Kara DioGuardi has spent her career rising through the ranks of the music industry, first as a songwriter (Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts) and later as a publisher and record executive. Along the way she’s mentored countless creatives during her time as a judge on American Idol and while running her publishing and production company, Arthouse Entertainment.
An early mentor and champion of Ingrid Andress, DioGuardi first met the country singer at Berklee College of Music. DioGuardi was teaching a songwriting class at Berklee and was immediately impressed with Andress. When DioGuardi urged Andress to move to Nashville, she found herself traveling to Music City herself while scouting for a label deal for the singer, who is signed to Arthouse.
“Ingrid is one of the best storytellers because she really digs down into her past experiences and puts her heart and soul into each song and it’s so relatable,” DioGuardi tells Sounds Like Nashville. “She’s an incredible performer. Her ability to emote when she’s singing and playing is right up there with some of the best. She also has an incredible discipline and work ethic, which I think is so important for getting to the top of the industry.”
DioGuardi says Andress doesn’t hold back on sharing her art and telling her story within her music because she knows it can affect change. “She can help people in their everyday lives, but also break down some of the barriers that are out there for women in country,” she explains.
Fittingly, Andress is a mentor for “Sing It Forward,” a virtual singing competition and mentorship program that DioGuardi helped create through her nonprofit, Inspired Nation, and Cover Nation, a community of cover creators and fans. DioGuardi’s nonprofit aims to amplify the voices of youth by giving them a platform to tell their stories within music. “Sing It Forward,” meanwhile, connects aspiring artists with music professionals to provide opportunities to use their voice to inspire, collaborate and advocate for mental health.
DioGuardi’s way of affecting change is making mental health a priority in the music industry, especially for young creatives. She says music has been the best therapy for her over the years and with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, DioGuardi shares why she has become an advocate.
“After American Idol I thought about how important it was for kids who came through these kinds of vocal competitions to get mentorship and feedback,” she explains. “It’s not enough to just win or be on the show, but what happens after the show? If we’re going to use aspiring artists and songwriters’ talent to profit, we should be giving them something back.”
DioGuardi works closely with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and during the COVID-19 pandemic she knew she had to do something for aspiring artists who felt isolated and needed mentorship. DioGuardi’s Inspired Nation has partnered with Warner Music Group and Cover Nation, which helped enlist celebrity mentors for “Sing It Forward.” The virtual vocal performance challenge also builds awareness for mental health and raises funds for NAMI. More than $120,000 has been raised for NAMI’s Youth Ambassador Academy through the “Sing It Forward” campaign.
Thousands of submissions for “Sing It Forward” were narrowed down to eight finalists who were then mentored by eight artists – including Andress – to focus on their craft, creativity and the importance of mental health. The program culminates with a livestream concert finale on Thursday, May 13 at noon ET/11 a.m. CT where the final winners will be announced. One winner will get a VIP experience with Pete Ganbarg, President of A&R at Atlantic Records, who will go through their music as well as provide studio recording time. Several finalists will receive summer scholarships for Berklee College of Music as well as cash prizes that can be used to finance further education, music or studio equipment.
“We thought the best beneficiary this year would be the National Alliance on Mental Illness Youth Ambassador Academy because this has been such a traumatic year for young people, many who have been isolated from their friends and family,” she says. “We wanted to really make sure that we were funding something that was important, and we felt that NAMI’s Youth Ambassador Academy was just that.”
A far as her advice on aspiring creators trying to survive COVID-19, DioGuardi says it’s important to cut yourself a break.
“Realize that everything that’s gone on is out of your control,” she says. “Look in the areas that you can have control over and one of them is create a TikTok account, post music, write on your own, write in your journal. Write about what you’re feeling because if you’re honest with yourself about that, it may turn into a great song at some point. Don’t cover it up, feel it, whatever it is, and if you’re really having trouble reach out to someone for help.”
For more information and to donate, visit NAMI.