The night Loyalsock freshman Brennan Hepler saw the Uptown Music Collective’s 2012 Killer Queen concert at the Williamsport Community Arts Center, he walked out of the theater awestruck. When he got home, he sat his parents down for a serious conversation. “I want to do that,” he said.
Nearly 10 years later, no one could deny that Hepler is fulfilling that dream. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter — who now uses the stage name “Beane” — has been granted an audition on the ABC hit television series, American Idol.
Music has always been an important part of life for Hepler. He began singing at age 5, took up the trombone in fourth grade, and participated in several school musicals. As a child, he quickly learned that he had a passion for entertaining.
“I realized that if you do what you do and you do it well, that gets you attention,” he said, laughing. “So I think that young, kind of egoic version of me loved that.”
But it was not until joining Uptown that Hepler began to learn the grit it took to be a serious musician. After securing a scholarship to the local music program, the then high school freshman got to work, building his stamina through an uphill climb of lessons and practice. His “big break” came the following year, when he was chosen to sing “Blow up the World” by Soundgarden in one of Uptown’s major shows.
“I got up there to scream the song out. (After that) I enjoyed a very long and beautiful career at the collective. . . It was very formative.”
‘Call me Beane’
Eventually graduation rolled around, and Hepler found himself asking the question that faces every high school senior: What next? While his dream was to perform, Hepler knew the risks of a career as a vocalist were high. He got accepted to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he decided to major in Music Business Management.
But when he arrived, he found himself spending all his free time singing and participating in shows. It was here he came up with the stage name “Beane.”
“First semester of college, (everyone) thought my name was Brandon Helper because I had a hard time annunciating. So I was like, ‘You know what? Call me Beane.’ ”
The name wasn’t the only thing in Boston that changed for Hepler. Having lived in small-town Montoursville his whole life, he suddenly felt he had more space to explore a side of himself he had previously kept hidden.
Coming out as gay, he maintains, allowed him to become a more open and authentic songwriter. While his LGBTQ perspective certainly influences his work (when writing love songs, he writes to “he” and “him”), it does so in a micro way. Hepler, who describes his musical style as “50% pop, 50% something else,” enjoys writing self-reflective material. Often, this involves a healthy dose of self-deprecation.
“If I’m not shitting on myself, I’m talking about how much I love my boyfriend,” he said, smiling. “That’s kind of the two extremes of my music.”
American Idol: ‘Nothing like it’
Hepler, who graduated from Berklee in 2019, spent the next year in Boston, juggling jobs as a wedding singer and server, along with his own gigs as Beane.
Then, the pandemic hit. Everything — including work for musicians — was put on hold.
Everything, it seemed, but the opportunity to try out for American Idol. In summer of 2020, the show reached out to Hepler via Instagram, inviting him to a first round of auditions in Ojai, California. Having auditioned for a few similar shows in previous years, he knew the chances of landing anything remained slim. Still, something about this time felt different.
“I was like, ‘You know, I think I could actually do this this time. I feel like I’m finally in a place where I am so sure of myself and confident that this might actually be something.’”
Donning two face masks and a face shield, he flew across the country, joining hundreds of socially-distanced hopefuls awaiting their own chance in the spotlight. After going through a rigorous process of testing and quarantine, Hepler stood before the judges — legendary artists Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry — and finally got his shot.
While he cannot yet disclose the results of his audition, as his episode has not yet aired, Hepler described the process as entirely unique.
“I think it’s safe to say nothing can prepare you for it. Music is my lifeblood; performing is how I make my money. (Yet) I still felt so ill-prepared for that audition because there’s nothing like it.”
True to yourself
While Hepler is making his way as a musician in his own right, he maintains that none of his success would have happened without the small-town opportunities that formed the foundations of his artistry. To other young hopefuls who dream of making a name for themselves, Hepler encourages them to dig into whatever makes them different.
“You don’t have to be a musician. You don’t have to be an artist or a creative. The more truthful and honest you are with yourself and who you are, the more people are going to gravitate towards you as a person. The more you’re going to gravitate towards yourself.”
American Idol airs on ABC every Sunday at 8 p.m., EST. Hepler’s episode date is not yet disclosed.