When hip-hop violinist Lindsey Stirling was voted off the fifth season of America's Got Talent in 2010, the judges weren't particularly kind to her. Piers Morgan in particular took issue with the way she "flew through the air" and tried to simultaneously play violin at the same time as he practically mocked her performance. Stirling admits that performing live was something she wasn't entirely comfortable doing.
"I was thrown trial by fire into performing live," she says. "In a lot of ways, I didn't know what I was getting into. It was a really good experience because it gave me thicker skin. I was so inspired by all these other artists I met that were going after their dreams and throwing everything on the line to try to achieve what they wanted in life. It was inspiring to see that."
After leaving the show, she issued Stomp, a three-song EP, and then followed it up last year with her self-titled debut. Her debut soared to the top of the charts upon its release and Stirling has been on the road ever since. She spent January in Europe and has just returned to the States for another leg of shows.
"Just because I got told no, that doesn't mean that's the answer," she says defiantly. "I wanted to find someone who said yes. Being on America's Got Talent gave me the passion and drive to prove to myself that I could do it. But I also want to prove Piers Morgan wrong. I think it would be fun to be on The Piers Morgan Show and sit in the chair and talk with him. Not even in an antagonistic way. I would just want to say something like, 'Our paths cross again.' I think that would be pretty funny."
Originally trained as a classical violinist, Stirling says she started to get "burned out" on playing the violin when she was a teenager. So she sought ways to make playing classical violin more interesting.
"I used to love playing violin and then it was just doing it as a chore," she says. "I was just doing it because I had put so much into it that I couldn't quit. I wanted to make it fun again."
So she joined a rock band and started competing in talent competitions to raise money for college.
"I didn't want to bore the audience or just impress them," she says. "I wanted them to have fun and I wanted to have fun. That's the joy of performing so I started mixing the violin with the kind of music that I liked, which was playing to hip-hop tracks on the radio. Or dance music. I started creating original music shortly after America's Got Talent."
One of those original tunes, "Crystallize" pairs classical violin with cacophonous dubstep dance beats. Think Jean-Luc Ponty remixed by Skrillex. Stirling filmed a video that featured her playing in man-made ice caves in Colorado, the clip went viral and she's been a YouTube sensation ever since. Fans have responded by saying that she's made dubstep bearable.
"I like dubstep even in its raw form," she says. "I enjoy it. It's always been fun to me. My goal was to make it beautiful and not just crazy and not just heavy. I wanted it to be something beautiful that anyone from a dubstep loving teenage to my grandma could enjoy. That was my goal. I wanted to make it beautiful and melodic. I feel like I've succeeded with that with both 'Crystallize' and 'Elements.' It was a fun challenge for myself. I love combining things that aren't necessarily supposed to work."
Stirling says her live show has evolved since she competed on America's Got Talent. But — and Piers Morgan might take issue with this — she still continues to "fly" across the stage as if she were some kind of Peter Pan.
"I love performing so much," she says. "It's fun doing the same show every single night and I still get excited to go onstage every single night. We've done 70 shows and I still love it. It's a rock show that features violin. It's really energetic. I dance and run all over the stage for an hour and 15 minutes while I play. That's what the show is. My band is extremely energetic as well. They jump and dance and rock out as well. It's really fun. I have to smile when I look out and see the entire audience jumping with us or fist pumping."
And she says the crowds are surprisingly diverse.
"It's awesome because it's a violin concert and some guy will be head-banging and another guy will be waving glowsticks," she says. "We get little kids who are dressed up in little skirts to rave kids and your gamer fans. You have your couples in their sixties and seventies who just love the violin. To me, that makes it magic and fun and it's a place where everybody can connect."
And one day she can imagine herself in Vegas, with or without Morgan's approval.
"That would be awesome to someday play in a Vegas show," she says. "I've thought of it. Not now by any means but someday I would like to be a mom and have a family and settle down somewhere like Vegas where I could regularly perform. That would be amazing."