Larsons take immense pride in Iowa’s first American Idol winner

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The Larsons show their love for cousin Maddie Poppe during her hometown visit parade in May. (Submitted photo)

By Rachel Mergen, North Iowa Times

On May 21, American Idol viewers decided on the next winner, who would be given the opportunity to start a career that most can only dream of. That winner was a 20-year-old woman, the first to achieve such an accomplishment from Iowa—Maddie Poppe. 

Todd and Nick Larson, of McGregor, could not be more thrilled to hear the news, as they are proud to claim Maddie as family. Maddie is the cousin of Todd and his son Nick, with her grandfather being siblings with Nick’s grandfather.

“We were kind of expecting it,” Todd stated about hearing his cousin would be taking the American Idol stage. He told the story of how Maddie, who is a native of Clarksville, auditioned for The Voice in 2015, but was rejected. 

The Larson and Poppe families are close, with Todd noting, “They all grew up together.” Yearly reunions would include camping and, not surprising at all, singing.

“She was a really great singer. I remember at a family reunion, she was singing ‘Landslide.’ She was singing all of these great songs,” Nick recalled. “Landslide,” a popular song by band Fleetwood Mac, was also one of the songs Maddie chose to perform during the finale of the 16th American Idol season. 

Confidence wasn’t always present for social butterfly Maddie, though, according to Todd and Nick. Todd described, “I always remember we could never get her to sing around the campfire. She was so shy and everything. Next it was this, she turned into this.”

“Her confidence has increased tremendously since this all happened to her,” he continued, “I think she lost a bit of confidence after being rejected by The Voice. I know she went through a tough period of time there, but now look at her. She’s pretty awesome. I don’t know how you can’t like her or fall in love with her.”

“Genuine, hardworking and down-to-earth,” Nick and Todd described the winner. 

“What you see on television, her being down to earth, that’s not a show. That’s her. She isn’t putting on [an act],” declared Todd. He remembered, during Maddie’s hometown visit before the finale, that Maddie made them stop her limo after her concert, just so she could talk to her family members.

“I truly believe that this isn’t going to change her as a person. It’s going to change her life, I get that, but I truly believe that she will always be that person you see on television. She’s going to remember where she came from. She’s got good parents. Her mom and dad are awesome people,” Todd said. 

Her parents were there to support her during the entire season, with many red-eye flights from Iowa to California included. Maddie’s younger sister is still in high school, so her parents were attempting to balance being there for their other daughter while she faces events like state track competitions and prom, while also being Maddie’s biggest fan. 

“Her family’s world is just turned upside down. I guess that is what comes with the fame. It’s going to be the new normal, but they’re just going to have to figure out what that new normal is going to be,” mentioned Todd.

Family helped form and pass down Maddie’s love for music. Her father, an appreciator of classic songs just like his daughter, is a member of a band, while her paternal grandfather also finds delight in tunes. Her sister was actually part of the start of Maddie’s career, as she pushed Maddie to sing a duet at school.

Maddie’s type of music was one of her quirks, as her focus was usually never on the mainstream beats. She sang songs on the show from artists like Prince, the Beach Boys and even Kermit the Frog. 

Across the nation, Maddie Poppe has become a household name. Todd has never heard a single bad thing said about his cousin, besides the usual “haters” on the internet, when speaking about her. He finds it amazing how people across generations have become fans of hers.

The largest source of support come directly from her family, though. “I hope she makes a career out of it. It’s all in her hands now and what she does with it. She’s done a really good job so far. I see her being successful with it,” Todd said. 

Down deeper in Iowa, the family was having mini-Maddie Mondays where they would watch the show together. But in McGregor, it was simply Todd and his family feeling the nerves of the unknown. 

Todd was okay with his simple viewing party, though, saying, “If it didn’t go the way you wanted it to—which it did—you were just kind of by yourself.” Nobody would be watching his reactions if something had gone downhill on the show. Thankfully, that never occurred. 

The prizes and fame that come with the American Idol win aren’t all that Maddie is celebrating, though. On the finale, it was announced that she was dating her fellow participant, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, who ended up being the runner-up. 

“It’s pretty cool,” Nick mentioned lightheartedly. He didn’t know about the relationship until it was announced on the show, but Todd had learned about it the week before. 

The future is bright for the young singer. “The sky is the limit. It is up to her now. Her dream came true. She’s got to take it where she wants it to go,” Todd explained. “We’re still speechless and shocked.”

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