In April of 2011, Nick Noonan and Amy Heidemann — the adorable engaged couple, both in their mid-20s, better known as the musical duo Karmin — had just barely buckled in for the ride of their lives. Noonan, an Old Town native, and Heidemann, originally from Nebraska (they now live in Los Angeles), had just witnessed the YouTube video of their utterly charming cover of Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” amass more than seven million views in less than two weeks. They were beyond excited, and a little overwhelmed.
“At first, it was all kind of a blur. A big, amazing blur,” said Noonan, while on a brief visit home during the holiday season. “Then it all started happening. I couldn’t keep up with the emails in my inbox. It was a whirlwind.”
At press time, Karmin’s “Look At Me Now” had received 56 million views. L.A. Reid has signed them to Epic Records. They have hobnobbed with Kanye West, Jay-Z, Kelly Clarkson, Coldplay, The Roots, Maroon 5 and many more pop and hip-hop luminaries. They recorded a full-length, all original album, the lead single for which, “Crash Your Party,” has already hit airwaves, along with the brand-new single, “Brokenhearted.” They opened for Lady Gaga in November on the West Coast, playing for crowds of tens of thousands.
“Playing with Lady Gaga was crazy,” said Noonan. “We’d jump on stage and get all these thousands of people going, and then we’d get chased down the hallway. It’s been so cool to convert all those people to Karmin fans.”
This Saturday, they will be the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” with host Zooey Deschanel.
But first, let’s rewind 10 years. From 2001 to 2004, Noonan was a student at Old Town High School where he excelled at trombone, taught himself some piano on the side, and was one of those kids that other students looked up to. At least, that’s how Old Town High School music teacher Jeffrey Priest remembers him.
“He was one of those kids who was definitely a star player, musically, but he was also a phenomenal kid to have around,” said Priest, who has led the Old Town High School music department and its award-winning jazz program for 23 years. “He made everyone else feel good about what they were doing. If some kid played a solo well, he’d always say ‘Hey, good job.’ High school kids just don’t take that kind of leadership position. But he was like that from the start.”
Noonan also studied under music teachers Shianne Wheeler-Priest and David Saucier while at the high school. All of his teachers are understandably thrilled that one of their students has gone on to great success — though he’s not the first, and he hopefully won’t be the last.
“Just because we’re from Maine doesn’t mean we can’t dream big. We’re just as proud of him as we are of all of our successful graduates.” said Priest, who points to 2003 Old Town High School graduate Matt Chilelli, who won a 2009 regional Emmy for writing the theme song for the PBS program “The Purple Couch.” “And we’re really glad it’s someone like Nick, who’s such a good guy. They won’t be doing any reality TV shows about him. They’d have to make stuff up about him. There’s nothing bad there.”
The past 10 months have changed Noonan and Heidemann’s lives forever. Besides being snapped up by Epic Records, they’ve been making the rounds on TV, starting with an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in April 2011 that helped them shoot to the top of the pop heap. In November 2011, they won a Best New Media prize at the American Music Awards thanks to their wildly popular YouTube cover song videos, and shots of the two working the red carpet made their way into Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines. Heidemann’s already being recognized for her unique personal style: part pinup girl, part hipster, part Hollywood glam.
Though the album is all recorded, Epic is waiting until the right time to unleash it on the public. The label has worked with people such as Dr. Luke, who produced most of Katy Perry’s hits; Starbeat, who produced singles for Wiz Khalifa and Rihanna; and of course L.A. Reid, who currently can be seen as one of the judges on “The X Factor” on Fox.
“It’s definitely a departure from what we’ve been doing, but it’s still very much Karmin,” said Noonan, who graduated with Heidemann from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2010. “We’ve been working with some really incredibly talented people, and it’s been a really neat experience because we’re musicians too. We’re trained. We went to school for it. The people we’re recording with don’t often get to play with trained musicians. We speak the same language. It’s been very positive.”
Noonan and Heidemann have been so busy they’ve not only not had time to get married — they also had to visit their parents separately, with Heidemann going back to Nebraska and Noonan visiting Mom and Dad and friends in Old Town. Over their vacation, they played the album for family.
“It’s been so fun playing it for our parents, because it’s the first time we heard it, too. We can’t email it to anyone. It’s on total lockdown,” said Heidemann. “It feels really special. It still feels like a dream. And the touring has just made us even more hungry to get out there and play more. We’re so ready. But we’re trying to stay grounded. Our families keep us grounded. I don’t think we could ever change who we are. We’re small-town people.”
Their appearance on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend in New York City is a turning point for the duo. The show is taking a risk on them, based solely on their reputation from YouTube and on the strength of their debut singles — but then again, that’s how Justin Bieber shot to fame. If they succeed, their star will continue to rise higher — not that the news is shocking to anyone at Old Town High School.
“How many Old Town grads can say they were on ‘SNL?'” said Priest. “Not many, obviously. Not that I’m surprised. It couldn’t happen to a nicer, more talented person.”