Singer, Songwriter, Chaser of Dreams: Laurel Springs School junior Camille Kociuba Reflects on America's Got Talent Audition, Next Steps
As 16-year-old Camille Kociuba—known to her fans as Camille K—climbed the steps to the stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, she was undergoing a quiet battle with her nerves.
“I was shaking,” she recalls. “My whole body was trembling.”
Camille’s acoustic guitar, her only companion on stage, gently thumped at her side with each step forward. Behind her was the warm certainty of her parents’ presence. In front of her, a great unknown awaited behind a set of heavy curtains.
She took one last look over her shoulder—perhaps catching a flash of Terry Crews’ bright grin—before affixing a brilliant smile of her own and stepping out into the spotlight.
In some ways, Camille couldn’t believe she was standing on that stage, laying her heart out on the line for the America’s Got Talent judge’s panel. But in so many others, she knew this was exactly where she was meant to be. She has the talent, she puts in the hours, and the moment existed for her to show the world what she’s got.
The opening track: A musician in the making
Camille is a Mount Laurel, New Jersey, native, a self-taught vocalist, and a new member of the Laurel Springs School family, starting last year as a sophomore to have a more flexible school schedule so she can pursue her musical goals.
The high school junior says she's been singing as long as she’s been speaking and admits she was even known for getting into a bit of trouble at her old public school for occasionally bursting into song during class.
Camille started taking guitar lessons at seven years old, but she quickly lost interest in the instruction and decided to teach herself. By 11 years old, she’d joined a local music training center and started attending rock band camps, eventually performing with different bands and gigging professionally.
At the start of the pandemic, Camille decided to forge a career in solo music, accompanying her own vocals with the piano, acoustic or electric guitar, or ukulele. She drew a lot of inspiration from her mom, who Camille used to sing with around the house, and from her dad, a big fan of classic rock. One taught her sweet, soulful love songs and R&B, while the other instilled a love for Guns N’ Roses and Pink Floyd.
“My parents are the best,” Camille says. “They really helped me a lot with everything I’m doing, they’ve always been there for me.”
When COVID shut down all live music events, Camille started Live It Up Thursdays—a weekly livestream where she performed original songs and brought musical guests on for interviews and performances.
“It was a really bleak time, and I decided that I wanted to spread joy, love, and positivity to people through my music,” Camille says.
With the stages back open and priorities shifting, Live It Up Thursdays is now in the rearview mirror, but spreading joy, love, and positivity through music is still Camille’s focus, particularly with her originals.
She says she finds herself inspired by just about anything, including experiences not yet known to her, as is the case for the original song she performed for Simon Cowell and the rest of the AGT crew in her audition.
“Still in Love” tells the mournful story of a recently-heartbroken narrator pining to reunite with their former partner. Camille admits she has yet to experience her first broken heart. Emotion itself, though—that’s universal, and intense emotion was the driving force behind the song’s creation.
“At that time, I was feeling an emotion similar to heartbreak, and I wanted to build a story around it,” Camille explains. “So I used that emotion that I was feeling and I imagined how other people suffering from true heartbreak would feel as if I was still in love with somebody.”
Camille hopes songs like “Still in Love” help people heal, or not feel alone.
She is a translator of broad-sweeping emotions, refining them like minerals into gems. That’s how her songwriting process begins: a feeling, then music and chords that fit the mood, then lyrics that tell the story.
The America’s Got Talent adventure
Taking a stab at America’s Got Talent was a whim, a “why not?” moment, for Camille. With her parents’ blessing, she flew out to California for the auditions, where she became one of the thousands of musicians vying for the judges’ favor.
On August 2, 2022, after introductions and a brief back-and-forth with the judges, Camille’s AGT audition aired. She began with the first few lines of her carefully-rehearsed song, “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night” by FINNEAS, but she was barely halfway through the first verse when infamously-steely judge Simon held up his hand.
“Thank you,” Simon says in the audition, which, as of the publication of this blog, is climbing towards 3.5 million views on YouTube alone.
Camille confirms her heart plummeted into her stomach when Simon halted the performance. She was already one of the last contestants to audition, with all golden buzzers used up. She confesses she already felt barely able to pull it together to march up to the microphone in the first place, and now it seemed Simon was stopping her short.
“I was trying not to let my head go anywhere besides in the moment because that’s how I was able to not panic,” Camille says. “It was a very, very emotionally intense moment for me.”
As the crowd murmured and shook their heads at Simon’s halt—even the brow on host/actor Terry Crews furrowed—Simon told Camille that, while she has a nice voice, he wanted to hear something “more standout” from her. He wanted to hear an original.
“I was actually glad that he did that because it meant I was able to perform my own song for the judges, the audience, and everybody watching on TV,” Camille says.
She performed “Still in Love” to a captivated audience and judge panel. The crowd erupted into a standing ovation as her song came to an end. Unable to process the explosive response from the viewers, Camille recalls bursting into tears.
“I was still crying backstage,” she laughs, reflecting on the moment. “I was actually sobbing even more. Then I talked to Terry Crews and he was like, ‘why are you crying?’ Thankfully, they loved it. I wasn’t expecting that reaction, and I feel like it really validated all of the hard work that I put into my music so far.”
With so much love from the audience and three enthusiastic yeses from the judges, “they loved it” might be a humble understatement on Camille’s part. After saying goodbye to the thousands of other talented individuals auditioning, Camille headed back across the country to await the results of her audition at home, where she later found out she wouldn’t progress past the Deliberations round.
However, the teen is not mourning an end—instead, she sees her performance as a beginning to be celebrated.
The next act, starring Camille K
After years of self-teaching—learning things in her own way and when she wants to learn them—and making music in her own style, Camille is seeking new heights in her music.
Armed with great feedback from the AGT judges, she is back at the microphone, recording and prepping new originals for release, and gigging around the New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.
A Camille K original, “I Believe in Miracles,” and her cover of “Silent Night” will be featured in an upcoming holiday film “ Philly Christmas.” She also still performs with her Pink Floyd tribute band, Shine On.
AGT, Camille says, has taught her a lot about the music industry and keeping cool under pressure. Her local performances, like her monthly appearance at the Hard Rock Cafe in Philadelphia, no longer plague her with any nerves.
“I think I’ve regained a lot of my confidence,” she says, “I did America’s Got Talent, so I can do so much more.”
While she’s an extraordinarily talented singer, being a musician is just one facet of many for this teen. Camille is often buried in a book, exploring nature, or exercising. After she graduates from Laurel Springs, music will remain a part of her life. She has no plans to put down her guitar anytime soon, but she also dreams of pursuing a career in the medical field.
Camille’s advice to others, whether it’s to students or budding musicians, is to aim high, work hard, and never lose sight of your dreams.
“I’m so grateful to actually have been able to perform on that stage, in front of the judges,” Camille says. “It’s only the beginning for me. I have so many other things planned.”
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