Nightbirde is already becoming a household name after the world fell in love with her emotional performance of her original song “It’s OK” on America’s Got Talent.
The independent singer-songwriter, real name Jane Marczewski, left the judges almost speechless when she performed on stage back on June 8. She earned a standing ovation from the judges and crowd alike—as well as a coveted Golden Buzzer from Simon Cowell.
“This has been the whirlwind of my life,” the singer tells PopCrush of her experience thus far on the show. “This is way beyond anything I expected, it’s been insane.”
Not only did her heartfelt voice and intimate lyrics strike a chord with viewers, but her positive outlook on life in the midst of her journey with terminal cancer for the third time resonated with many. Though she revealed to the judges that she currently has a two percent chance of survival, things are looking up for the resilient artist as she prepares to take on the competition with new music and a newfound purpose.
Below, Nightbirde opens up to PopCrush about her first encounter with Simon Cowell, sharing her cancer story with the world and why she didn’t tell her family she was auditioning for AGT.
You went No. 1 on the iTunes all-genre chart and No. 4 globally as an independent artist. What was your reaction to those impressive milestones?
Somebody sent me a screenshot when it was at No. 5 and so I kept checking in on it. And it’s the acoustic version, the live version of “It’s OK.” I recorded with a friend in Nashville. I was just on a trip into town and somebody said, “Hey, these guys are recording free live sessions to get their video company out there, do you want to do it?” It was super last minute. I rehearsed it for maybe one hour before showing up to do the video, so that track is just audio that was cut from a live video that I shot.
That guy and I were like, no matter when we see it, any time of the day or night, we have to FaceTime each other. So I think it was 7:30 yesterday morning, I woke up and I saw that it had gone No. 1 and I FaceTimed the engineer and we just screamed our heads off for like 15 straight minutes. We had no idea even what to say because I would have never thought [this could happen] in a hundred years, especially [with] that version of the track. It’s barely even produced. It was just one take. I just sang it through in somebody’s house and did not even expect to put it up for streaming, it was supposed to be a video. I am completely mind-blown over all of it.
You didn’t tell your family that you were auditioning for America’s Got Talent. What was their reaction to that?
My family has been really worried about me for obvious reasons, because I’ve been sick for a long time and just this spring started recovering. I was doing really well and I didn’t exactly know what their reaction would be if they found out that I was gonna audition for America’s Got Talent. I think if it was up to them, they would say come home for a while and just chill out and take your time to heal. That’s not exactly my personality but I understand why that’s what they would want from me.
I didn’t want to cause a stir if it wasn’t going to be anything, because I didn’t know how it was going to happen or if they would like me or if I would get on TV, so I just thought, I’m going to do it and then if it becomes something then we can discuss it. I did the audition in April and I was planning on moving from L.A., where my home base is, to Ohio for the summer, to just rest and chill out. I did the audition and the next day drove cross-country with my little brother back to Ohio and as soon as I got home I sat in the kitchen and I tried to say it as casually as possible, but clearly it’s not casual news. So everyone was thrilled and completely over the moon but honestly, I only told a couple of them about the buzzer. I just told them that I was going to be on TV.
Simon Cowell, who’s a historically harsh music critic, giving your original song and performance such praise must have been surprising. What was your first conversation with him like?
He was so incredibly encouraging and sincere to me … I try to have realistic expectations. This is reality TV, so anything that they say to me on camera, good or bad, is for television; I’ll take it with a grain of salt … I said, “I’m not going to take any of it too seriously because it’s on camera, but if somebody says something to me off camera, I’ll know that they meant it.” After my audition, I got to talk with Simon backstage and he gave me some incredible encouragement and feedback and positive thoughts about my writing style and my voice. I would have never expected or anticipated for him to go out of his way to come talk to me, especially off-camera where I know that he had no obligation to say anything to me. I can’t even describe how much of a compliment [that was].
Were you a fan of AGT before you auditioned and do you have any favorite contestants?
I have never watched the show from start to finish. But what I love about America’s Got Talent is the stories of triumph that you see people overcoming, and people being able to share their tone and have fun in spite of whatever their story was in the past. My favorite contestant was Grace VanderWaal, she was the little girl with the ukulele and she sang that song, “I Don’t Know My Name,” which is on my Spotify playlist called “Soundtrack of My Life.” When I was prepping for the show I felt very kindred to her because she kind of came up and sang her own original song and it was very raw and simple. I watched all of her auditions to see what she did because she won the season that she was on. I was like, let me learn from the best!
Since you have to undergo treatments for your cancer, are you able to find the time or energy to create new music?
I’m not doing any chemo right now. I did chemo earlier in the year—the cancer treatment that I do now is alternative and like, functional-holistic. I did a type of a form of chemotherapy that’s not very intense, hence why I still have hair. I should have lost it by now but I didn’t, praise God. But I did some functional holistic treatments about two weeks ago and there’s very little showing it [the cancer] active in my body. So with what we just did, we’re pretty sure it’s all gonna be gone next time. We [will] check in a few months. Yeah, so, I’m feeling amazing. With the treatment that I’m on, there are very few side effects because it’s holistic, so I can work on all the music I want.
You have a collection of previously released songs. Will you be performing any of those, or any new ones in your next round?
I don’t know, it’s all happening so fast. I’m kind of trying to adjust and figure out where my focus should be right now. People are loving the stuff that I have up already and I’m so thrilled by that. For the songs I’m planning to perform if I continue in the competition, I’ve got two songs that I’ve never performed or released before that I finished specifically for AGT, so they’re really connected to my story. I had song ideas and I was like, you know what? These would be killer on AGT, so I finished them specifically for the show and hopefully [will] get to perform them. There’s one other that was previously written that’s also connected to the whole story, so I just really hope that I continue and get to do all of them.
If you Google yourself, there are so many people who quote your lyrics and what you said during your quick audition. As a writer, I imagine you must feel proud.
It’s such an honor and it’s so overwhelming because as an artist, when you pursue a career like this… I’ve wanted my whole life to make music and share it with millions of people. In order to actually be able to handle the heartbreak that it takes to get there, you have to come to a place where you’re writing for yourself. I write because I’m a writer, I sing because I’m a singer, and I don’t need people to love it for me to keep doing it. I got to that place in my heart. This is what I do because I love it and this is who I am.
You can write really brilliant things and nobody ever hears it, sees it, appreciates it, compared to you as a writer. If you’re the one writing you probably have felt you have hundreds and hundreds of pages of stuff that you’ve written that nobody appreciates but [that] you know is good. If you’re a true artist then you just keep writing anyway because that’s what you are. And so, for me, I have all this stuff and all this music that I thought was brilliant and beautiful and amazing and before this, I had like 2,000 hits on it. And now for everyone else to see the beauty in it that I always saw… I don’t know what the word is even to say about it. It’s so full circle and redemptive.
You’re obviously an upbeat person. What do you do to get through a bad day in terms of creativity, or just life in general?
The trick with trying to be creative is you can’t rely on your feelings about it. You can’t wait until you feel like writing, you can’t wait until you’re inspired. Like, you sit down and you do it—you just write the thing, and that’s really the trick. And that’s kind of what it is even to get through cancer too. You don’t wait until you feel courageous. You have no idea what kind of day it’s gonna be today. You don’t only fight when you feel courageous and you don’t only write when you feel inspired; you write all the time. Like, five percent of what you write is good and the rest is crap. So if you want to have a lot of good material, you have to write a lot of crap first, and that’s kind of my process.
Aside from writing music, you wrote an extremely personal blog that details your journey with cancer, as well as your experience with abuse. What inspired you to publish something so vulnerable?
The blog originally wasn’t intended to be a blog, but when I was in Nashville, I was part of a really cool program that went into prisons and spoke to women and encouraged women and helped them prepare for life outside. Nobody goes to prison for a simple reason, it’s always complicated. It comes from family trauma and family history—nobody turns out that way just because. I was invited to write pieces for this monthly publication that goes out to them because, [due to] COVID, we weren’t allowed to go in anymore, so the only way we could speak to them was to write. I wrote it for these women who have suffered unbelievable trauma, who [were] handed a terrible deck of cards in life.
It is hard for me to share these really traumatic pieces of my story and it is hard to admit things like feeling unlovable or feeling abandoned. It is still hard to admit [to] still loving somebody when they left you like that. But you know what? I have seen enough in my life to know that if one person is brave enough to talk about it and heal from it, then there are 100 others who just need a little spark of permission to be honest with themselves too. It’s a little bit of a sacrifice for me because it is a little heart-wrenching to put it out there, but it’s an honor to give that gift of permission to other people to say how bad they’re hurting too.
What kind of music did you grow up with? How has your personal taste progressed?
I was raised in a super conservative family and so my music was very Christian. There [was] a lot of like, contemporary Christian ‘90s music … a total ‘90s throwback. It’s total ‘90s jams, like… give me a cassette and let me drive down the road and really get into it. I think it was a little bit of a gift to not have grown up with a lot of musical influences, because I wasn’t aware of the rules I was supposed to be following as a writer and as a singer.
Over the last couple years, I’ve become really inspired by ‘80s pop. I love the vibe and the danciness and the carefree-ness of it, so I am influenced a lot by that right now. But for the most part, I think I’m pretty unique [in] the way that I write and there’s not one specific writer that really influences me per se.
Since we’ve only gotten a taste of what your music has to offer so far, what would you classify your overall sound as?
I would definitely call myself a pop artist. For a long time, I fought that because I was a little judgy towards pop music because I thought it was just brainless. I think I felt the pressure to… I felt like I liked it but I couldn’t fit into it because what I wanted to say was too deep and I had a difficult time writing what I wanted to say within the confines of pop. But now I’ve found a way to do that, so I’m okay now with being called a pop artist. But you can’t get the indie out of me!