’s grandfather used to tell her mom. She hails from a musical family, she said, including her father, who can sit down at a piano and play almost anything without a sheet of music in front of him.
After a lengthy back and forth with “American Idol” producers, which consisted of pre-auditions and plenty of stress, Ruder and her father were able to travel to Ojai last November so that she could vie for a golden ticket to Hollywood on the show. The experience was unforgettable, she said, and has helped her create lasting friendships with other like-minded musicians who are all just trying to make it in the industry.
During a normal season, more family members would have been able to come along for the experience. When Ruder found out she could only bring one person due to COVID, she knew she wanted it to be her dad. They were tested for COVID and had to quarantine before filming interviews for the show, then it was audition day.
The self-written song that Ruder sang in her audition before judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie doesn’t have a name, but she calls it “Bryan’s Song,” named for her dad. It tells the story of his life, from his time as a daring child and rebellious teen to the days when addiction issues kept him from being the dad she knew he could be.
Prior to Ruder’s journey to Ojai, the song had never been finished.
“I wanted to have a relationship with my dad and the only way I knew how to do that was to write it in a song,” Ruder said. “I never knew when I was going to share it with him...I put it in my back pocket.
“When he totally turned his life around and became sober, I knew that was the ending to the song.”
While Turlockers will have to tune in to the show in order to see whether or not Ruder advances, she hopes that no matter the outcome, her appearance will leave an impact on at least one viewer and remind them that there is hope, along with the possibility of redemption and reconciliation, for those who love someone struggling with addiction.
“I really hope that they feel that they are not alone if they are struggling or going through the hurt of being an addict, or if they have an addict in the family,” Ruder said. “There is always hope, and ultimately I want people to love people through that process because it’s hard and they've got to make that decision for themselves at the end of the day.”
Ruder’s episode of “American Idol” will air at 8 p.m. on ABC this Sunday.