Profile of 5-Year-Old Singing Sensation Kaitlyn Maher of Ashburn

Kaitlyn Maher (front) competed on season three of NBC's "America's Got Talent."
Kaitlyn Maher (front) competed on season three of NBC's "America's Got Talent." (Chris Haston - NBC)
By Catherine Cheney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kaitlyn Maher stood at the window of her Ashburn home, waving and smiling, excited about the interview. Inside, three dolls waited on the stairs, a "welcoming committee" she had arranged for the occasion. Kaitlyn, one of the top 10 finalists on "America's Got Talent," who has an upcoming Disney movie and debut album, was still very much a 5-year-old.

Already, though, her Twitter account read: "kaitlynmaher Is looking forward to 'Washington Post' reporter visiting tonight to do an interview with her! :)."

Her life is online for all to see, displayed through blurbs, posts, videos and cellphone pictures, on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. As artists use social media to market not only their music but also their daily lives, keeping a balance is a tough task for parents of child stars.

When Kaitlyn was 18 months old, her parents thought she might have a problem: She never stopped singing and always sang herself to sleep. Worried that she wasn't getting enough sleep, Alison and Reuben Maher took her to the pediatrician. The diagnosis: She just loves to sing.

When Kaitlyn was 3, relatives in Canada asked whether she would come sing at a birthday party. Alison was pregnant with her second child, Ethan, so the Mahers couldn't go. But they said they'd send a video of Kaitlyn singing. After the video wouldn't e-mail, Alison and Reuben resorted to YouTube.

Five months later, Reuben received a call from NBC's "America's Got Talent," asking Kaitlyn to audition for Season 3. Reuben and Alison said they debated the idea -- Kaitlyn had never been onstage -- but Kaitlyn was excited.

On the way to New York, she told her parents that she wanted to see "the sparkles come down" at the finale. "Okay, sweetheart, just try your best and have fun," answered her dad.

The Mahers said they told their daughter to pray if she really wanted to see the sparkles come down.

Kaitlyn was selected. On the episode when she was introduced to audiences across America, she walked to the big "X" at center stage as the audience and judges smiled. Holding the corner of her pink dress with one hand and a microphone with the other, Kaitlyn sang "Somewhere Out There" from the animated film "An American Tail," pronouncing her r's as w's and revealing her lisp with each s.

Her voice surprised everyone, and her song immediately turned viewers into fans.

Kaitlyn excelled as a contestant, moving from New York to Las Vegas to Hollywood to the top 40 and finally the top 10. She sang the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" and, paired against an operatic rendition of "All by Myself" by contestant Neal E. Boyd, Kaitlyn was eliminated and excluded from the top five. "I don't think it would probably be fair to you to put you onto a Las Vegas stage," said judge Piers Morgan on the Sept. 17, 2008, episode.

"She learned you don't always win, which is a good lesson," said Reuben, 36. "But she was in it for the gold."

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