May 16, 2022
(NEW YORK) — Kyler St. Phard clutched her golden ticket in hand as she walked away from her “American Idol” audition. As she passed through the doors, she heard her mom shriek and thought about how embarrassing that was. A producer pulled her aside for a post-audition interview.
She remembers them asking her the one thing they were bound to ask: “How would your brother feel about this? Do you think he’s proud of you?” Her mind was reeling through the day’s heavy and exhausting emotions. She bit her tongue.
What made for a good television story was anything but what she wanted to say. So, Kyler told them what they wanted to hear.
The moment she was able, Kyler fled from the interview, winding up crying on the bathroom floor. “I don’t care if my brother would be proud of me because he’s not here,” she thought.
Her brother, her best friend — Coby St. Phard — had taken his own life six years prior.
“I did everything that everyone wanted me to do,” Kyler says as she reflects on the events of not only that but also the months that would follow. “I went on there to tell my story and I wanted to stand up for everyone who — like me — thought they were alone.”
She went through the initial audition process because people in her life wanted to: her friends, family, and even a personal recommendation from artist Lennon Stella’s mother — Marylynne Stella. Kyler went through the process for everyone but herself. Repeatedly, she told herself that if she could reach just one person through her story then it would be worth it.
Producers told her how to act nervous at her audition. Before going to Hollywood, they taught her how to package her story for television to share it with the general public. Kyler listened and followed their lead. She told and relived her brother’s death countless times.
The audition and her story never aired.
“If I knew then everything I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” she admits.
This is the real story that “American Idol” never aired
At a young 12 years old, Kyler found herself spiraling into depression. She found solace in music and artists who would become both her inspirations and influences. In her household, her brother became her confidant.
Her family let her sleep in that morning. She knew immediately when she woke up that something was not right because it was a school day. A reason to skip was a reason to worry. Downstairs, her parents pondered how to tell her the news of her brother’s death.
Kyler didn’t feel the safety of home even within the walls of her house after that. “Since then, my life has felt very weird and not right,” she said. Kyler was lost within her own mind.
That same year, the St. Phard family made it their mission to work toward a world without suicide. Using the funds generated from a GoFundMe, they founded Fly High Coby (later renamed BeTheLi9ht Foundation) in Coby’s honor. In downtown Hightstown, New Jersey, the center focuses on the mental health of youth and gives young people a space to not only hang out but get connected to potentially life-saving resources.
By age 16, Kyler poured her heart out onto paper as a source of healing. Songwriting became a keystone of recovery. In her music, she explores identity, growth, and more. She pulled inspiration from her healing and musicians that she looked up to like 5 Seconds of Summer, Lorde, and Alessia Cara.
In an effort to grow her platform, she began posting covers on social media. “I was looking for something that felt safe and comfortable,” she admits. It successfully led to her building a following of tens of thousands on TikTok.
Before she knew it, Kyler was on stage next to one of her idols: Alessia Cara.
“Getting on stage in front of a crowd of like 2,000 people… I wasn’t nervous when I started singing,” she said. “I felt right. It was genuinely the most at home I have ever felt.”
Kyler continued to pursue her passion, carrying Coby with her in her heart.
“I was in a place where I had to figure out what exactly I wanted to do,” she admits.
As life would have it, she found herself in a unique position. She earned an industry audition for “American Idol,” where she passed through several rounds before being asked to fly to Nashville for that initial on-camera moment.
“It was not initially something I wanted to do,” she admits. “But the universe came together and pushed me to do it.”
Between her audition and the premiere, St. Phard continued forward focusing on her career.
Kyler began reworking a song she had written years prior. Her debut single “Here’s To” was released on February 4th on all streaming platforms. To release the song, St. Phard says she had to learn how to trust herself. “At first,” she says. “ I was not capable of doing that.”
By working with the single’s engineer and her producer, she became more confident in herself and her decisions. Stephen Dent worked with her on the single.
“Her writing compliments how she sings and her singing compliments how she writes,” he said. Dent was drawn to Kyler’s project immediately, recognizing how unique it was that she brought real instruments into the studio rather than using prerecorded beats or tracks. “Her guitar and the vibe that she had… it was you, you know, to me, it’s a no brainer.”
Kyler self-describes this vibe as “pop with a purpose.” For her, that purpose is spreading her message as far as she can and touching as many lives as she can.
“This is genuinely what I want to be doing every day of my life,” she said.