Find Your Passion: Singer to ‘Drive On’ Following Graduation

Katy MontaltoSongwriting, Montalto says, is the best way for her to express her feelings. (Jeff Hanson)

By Sarah Caroline Willcox

With the world in the rear-view mirror of a red convertible Ford Mustang, Katy Montalto, a May 2010 graduate of The University of Alabama, found the inspiration she needed to put her thoughts on paper.

The double major in telecommunication and film and musical theater grabbed her camera to record a video for one of her original songs, unknowing she would finish as a finalist in Country Music Television’s music video contest for budding artists.

The contest, CMT’s Music City Madness, for unsigned artists began in October 2009. Montalto, a 21-year-old Trussville native, says she learned of it in September from her brother who had heard about it on the radio. She says he knew she had been writing songs and suggested she participate.

“I looked into [the contest] a few weeks before it was due, grabbed a camera from Reese Phifer and recorded one of my original songs in the Samford Media Center in [Amelia Gayle] Gorgas Library,” Montalto says. “My boyfriend helped me film it in [Munny] Sokol Park.”

The song Montalto chose was one of the first she had written titled “Drivin’ On.” Montalto says the song came to her while she was driving in the car one day and is both literally and figuratively about a road trip. The bridge of the song talks about bumps in the road, comparative to ups and downs in life.

“Part of it is just forgetting what’s going on sometimes and getting in the car and driving on,” Montalto says. “When I need to think of something, sometimes songs just come to me when I’m driving by myself.”

Katy MontaltoAlthough interested in music for as long as she can remember, Montalto says she began guitar playing in college. (Jeff Hanson)

For the actual filming of the video, Montalto says her boyfriend, Daniel Lincoln, a real estate finance graduate of the UA graduate school, helped her film the video in Sokol Park and in downtown Northport. She says her knowledge of camera angles and broadcasting was helpful in shooting the footage. After two days of filming, she and Lincoln took the video to the Samford Media Center to match the music track with the lip-syncing.

Growing up in Trussville, Ala. Montalto says she’s been interested in music for as long as she remembers, performing concerts for her parents soon after she learned to talk and learning to play the piano at a young age. In high school, she began taking voice lessons and picked up guitar in college. It wasn’t until last year that Montalto began pursuing songwriting. This has become, she says, her passion and focus for her future.

“[Songwriting] is the best way to express your feelings,” Montalto says. “Music has always kind of been my outlet to show what I want to put out there in the world.”

So when CMT placed its final 64 music-video contestants on its Web site, Montalto says she was pleasantly surprised at the results. Each week, for six weeks, viewers voted, and contestants with the most votes advanced to the next round. The top 20 videos were featured on CMT, and Montalto made it far enough to be able to show her talent on national television.

“I made it to the top eight, which was the 4th round,” Montalto says. “The winner got an audition with Valory Recording Co., got to meet Reba McEntire and was featured on CMT. I didn’t even know if I was going to get in the top 64, so advancing was really fun.”

Raphael Crystal, director of the musical theater department, has worked with Montalto on basic musicianship skills, musical theatre performance and repertoire of musical theatre material. Crystal has also helped Montalto in her decisions about songs she should sing for auditions and what kinds of songs are right for Montalto’s voice, personality, acting and singing style. As far as insight on Montalto, Crystal has plenty.

“Stardom is something you can never predict, but [Montalto] certainly has the ingredients,” Crystal says. “Frankly, we don't train students to be stars; we try to give them the skills to become working professionals, which – take my word for it – is a tremendous accomplishment for any performing artist.”

Crystal says he thinks the competition was great for Montalto, who, he says, has a lot of potential as an artist.

“She has a great voice, a wonderful kind of deadpan humor, and, of course, she's beautiful,” Crystal says. “She's been an ideal student—talented, intelligent, conscientious, focused and eager to learn and improve.”

With all of the right qualities for success, Montalto says she hopes to use the experience of the competition and her time at UA to further her career in music. As the uncertainty that comes with graduation comes closer, she says her dreams of theater or country music change every day.

“[Songwriting] and country music are my favorite things in the world. They really are my passions,” Montalto says. “I change my mind everyday about what I want to do. It’s scary and I’m not sure where to start … but I’m at least going to try.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sarah Caroline Willcox is a May 2010 graduate of The University of Alabama, who majored in public relations and minored in English. She is from Birmingham.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.