Jimmy Fontaine

As she’s embarking on the road supporting Knox’s sold-out “I’m So Good At Being Alone Tour,” Cleveland singer-songwriter Maryjo chats with Variance's Ethan Ijumba to discuss her transition from performing on Season 19 of American Idol, her love for her hometown Cleveland, and finding herself as well as her sound. After capturing attention as a fan-favorite contestant on Season 19 of the landmark singing competition series American Idol, the 22-year-old artist shares her newest single, “I Woke Up,” available now via Atlantic Records. Regarding the meaning behind the song, she says:

"'I Woke Up' is the awakening from an emotional rollercoaster relationship,” says maryjo. “It is an energetic, drum-backed anthem that takes anger and frustration and channels your power back to realize what you deserve. Sometimes we are blinded by an outcome that we want but this song encapsulates coming out of the rut and realizing what we deserve! I wanted this song to challenge my sonic direction for this year. I found a way to have the production of the song shape my lyrics and the story.”

Be sure to read the entire Q+A conversation between the two below, as well as stream “I Woke Up” on all streaming platforms, and follow Maryjo on Instagram and TikTok for more updates, news, and announcements from Maryjo.

Ethan Ijumba: So, here I am with Cleveland native Ohio's very own Maryjo, and you’re about to be going on tour with Spencer Jordan on Knox’s  I'm So Good At Being Alone tour. When it comes down to just the performing and touring aspect, what would you say is your favorite thing about it?

Maryjo: So, if I'm being honest, I haven't been on a real deal tour yet. I opened for Jvke a few times, but I've never done the whole tour bus and everything like that because it was so last minute when I did it. So I'm excited for the whole shebang of everything. I did do meet and greets before with them, and I have to say those are my favorite because usually they'll reach out afterward and talk, and it's cute to see the fans and follow up afterward and see the whole process get started and see what they think of everything. 

EI: Do you want to bring any specific moments from this tour to those in attendance or receive from the audience when performing? 

MJ: I want them to enjoy my music and boost their confidence during the tour. Seeing everybody will make me feel better about performing. So I want to see a whole new side of Maryjo because now we're coming up with upbeat music where a lot was sad, too. So, a whole new version of this new woke-up area of music. 

EI: With where you're at in your career right now, you're in performer mode, prepping for shows and tours. Or is your main focus songwriting and trying to get ready with new material?

MJ: I'm finally starting to get the gist of everything because we were trying to find my artistry this last year and hone in on the music and what I want my sound to be. And now we're creating all these songs, still writing with Knox on all these new songs and their new stories, and it's more confident in the styles and the outfits. I think I'm at the point where I'm leveling up, and we're taking just a big jump with photo shoots, experimenting more, and just doing the whole thing instead of just trying to find it now.

EI: So, regarding honing your sound and what it means for you as an artist? Do you feel that you're still in the mix of that, or do you feel like you're at a point where you finally found it? How would you describe your sound to those who have not heard your music? 

MJ: So, my sound will always change; I think that for many artists, that constantly changes. But now, I know exactly what I want to be in this era. I did a lot of ballad songs, and I had a couple of pop ones for the listeners that I hadn't heard before. Now, it's more of finding that balance of me being able to have these emotional lyrics in these verses but still have something upbeat for people in the audience to jump up and jam to and not be crying the whole time in the audience. 

EI: When writing about personal topics, do you find immediate ease when writing sad songs, or does it tend to be difficult when you're trying to put your emotions into your lyrics? 

MJ: It's not too difficult because I write down when I know I'm feeling something. So when I enter a room, we can start honing in on that song and that story. But if I wanna write something more upbeat, it's usually easier to find the lyrics, too. 

EI: Is there a songwriting process that you usually have for yourself? Or do you just write down your emotions and then take them to somebody to collaborate with, or is it all different based on the songs you're writing? 

MJ: I tend to try to write everything down in a little songwriting book that I have, and then I'll sit down and play with melodies, and then I'll try to fit the lyrics into the melodies, or sometimes I come up with a melody first, and then that's when I have to find a story. So I either write the story and the song prior and then find a melody, or if I have a melody in my head, I'll find what I want to say. 

EI: So when it comes to your newest song, “drunk tattoo,” it's about falling in love with the wrong person and then comparing it to how everything is great, then finding out it's not not what it was supposed to be, but you live and learn overall. When it comes down to that heartbreak, what would you say is the worst part of overcoming when you realize something like that? Is it deleting the memories and the photos, having to tell people that it didn't work out, or even just getting the reminders of that person? 

MJ: Probably getting used to them not being in your life as much and having to do the whole adjustment period where it used to be both of you and then they leave your life. But it's fun because then you get to experience a whole new part of yourself and like what you're like without that person if you had been with them for a little while. 

EI: And your song “Cleveland” pays homage to the 216. To follow the trend where everyone's been saying, I'm from, of course, I'm... What would you say is yours if you had to represent Cleveland?

MJ: Mine would be, I'm from Cleveland. Of course, I love the Browns, even when they suck. 

EI: Coming from the land, what is your favorite thing about being from there or just being there overall when it comes to being from Ohio? 

MJ: I definitely love the support. Moreso, the people because everyone's supportive when you try to do something. They're not judgy, and some people react like oh, that's cringy. Of course, you'll have some people like that, but I've noticed the support. But when it comes to specific places, I love The Flats and Chagrin Falls. 

EI: Is there anything you recommend when it comes to food spots? 

MJ: Yes, I love MGK’s 27 Club coffee; a lot of places I go to are chains, too. But Sozo is this clothing store, and I'm obsessed with their clothes; that's one of my favorite places, and they're also a Cleveland brand. 

EI: Aside from being an Ohio representer, you're also an American Idol alum where you auditioned by singing “You Broke Me First.” You also sang “Castle on the Hill” and “Foolish Games,” and then on YouTube, you sang a cover of Paramore’s “Ain't It Fun,” which you wish you could’ve sung but clearances and all that good stuff. If you could go back and pick and cover a song you didn't get to, what would you perform to showcase your voice? 

MJ: I would want to do my rendition of “Skinny Love,” the Birdy version. Still, someone else did that, and she was incredible on America's Got Talent. The reason I found Birdy’s version was because of her. I'm literally going on TikTok right now because that's such a good question; I would pick Lewis Capaldi’s “How I'm Feeling Now.”

EI: So what's the big next plan you’ve got going for yourself since you got the tour going on? Are you focusing on getting back in the studio and preparing for new music or releases, or do you wanna maybe take a nice little break and just relax for a minute. 

MJ: So after the tour, I go home for three days so that my dog can get his teeth cleaned, and so I can go to doctor's appointments or whatever else is needed. Then, I’m moving to California right after the tour and back in the studio once I’m all moved in. 

EI: Are you excited? Or are you nerve-wracking a little bit? 

MJ: No, but yes, so I moved to Nashville for nine months, and it was really impulsive because it was close enough to Cleveland that I could drive back if I wanted to. But for Cleveland to Los Angeles, I've been going back and forth so much, and the only thing is it's so different from Cleveland. So I don't know how my homesickness is gonna be because even with Nashville, I got really homesick, and they don't have seasons, and I'm obsessed with seasons and weather.  I'm just so used to Cleveland. Anyone who has to make a big move has to think about that.