This ... is Pia Toscano

By Nicole Halvorsen

A Q&A with the former ‘American Idol’ contestant and her partner

“American Idol” is more than just a reality TV singing contest. It’s an incubator for rising musical talent that’s given the show’s non-winners as much a stab at stardom as its finalists. Eighteen alumni have seen their debut records go at least certified gold, and nearly four dozen more have issued some sort of studio release. One of them — Pia Toscano (who came in ninth place in 2011’s Season 10) — and her singer/songwriter/producer partner, Jared Lee, swing through Lansing this Friday as part of their DUO tour.

Lee, 34, and Toscano, 25, called from Los Angeles this week to talk about their tour, which brings them to the Dart Auditorium on the campus of Lansing Community College on Friday.

How did DUO get started? Lee: “We met nine years ago in New York. A friend of ours who worked at Sony told us that we should do some writing together — (Toscano) was in her senior year of high school. I would go watch her performances and my friend thought we should collaborate. We did a lot of writing together and got to know each other. (Several) years later, I moved to L.A. to work on my solo stuff and she was in L.A. for ‘Idol’ and we decided to do some stuff together for fun. It ended up sparking something for both of us — something more than just a onetime thing.”

What are your goals from here? Lee: I’ve been doing a lot more writing and producing. I wrote and produced a song for Jason Derulo; it’s a duet called “Vertigo” with Jordin Sparks. I’ve been working more with other artists. Artistically we’re working on DUO, for right now it’s going to be our focus.

Toscano: I just do a lot of fashion stuff or anything with beauty. I recently did a fashion panel — that really interests me. I do auditions for musical theater and some acting, but for right now, our main focus is this project.

Lee: For DUO, we’re excited to share what we think is a new and creative project with people. We don’t have any strict expectations on the project. For me, I love being creative in music as a performer, writer and producer, I hope that I can continue to have success in those areas and work with people that inspire me and create something that I’m proud of.

Toscano: I think the same thing. A year ago, I would’ve said I want to win Grammys and go to these award shows, have a huge successful album. I think we define success a little differently now. We just want to continue what we’re doing and have success with it.

Just make music that we’re inspired by that other people are inspired by. We’re both in a great place right now. That’s the long-term goal — to be able to keep doing what we love and keep inspiring people.

Opening the show for Toscano and Lee will be Lansing-based singer songwriter Taylor Taylor.

Duo Concert: Pia Toscano and Jared Lee

6:30 p.m. Friday, March Dart Auditorium 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing $10 piajared_concert