P ia Toscano's "American Idol" elimination last week shocked just about everyone, from A-listers like Tom Hanks to other gone-too-soon "Idol" contestants, like Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry. But although "Idol" has officially moved on without Pia, she still has plenty of believers -- her own family included.
Pia's sister Kimberly, who is eight years older than the 22-year-old Queens native, tells Billboard.com that she's sure Pia will "have a great career either way," and acknowledges that all the attention she has gone in the last week hasn't done any harm. "I know the show has been amazing for her," says Kimberly, "but obviously her elimination is working out fine so far."
A musician herself, Kimberly teaches percussion at the University of Arizona and is a principal timpanist with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, and says she and Pia have always bonded over their shared interest in the music industry. "We always had a very open relationship about how this works," she says. "She knows and I know that she saw me deal with the struggles of the industry."
Read on as Kimberly gives the inside scoop on how her family reacted when Pia was voted off "Idol," their special relationship with their grandfather and whether the two might one day collaborate.
Billboard.com: When Ryan Seacrest announced that Pia was going home, what was your first thought?
Kimberly Toscano: I have performances at night, and so every week I have to catch up with the show later. On elimination night, I have a friend text me when she finds out that [Pia's] safe. That night it was 6:55pm Tucson Time, which is just five minutes to 9pm EST [when "Idol" is ending]. I hadn't heard from her, and I said to myself, "What the heck is going on?" When I finally heard from my friend she said "Kim she's going home." I said "your joking right?" I think it's fine to say that I was shocked but I never took anything for granted. A lot of it has to do with being in the business, a door shuts and that's ok. But having it be this sudden and how early it was? Definitely a shock and I was devastated. All I kept thinking was, "I hope she's OK."
Why do you think Pia was eliminated?
I was talking to my dad about this. We were following those tracking devices and the predictors, because we thought they were still accurate. So we said, "She should be fine." I think it could be that she's so good that everyone had this idea that she'd be fine. If I were to say anything, maybe it had something to do with voters falling asleep at the wheel.
Just after the elimination, Pia said she thought she might end up in the bottom three.
The night before, I watched the show and thought the performance was incredible. She had an amazing presence, a powerful presence. But I also had a strange feeling. I can't explain it but I started to worry a little bit. Call it what you will, it was strange.
How are your parents taking it?
They were equally shocked -- and again, never taking it for granted, but it was all so sudden, even based on the national response. I felt horrible that I was supposed to be there, but I'm grateful that my parents were there.
Is there any truth to rumors that Pia already has a record deal?
We can't confirm either way on that. But I think she's going to have a great career either way. I know the show has been amazing for her, but obviously her elimination is working out fine so far.
In interviews, Pia has mentioned that she gets nervous while performing, but she really held it together when Ryan delivered the bad news. What's her secret?
As musicians, I think we all are nervous. I doubt there is a performer that doesn't deal with anxiety, but you learn to perfect your skills. So if Pia is nervous up there, holding it together is a combination of all her training. And she sings for my Grandpa, she really does. That kind of connection really helps her transcend the nerves because she is singing from her heart.
What do you think your grandfather would say about Pia?
He always said, "I won't go anywhere." I'm sure he's thrilled and proud. He was her biggest fan, a very special person and he really helped raise us. The more I see her handle herself in this very grueling process, the more I see his influence on her. She is so elegant and so loving and that's exactly how he was.
Since you're Pia's older sister and also a musician, have you helped Pia with along her career?
She saw me leave home at 22 to pursue my music career, so the advice has been indirect rather than direct. Stay committed and work hard, that's all I ever knew. From a sister's perspective, having watched this unfold, I'm overjoyed.
Have you and Pia every talked about collaborating together?
Doing a project with Pia is on my radar; we talked about doing something. We're trying to figure out a way to be on the same stage. When I spoke with my dad, he became very upset because he wished that somehow I would end up on the "Idol" stage with her if she went further. So he was a little heartbroken. He had this vision in his mind that somehow I would be up there with her. That's kind of a goner. But we can always do something later.