Ayla Brown Profile
Ayla’s mom, Gail Huff, the former WCVB newscaster, used to think her daughter’s future was in professional basketball. “When she was little, her only desire in life was to be an athlete,” says Huff. “The whole Idol thing came out of left field.” Still, during Ayla’s senior year of high school, Huff encouraged her to audition even though her husband was against the idea. “She was on her way off to play basketball with a full scholarship,” Senator Brown says. “It had been the only focus of her young-adult life, and I thought she would do very well. I was scared that she would throw it all away.” In retrospect, he says, “It was a good learning process…a positive experience.” Ultimately, it helped Ayla — and her parents — realize there was life beyond basketball.
Huff remembers the first time she saw Ayla onstage during Idol’s Hollywood rounds. “Oh my God, I was hysterical,” she says. “I was like, Who is that? I couldn’t even put that person onstage in my daughter’s body.”
Richard Rushfield, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and author of American Idol: The Untold Story, released this month, remembers Ayla as a strong singer. “She was also this quirky character, this 6-foot-tall basketball player with a likable personality and the politician father sitting there in the front row,” he says. “She definitely made a very good impression.” Most Idol critics, says Rushfield, felt her dismissal was premature.
The night she was voted off, Ayla cried so hard that producers sent a counselor to check on her. “I just felt like I was such a failure,” she says. “I thought that my singing career would be over, and I was having so much fun. I was like, No — now I have to go back and play basketball.”
AYLA NOW FACES ANOTHER sort of challenge. “As a U.S. senator’s daughter, she’s going to be put to a different test than other young kids just coming out of college, and that’s unfortunate,” says Huff. “If she was becoming a salesman or a cosmetologist, they’d say the same thing. But mistakes are a part of growing up.” It’s just that in her case, people are paying attention.
For much of her life, Ayla’s felt as if she has had something to prove: to the neighborhood kids who teased her for playing boys’ football; to the high school basketball fans who heckled her with “Simon” signs; to the college classmates who called her “that American Idol girl”; to the endlessly judgmental media; and now, to everyone who thinks she’s simply riding her father’s success. Overcoming people’s assumptions is what gets her out of bed in the morning. “Everyone’s always going to try to say something bad, but you kind of have to prove that you’re not quite what they say,” she says. “I’m convinced that so many people complain about my 15 minutes of fame — ‘Give it up, stop talking about her, she’s not good at singing’ — but I guarantee that if those people actually heard me sing in a live situation, they would take back every single word…. Those who maybe don’t know that I was on American Idol think I’m using my dad’s fame to bring my name to the spotlight. It’s like, I’ve been working on my singing career since I was 17.”