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Meet the Manasquan Native Turned ‘American Idol’ Contestant

by Nicole Iuzzolino
Cole Hallman on American Idol

Just a few months ago, the largest stage Cole Hallman played upon was The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. Fast forward to today, the Manasquan, NJ native has now made his singing debut on television screens across the country after appearing on this season of “American Idol.” In an exclusive interview, we spoke with Hallman about how he found his love for music, his big TV break and upcoming ventures. 

Cole Hallman on Discovering His Passion for Music

Hallman first picked up the guitar during high school. His friends on the surf team played in a band, and they would often play together in between practices. These friends taught Hallman the basics of playing the guitar, and eventually, the Manasquan native bought his own. 

“It was really just small goals at first. I wanted to play one song with them at the surf team fundraiser at the end of the year and then I just kept playing all the time.” In addition, he credits much of his “musical schooling” to working at The Stone Pony, where he was able to meet local artists and make connections. 

From traveling to Hawaii for four years at Hawaii Pacific University, where he could surf as much as he pleased, to then moving back to New Jersey upon graduation, that musical interest he garnered in high school was flourishing. Yet, “American Idol” was not something Hallman ever thought about appearing on. 

The Start of His American Idol Journey

Producers for “American Idol” reached out to Hallman themselves about appearing on the show after his singing went viral on TikTok. His first viral video was a Sturgill Simpson cover he recorded when he was back in Hawaii, which was the video that caught the producer’s attention. 

His most viral TikTok to date, with 6.3 million likes (something he never once expected to happen), features his sister. “It was a random thing; it wasn’t even really planned. I was just playing music and she walked in. She wanted to record something with me, so we did.”

During the pandemic, Hallman and a few of his friends, specifically one from the surf team who taught him the basics of guitar, started a cover band called The Orange Blossoms. The group went from playing in their driveways and on Manasquan’s Main Street to performing at several Jersey Shore bars. 

Cole Hallman on American Idol

Cole Hallman (left), sister Katie (middle) and mom (right) l Photo Courtesy of @colehallmanmusic

When Hallman is not performing with his cover band, he’s working on his own original music. On March 13, 2022, Hallman announced his newest single, “that’s lovely,” would be dropping on April 8. He stated that it’s a song that comes from the heart and captures the relationship he has with his younger sister Katie, one that so many from “American Idol” have resonated with. 

“It’s a really simple song. I think I wrote it when I was sitting next to her [Katie]…there’s a lot of metaphors about the hands…and what each finger represents.” Hallman’s sister Katie, who has a chromosomal deletion, learned sign language due to a hearing impairment when she was younger. Taking inspiration from the way certain hand movements create words when communicating through sign language, Hallman incorporates those experiences with his sister in his song. 

Back to His NJ Roots

Hallman currently lives in Manasquan and he states that when his community found out he was auditioning for the show, it felt like everyone must have tuned in. “I work at a surf shop and people will come in and take photos with me. It seems so ridiculous but also so sweet, it’s just funny to think that people are coming in, wanting to take photos with me.” 

But no matter what, his little sister will continue to be his biggest fan. “She’s always just really supportive. Whether it’s me playing at a local bar or playing in front of Katy Perry, I think she is equally stoked.”

Speaking specifically to other local musicians who are scared to take the next step and possibly audition for “American Idol” like Hallman, the Manasquan native has one piece of advice for them: do what you are scared of and you’ll come out braver in the end. “Fear is only temporary. It [“American Idol”] was one of the scariest things I have ever done…every time you do something scary like that, it gets easier every time. Even if it doesn’t go your way, it is still a good experience.” 

After making it through Hollywood Week , where Hallman performed his rendition of “Vienna” by Billy Joel, he was ultimately sent home after the duet round of the competition. Now, he is back to his Jersey boy roots and will be performing at The Stone Pony on April 16. 

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