Hannah Nicolaisen, who graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, has finished in the Top 20 on American Idol. At UIS, she played on the Prairie Stars volleyball team from 2019-2021.
Nicolaisen, who is originally from Houston, Texas, first auditioned before judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie in March singing “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan.
“Well you just spiked the ball in our face,” Perry said following her performance, a reference to her days playing volleyball and hitting another player in the face with the ball. “It’s all about spiking the ball in people’s faces when you’re singing,” Bryan added.
“Your unique voice is what you pray for in this business,” Richie said.
The audition earned Nicolaisen a golden ticket to perform in Hollywood where she sang her original song “Going Through the Motions” and a duet of the country song “It’s Your Love” with fellow contestant Warren Peay.
“You took a country music classic and you really made it your own,” Bryan said following the duet performance. “I just thought it was a great moment.”
UIS Head Volleyball Coach Kamille Jones said she knew Nicolaisen could sing because she would often sit next to her on road trips.
"She would always sing along to whatever was on the radio, so I knew then that she could carry a tune," Jones said. "However, once I heard Hannah sing the national anthem at our home games, that’s when I actually understood that she had serious pipes."
Jones said she is very proud of Nicolaisen's success on the show so far, adding she has many talents.
"Hannah is very competitive," Jones said. "She was the most passionate player on the court. She even won most spirited her season. She takes her craft seriously and it is no surprise that those habits have transferred into her music career."
Nicolaisen continued to advance in early April during showstoppers week with a performance of Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be." That performance ultimately earned her a spot in the Top 26 and a trip to Hawaii where she overcame illness to perform “Glitter In The Air” by Pink.
America voted to let Nicolaisen move into the Top 20 during the April 23 episode, where she sang "Somebody to Love" by Queen.