Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Pia Toscano is the Kings' good-luck charm
By Scott Neumyer ESPN The Magazine
The "American Idol" alum sang the anthem at every L.A. Kings' home game en route to the Stanley Cup.
Pia Toscano probably never imagined that she’d have so many hockey fans chanting her name, but after becoming the Los Angeles Kings’ good-luck charm at the end of their championship run last season, the former “American Idol” contestant has become a fan favorite at the Staples Center.
It started innocently, with her singing the national anthem at a Dallas Stars-L.A. Kings game at Staples last January. Then she sang again at the start of the team's 2012 playoff run in April -- and the Kings just kept winning. Not wanting to mess with a streak, they kept bringing Toscano back to center ice to sing and, before long, they were hoisting Lord Stanley’s silver and nickel-alloy cup above their victorious heads. How’s that for good luck?
This past Saturday, Toscano was at Staples Center to sing the anthem at the Kings' lockout-delayed season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks.
She recently chatted with ESPN Playbook about becoming a Stanley Cup champ’s talisman, loving Mike Piazza and dreaming of singing at the Super Bowl.
How did you first get the gig singing the national anthem for the Kings?
I went to my first hockey game ever with my manager and I saw the girl singing the national anthem. I had done it for so many baseball games before, so I looked over at him and said, “I want to do that.” You know, just for fun. My manager is friends with Luc Robitaille so he asked Luc if I could sing for one of their home games. So I did, it went really well, and Luc really enjoyed my rendition of it so they invited me back to start the playoff series and they started winning.
So, because hockey is so superstitious, they kept inviting me back to sing. The L.A. Kings game was my first live hockey game and we just had the best time. The fans are so loyal and they treat me like I’m family there now.
You’ve become their good-luck charm. Have the Kings told you that you have the job from now on, as long as they keep winning?
I’m scheduled for a lot of games this season. If my schedule allowed for me to sing at all the home games, I probably would, but my schedule is really difficult right now. As of now, I’m singing at about 10 games this year.
Kings players Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter with the new queen of Staples.
How did you handle the lockout? Were you itching to watch some good hockey?
Oh, yeah. I was looking forward to October and starting up again with the Kings. It’s unfortunate that we lost a little bit of time with the lockout, but everything happens for a reason and I think everyone is anxious and excited to get back into hockey. I’m honored to be a part of it, and to be a part of the whole ceremony where they raise the banner. I’m proud to be a part of this whole thing. The fact that they allow me to be involved is really special to me, so I’m really excited.
Do you have a favorite moment from last year’s run to the Stanley Cup?
I would have to say the final game when they won the Cup. I couldn’t believe that I was part of that. It was so surreal to me.
Did you get to touch the Cup?
I actually didn’t get to touch the Cup, but I got to be part of the parade. The guys are all great and they treat me like family, so it’s a really cool environment. I wish my dad was out here so he could experience the games with me because, once you go to a hockey game, if you don’t love it, you’re crazy. There’s so much action and it’s so much fun.
Do you have a favorite player on the Kings?
I love Drew Doughty. He’s my favorite and I think he’s great. I think it’s because I’m also really superstitious and every time I sing the anthem and right before I go on, he’s the one that comes out.
Were you a hockey fan at all growing up or has being this good-luck charm turned you into a hockey fan?
I’ve loved it ever since that first game I went to with my manager. To be honest, I really wasn’t a hockey fan growing up, but the Kings' story is so inspiring and I got totally wrapped up in it. Now I’m totally a fan. I was going crazy when I couldn’t watch a game. I was in Minnesota and they had a replay of the L.A. Kings game on and I said, “I have to come to Minnesota to watch the Kings play?” [Laughs.]
You’re from New York. Do you get a lot of flak from your family and friends when you go home wearing a Kings jersey?
Yes. [Laughs.] I’m very loyal to New York and I’m very appreciative of all the New York teams, but a lot of people thought that I was from New Jersey because I auditioned for “American Idol” in New Jersey. So when the Kings were playing the Devils, I was getting so many hate messages on Facebook and Twitter. [Laughs.] What’s going to happen when they play the Rangers, you know? Hockey fans are very passionate so I appreciate it. I don’t take it to heart. I think it’s funny.
Do you have a favorite athlete outside of hockey?
Growing up, I was very into baseball and I was very close with my grandfather, who was a die-hard Mets fan. When I grew up, my favorite athlete was Mike Piazza. I loved him. I was there right after 9/11 when he hit the game-winning home run. So, growing up, I shared my love for Mike Piazza with my grandfather.
I’m also a Yankee fan as well so, of course, I love Derek Jeter. He’s the prince of New York. He’s a great guy and a great player, so I would have to say that, now, he’s my favorite athlete.
Are there any other sports you’d love to sing for?
My dream is to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Ever since I saw Whitney Houston sing it, I knew that I wanted to impact somebody else’s life the same way she impacted mine. She was my inspiration. Hopefully, fingers crossed, one day down the line I’ll get the chance to do that.
You nearly landed a role on "Glee" at one point. Are you confident that it’ll still happen down the road?
I think that timing is everything and, down the line, if that’s where I’m meant to end up then it will definitely happen. I have a good relationship with the casting director so we’ll see.
Would you like to move into acting as well?
Definitely. I’ve started dabbling into acting when I’ve had some free time and I would love to learn more about the craft itself. I want to be able to dive into it and take classes and know exactly what I’m doing. I’ve focused my whole life on perfecting my singing, so I’d love to get to learn the craft of acting a lot better. I have my first little acting role in a Christian film called "Grace Unplugged" that’s coming out later this year. That was a great start for me.
Your departure from “American Idol” was one of the most shocking in the show’s history. Do you have any regrets at all about the show?
Absolutely not. I auditioned for that show since I was 16 years old and it took me four tries before I actually made it. I would always get to the celebrity judges, but I would always defeat myself because I didn’t really believe that I could do it. I just kept practicing and practicing until I was confident enough and believed in myself enough to know that I could do it. I have no regrets. It taught me so much about myself. Everyone was great to work with and it taught me how to react under pressure and how to perform in any situation.
Is there anything you can tell us about your upcoming album?
We’re still working on a title. I have a few ideas, but I’m so excited about this album. It took a little while, but I’m so happy that it’s taken this long because now it’s truly a story of what I went through as I was learning and growing. I’m working with two great producers [Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas] and I’m more confident and happy with this project than I’ve ever felt before. It’s great to be proud of your body of work. It’s something special.