An Interview with American Idol Contestant Shelby Tweten and her mother Karrey

You all know we’ve been following American Idol Contestant Shelby Tweten in the past few weeks. Well, recently we had the privilege to interview her and her mother. It was all very exciting for us and I can tell you that these girls are AWESOMETASTIC! I hope you enjoy our Q & A session with them!


Christi: Has the intensity of the competition triggered any symptoms?  If so, how have you been able to get them back in check?

Shelby: You know, I would have to say that for me, stress and pressure has always made my symptoms kind of fade away. It gives me something else to focus on besides all the things happening in my head. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of the competition that with the stress and the fact that I was sleep deprived ended me in the bathroom crying, but that only lasted about two minutes and I would be right back out there. I don’t blame that on being bipolar though.

Christi: If not, what are some things that you have been doing to keep your symptoms at bay?

Shelby: For me my struggle has always been with taking my meds and realizing that I can’t overcome being bipolar alone. Idol gave me a set schedule everyday which allowed me to go on a routine of taking my medication along with everything else that was going on.

Angel: How has music inspired your life?

Shelby: Music has inspired my life in so many ways even before I knew I could sing. To me music is the closest we can get to God. Music can bring out every emotion. It can bring you back to memories of places, moments, or people. You know the feeling you get when you’re listening to a song and it just feels like the lyrics are written for your life!? That is what I want people to feel when they listen to my story.

Christi: You have said that singing has helped calm you when your bipolar symptoms would emerge. Has the competition given you more confidence in your singing?  If so, has that confidence encouraged you to continue to take care of yourself so your symptoms stay minimized?

Shelby: This question kind of makes me giggle. Being surrounded by over 300 amazing and trained artists never made me more confident in my singing. The whole time I was among them I never felt like I belonged because I had such little experience. Through the process, though, I came to love singing more and more each day. It gave me a reason and a drive to become the artist I wanted to be. Plus, like I said in my interview for Idol, my new found love and drive made me want to get better so I could focus on making something of myself.

Marybeth: When I was your age, I would have given the world to be on my way to stardom. (Even made plans to audition about 4 years ago, but chickened out … then I got to old … sigh …) Still, I can’t help but wonder if I would have been able to cope with all the attention. How are you coping with your dreams about to come true? What’s the easiest part of it? What’s the hardest?

Shelby: I totally laughed at your “sigh” (hahaha, other shows don’t have age limits…just saying). I feel like since I tried out for a singing competition people would automatically assume my dreams were to be a singer. Which is true! I’m not saying it isn’t, but like I’ve said before, my dream has more been to get out there and spread the word. Becoming a singer would be a complete bonus and would help me open more and more doors! The easiest part is the stress for me, all the interviews, I love that kind of stuff. It gets me pumped! The hardest part has been realizing it’s still a dream until it happens. I’ve given up a lot to reach for this and thinking about not making it and what I have lost for (maybe) nothing is hard to swallow.

Angel: When did you first decide singing was where you wanted to take your dreams?

Shelby: CHIC 2009. For most of you that probably don’t know what that is, it is a Christian convention I went to when I was in 9th grade. I had always loved singing, don’t get me wrong, but that week of my life opened my eyes to how much music can affect people. CHIC was based in Tennessee and it had over 3,000 teenagers. All of them in different parts of their journey with God but when the music started playing and every teenager in the arena was singing…it was magical. People were crying, I was crying! When I left to go home that week, I went home and told my family that music was gonna be my way to get to people.

Vicky: How did your friends and family respond when they found out you had bipolar disorder?

Shelby: A lot of my family suffers from depression and my real dad and grandma were actually hospitalized for bipolar/schizophrenia. We all kind of knew it was coming eventually, whether it be depression or bipolar, it just happened to be both. The only way I felt like I have been treated differently is that EVERY TIME I am in a really bad mood or a “too good” of mood or really hyper, my mom ALWAYS asks “are you on your meds?” It sometimes hurts my feelings. I feel like if I get too hyper or too mad they will automatically always relate it to me being “bipolar”. I still am a teenage girl, either way I have moods.

Marybeth: Teens these days can be cruel … oh let’s just lay it out there … PEOPLE these days can be cruel, especially when they discover you have a mental illness. Have you had difficulty interacting with your peers through this process or has everyone been understanding and/or supportive?

Shelby: Now that I am older and all my peers have taking health classes and learned more about mental illness, they know how common it is and don’t really get down on me for it. The hardest times for me were from 7th-9th grade. I would be so happy for weeks and then I would go to crying in class (this was before I was medicated for anything). People didn’t get it, they called me a “drama queen” and said I was making a lot of it up for attention. I’ve also been told to “overdose on my depression pills” by a past boyfriend who thought it was “all in my head”. Lately, I have gotten some people that have taken the rude approach after seeing my audition but I knew that would happen.

Christi: Has it been easy to interact with the other contestants?  Do you get nervous that they wouldn’t want to interact with you because of the stigmas of bipolar?

Shelby: Interacting with people has never been close to a problem for me. If anything I can be too outgoing sometimes. The only time I felt like my “bipolar status” was unwelcome is when I first brought it up to a fellow contestant that had become my friend. He has asked “what’s your story?” and when I answered “I’m bipolar” with a little laugh he laughed but looked unsure. He said I shouldn’t bring it up in any of my interviews because I could be seen as “the bipolar girl”. He made it sound like a bad thing but that is who I am.

Christi: Have you noticed anyone treating you differently?

Shelby: The cool thing about American Idol is that nobody really knows each other’s back stories. It’s not like we go around telling everybody. I had no idea I was hanging out with Jim Carrey’s daughter! It was awesome and new, I had a clean slate.

Marybeth: Many of those who follow the site suffer from rapid cycling, I’m wondering how many times you’ve cycled from high to low in the past six months and how you dealt with each peak?

Shelby: It’s funny you ask that because I just had a cycle about three days ago! I probably have about a cycle a month, which to guys who don’t know would sound like it goes on during a period, but to everyone on the site they know it is much different. I wish I could give some advice on how to deal with it but personally I’m still just another girl suffering. All I can really say is surround yourself with people who are well aware of your disorder and know how to take the cruel things you will do or say during each cycle. Be honest when you feel it approaching and don’t try to play it off as just being crabby or tired. It’s serious and can cause very serious outcomes.

Angel: How has your illness factored into reaching your goals? do you think it has helped you be more creative or has it held you back emotionally?

Shelby: I think that the “manic-y” part of being bipolar has allowed me to always be that out-going person. It allowed me to talk to whoever I wanted to, and I still believe that people with mental illnesses are more creative.

Christi: Are you still in shock and does this still feel surreal, or has that worn off?

Shelby: I’ve watched each episode I’m on more than once and it still hasn’t really hit me. I don’t want it to be over because then it’ll feel like I’m waking up from some sort of dream. My life has changed but it’s changed into exactly what I wanted so once I completely wake up and see that, I can’t wait to take charge of it.

Marybeth: Your life from here on out will never be the same … or at least not for a good while … what will you miss the most from your quiet, unpublicized life before the world of publicity?

Shelby: The only thing I will miss is being able to go to places with my friends and not take the attention. It seems like now where I go anywhere there is always someone who wants to talk to me. I feel bad for the people I’m with because I am just getting way too much attention.

Marybeth: If things do not work out in the music biznezz, do you think you will continue to advocate for bipolar disorder? If yes, any ideas of how you would go about it? (Did I mention we’re looking for teen authors? LOL)

Shelby: If I could make a living on just advocating for bipolar disorder I would take that approach on life. I love reaching out to people that feel like they are alone in any subject and letting them know you can relate. I really want to start speaking at schools, camps, churches, anywhere I can tell my story and inspire people. I want to travel the country, inform and relate to people of all ages. About the teen author…..I WOULD LOVE TO 🙂


Christi: Do you think this experience has made you stronger?  How so?

Shelby: Idol has shown me how strong I always was. Yes, I guess in some ways it has made me stronger; a stronger singer, more experience, ext. But the fact that I have touched thousands of people from all different ages with my story is indescribable. It has showed me that just by telling my story I was strong. It’s a really great feeling.

Marybeth: It’s very clear you are on a mission to support and empower other teens who suffer from mental illnesses. I’m wondering if you had someone who set you on your journey to bring awareness? Or was it merely your diagnosis that fueled your desire to educate the world about bipolar disorder?

Shelby: I am not just empowered to spread the word about bipolar it’s everything. Through my life I have been through so much and since I was little it has been my “niche” to tell it. When I was in 4th grade, my sister passed away as a stillborn. It was the start of my depression and since then it has been my dream to be a psychologist. I helped as many people as I could. I was more drawn to the kids who, in reality, didn’t want friends. I learned that by sharing my story it allowed others to relate and realize they weren’t alone. When I was diagnosed with bipolar it just opened up another door of people I could reach out to.

Here is our interview with Karrey, Shelby’s mother ….

Marybeth: Was it scary to let your little girl expose her illness on national television? In other words, were you worried of how others would react?

Karrey:  I was very tentative.  I didn’t want it to overshadow her talent.  I asked her if she was ready to become the poster child for bi-polar disorder, and she told me that it is who she is, and if it can help anyone else, she wasn’t ashamed of it.

Christi: Have you noticed a change in Shelby? (either positive or negative)

Karrey:  I knew she was capable of doing it.  I have had complete faith in her singing.  But, I didn’t expect the maturity and strength she showed when dealing with everything off stage.  Like endless interviews, rehearsals and interactions.  When I see her onstage now, not only singing, but speaking and inspiring people, I think she has found her passion. 

Christi: How has this whole process made you feel?  Has it made you more protective of Shelby?

Karrey:  I don’t think it has made me more protective, there is always going to be haters and critics, I have learned to not let it bother me if it doesn’t bother her. For me, the process and show has been an opportunity to show people what I have seen all along.  That she has something special in her to share.  As far as the actual Idol process, I feel so fortunate to be able to have shared it with her.  Shelby and I are both musical and creative people, so everyone from the contestants to the production crew was a joy to be around.  There is an energy that comes with being around people like that. 

Marybeth: Have the responses and attention you’ve received since Shelby’s audition been as overwhelming as I imagine?

Karrey:  When it first leaked out to the press, we were at a store and someone recognized her, we went to the car and sat for a minute a little sad.  For her because her life as a normal teenager was over, and I wanted my little girl to myself just a tiny bit longer.  We expected bizarre fan mail, and long lost relatives coming out of the woodwork.  But I think we were all stunned at the outpouring from individuals thanking her for bring Bi-Polar into the light and thanking her for sharing her story

Marybeth: I know Shelby is going through some mad amounts of excitement and anticipation right now … what has been the most exciting moment for you? What’s been the most difficult moment?

Karrey:  I think the most exciting moment for me was during Shelby’s solo round after group round.  Her voice was strained, but she sang “Landslide”.  It was her first time performing on a stage that big and she nailed it.  Jennifer was crying and I was crying.  I think that’s the first moment she realized that she really did belong there.   The most difficult part for me was trying to juggle a job, being a mom and life outside of Idol.  The audition process is long and expensive.  It was two trips to Colorado and 4 days of auditions before ever seeing the judges and Hollywood.  Not to mention the 6 months of not being able to talk about her being on the show before it aired. That was torture!

Marybeth: When we first spoke you mentioned you worked in the mental health field, do you think that helped you in recognizing the symptoms that led to Shelby’s diagnosis?

Karrey:  Absolutely! I think in a way, God put me in that position for a reason.  I am actually an artist, and took the job at the hospital because I needed the consistent benefits of a state job.  But looking back, the patients have been invaluable teachers.  Not only on understanding mental illness, but in their courage dealing with their mental illness and their honesty and ownership of it.   Some of the patients have even mentioned that they were glad that Shelby brought to light how therapeutic music can be.  I had noticed from the very beginning that drawing and music helped Shelby when she was having a rough time, and it holds true for them too.

Marybeth: With one daughter entering the “tween” years and my son who suffers from bipolar disorder barely three years from trampled by the hormone monsters, I have to ask … how did you know what was hormones and what was more?

Karrey:  This is a tough one, because it took a lot of years to figure this out.  One thing I have learned from the patients I work with is that you still have choices.  You have choices on your behavior and how you treat others. The first thing I noticed was the mood swings.  Depression had been apparent since fourth grade, but she would have very manic runs where she would say really inappropriate things and be very higher, then crash for an entire day. She would become very combative, and I had no idea how to handle that.  I tried everything to keep her in line, but the harder I pushed the worse she got.  I saw it starting to destroy her relationships and affect her decisions.  That’s when I we decided to seek help.   

Marybeth: What was your schedule like as a “stage mom”? Are you as busy as the contestants or do you find yourself just hanging out most of the time?

Karrey:  The schedule was brutal, but oddly enough, Shelby and I love that!  Her and I have always been involved in dance or theatre and the adrenaline of putting a show together is fantastic.  When Shelby was little, she was back stage for a lot of my performances.  It’s been weird to be in a role reversal of the supporter, but I love it.  Most of the moms sat back and watched, but I couldn’t help but dive in.  I took on the role of cheerleader, friend and step-mom to a lot of the contestants, as well as a go between for Moms of Kids over 18 who weren’t allowed around the contestants.  The contestants nicknamed me “Mama Tweets”. I feel so fortunate to have been able to be a part of the experience with her and to meet so many creatively talented people.  

Marybeth: Your life from here on out will never be the same … or at least not for a good while … what will you miss the most from your quiet, unpublicized life before the world of publicity?

Karrey:  It’s a little harder to throw the discipline down on a celeb.  Other than that, I couldn’t be happier. 🙂


Sounds like this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from these ladies!

For more information about Shelby you can visit her facebook page or follow her on twitter!

Also, here is the video of her audition. (Isn’t she fabulous!?!?!)

3 thoughts on “An Interview with American Idol Contestant Shelby Tweten and her mother Karrey

  1. I feel so privileged to have gotten the chance to be part of this interview. More and more we hear of how teens are so cruel to each other and causing other teens to commit suicide and it really makes you question the behaviors and minds of the teens today. But then you meet people like Shelby and her openess and willingness to speak out and help others, as well as our other friend, 16-yr old Casi Mahlberg who started the Let The Stars In Your Eyes Shine On facebook page, and you can see that there is a whole world of teens out there who WANT to help those in trouble, who WANT to support those with similar mental health issues, and who WANT to inspire and give those teens hope. I think its amazing and so courageous to put themselves out there like that. Shelby, you are one incredibly amazing teen and have such a talent and gift for singing and inspiring. I do hope it continues because there are so many teens that can benefit from your words and voice. And Karrey- I think it is absolutely incredible to see how supportive you are of not just Shelby’s singing, but of her advocacy of her mental illness. I know that my parents would probably have been super protective of me and maybe even have made me keep quiet about it for fear that I would be treated negatively and that it would have cast a negative light on me diminishing my chances at advancing. Shelby’s is incredibly lucky to have such a great cheerleader and support system!!!!

    And I do hope that we get to hear more from you guys in the future!!!!!!!!!

    Thank you Shelby for speaking out and being such a great inspiration for so many people out there, not just teens! 🙂


  2. Thank you so much for this interview. I was thrilled to hear that an American Idol contestant was being so open about having bipolar disorder. Like Shelby, my daughter, who is ten and has bipolar disorder, has always found music to be a great outlet. She loves to sing and writes her own songs. She was so excited to hear about Shelby. Thanks again for a great interview.


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