You can expect “American Idol” hopeful Casey McQuillen to be herself when she comes home to Andover next week to close out the annual summer concert series in The Park.
McQuillen and her five-piece band will be performing on Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m.
Building on her “Idol” exposure earlier this year, McQuillen has been traveling around the state to talk about self-esteem with the pre-teen set. She has taken her message to 25 middle schools, including Sanborn School in her hometown of Andover.
“I always ask, ‘Who likes to sing?’ and fifth-graders go crazy raising their hands,” McQuillen said. “But then I ask sixth- and seventh-graders the same question and no one raises their hand. What happens to 12-year-olds? Something happens.”
McQuillen is no psychiatrist or trained school counselor, but she said it’s evident that the middle school years are tough on kids. Personalities are developing, bodies are changing and friends come and go, which can be troubling to a 13-year-old, she said.
“I lived it not so long ago and kids know me so I can really relate,” said the 21-year-old McQuillen, who is about to start her senior year at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In her “You Matter” program, McQuillen talks to students — in addition to singing and sharing stories — about feeling good about themselves. She said young audiences seem to like the fact that she is honest and real about her own life.
“Whether you like Harry Potter, you are really smart, maybe a little quirky ... so what ... don’t bully yourself or get so upset with yourself. Be cool, be proud about it,” encourages McQuillen, who remembers being an energetic, nerdy, straight-A student writing songs about her life while a student at Doherty Middle School in town.
McQuillen visited Sanborn School on the last full day of classes in June to spread her “You Matter” message to fourth- and fifth-graders. She said she can only hope that students remembered it.
“If for a day they remember me and my message, that would be cool,” said the college honors student who graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover in 2011.
McQuillen said trying out for “American Idol” was more than about pursuing fame. At the end of the day, she said what matters most is reaching out to a troubled middle-schooler and helping him or her adjust to being 13.
“When I get an email from some kid thanking me, ... that’s my motivation and I love that,” she said.
A large crowd is expected to greet Casey McQuillen when she returns to familiar territory for her show next Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m. at The Park at Chestnut and Water streets.
McQuillen will serve as the finale for town’s annual free summer concerts. The series is presented by the town’s Department of Community Series. In the event of rain, the show will move inside World War I Memorial Auditorium adjacent to The Park. Visit www.AndoverDCS.com for more information.
Next month, McQuillen will be back in Andover for Andover Day on Saturday, Sept. 6. She will sing on the main stage from noon to 1:30 p.m.