The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Once upon a time in 2012, I was in sixth grade. My school’s chorus teacher and orchestra teachers gathered my entire grade into the cafeteria. We were practicing for our chorus concert and some students were auditioning for solos. At some point, one girl climbed the stage and began singing. Looking back, and even then, I realized it was a moment that changed my life. I was stunned. This was the first time that I was frozen in place with chills. The moment she belted out her high notes, I felt chills in my legs that ran up my back and over my heart. They were chills, they were sparks: it was a wild feeling, and to this day, I’ve only ever noticed a similar feeling when I’ve been in real concert halls. I remember standing with my mouth gaped open. Something inside me just knew that this girl would be famous one day. She seemed so incredibly cool, and that day I realized that I wanted to be her friend. Aubrey Burchell was and is one of the coolest people I’ve seen.
The following year, we ended up having mutual friends, so I saw her around more, and by seventh grade, we became friends. It should be noted that middle school is a time when kids are insecure, and changing so much. Most of the time, unfortunately, this insecurity gets projected onto other kids in a powerful and hurtful way. During this time, Aubrey was brave enough to start her social media platform. She posted covers of her singing on her Instagram and she continued to get more solos in our school shows. She made some music videos which she posted on her YouTube channel, and she sang around town frequently. Over the years, I’d gotten used to hearing about her performing at assembly’s, benefits, cafes, charity shows, local festivals, county fairs, car shows, or sports arenas. She’s a natural performer and has done so for over a decade at this point. As our friendship grew, I saw more people mocking her and our peers seeing her as arrogant, or a “show-off.” The saddest thing was, Aubrey was really humble and very shy. For a 13 year old (yes, 13), she amazed me at her courage and confidence to get on stage and broadcast herself online. She was fearless in doing it and she always performed so well. She made it look easy. Aubrey was the only 8th grader I knew that was able to sing at a Veterans Day assembly in front of our school, AND sing the National Anthem at a Pirates baseball game (yes, she did that, a few times, actually! Look it up!), and STILL be shy to speak in class. When classmates would go to her and try to embarrass her by laughingly saying “HA! I saw you on TV last night,” or “wow, nice song on instagram,” she wouldn’t budge. Aubrey would smile at them and handle them with class. How did she just know how to be a lady?
It’s funny to look back and remember our golden friendship. We were so close from the ages of 12-17, and in our town, those years felt like an eternity. To most teens, those years feel so hard to get through. There’s so much change, so much confusion, and I’m proud to say that Aubrey and I remained so strong throughout it. She was the first friend I had that would talk with me about boys, periods, and sex. Whatever our mom’s wouldn’t tell us, we gossiped about. I remember hearing all her secrets, and finally feeling secure enough to share all of mine. She was the first friend that I told about my family trauma, she was the first friend to actually tell me about their home life. She was the first friend I really felt safe with. We were so different, but she really understood me and taught me so much. She was everything a friend should be. I loved comedy, and she taught me about Key and Peele. She loved YouTube, and I taught her about VidCon and the content creators that we both grew to love. Aubrey and I had constant sleepovers and always went out to movies with her neighbors–Stephen and James. She still considers Stephen her brother, and if I wasn’t her #1 fan at this age, then Stephen definitely was.
When I wasn’t hyping up her social media posts, we discovered that creepy men on the internet were also liking her content. Somehow, we made it a funny game to find their profiles and block their messages! Together, everything was funny. We would always have sleepovers at my house, and we talked about our futures. Everytime I told her about anything I was questioning, she was so reassuring. When she told me she wasn’t sure singing would be her whole life, I couldn’t help but encourage her. Something about her was so star quality. It still is.
In a time where boys started noticing girls, we both wanted boys to notice us. I wasn’t pretty or confident by any means, but believe me, Aubrey has always been beautiful. I’m sure she’d resent me saying this, but looking back, I think Aubrey may have gotten less attention from boys just because she was associated with me. Eventually, her singing and performing around Pittsburgh led her to a relationship, and I found a boyfriend as well. Both of us got so distracted by boyfriends that we started drifting apart. When we both became single again, we got closer once again, and it was like no time had passed.
As we got older, we both loved musicals. When we got to high school, we started auditioning for school plays and school musicals together. When we did them together, it was awesome, but when I didn’t make the cut, I was in the audience every night to cheer her on, along with all the talented friends we shared. Through these high school shows, we found friends that threw parties around showtunes, and these years (2016 and 2017) were the sweetest summers of my high school days. A small performance space opened up a few towns away, and Aubrey started performing there frequently. I went as often as I could, and soon I noticed that Aubrey found herself a new boyfriend. Eventually, he turned sour, giving her material for a song that still brings tears to my eyes, see “Memory” linked here, or on her Spotify discography. Yes, she wrote songs and released them originally on small platforms. They might not have been listened to by everyone, but they were listened to by us. You better believe that Stephen and I were the first ones to watch her music videos and insist that everyone watch them too.
She was so young to know how to channel heartache into material, but she did it effortlessly. After that boyfriend, I was sad to realize the pattern; each time she and I had significant others, we would lose touch with each other for weeks or months at a time, even when we attended the same high school. No matter how distant we’d become, we’d always be ready to receive each other after each break up. Always like no time had passed.
Each reunion with her was exciting. When she did photoshoots in Pittsburgh, we squealed about it and of course I felt like she’d be “discovered” one day. When she did bigger performances, or performed as the opening act for bands, I was so proud of her. Even if we spent time apart, I always cheered her on from afar.
At some point, I noticed Aubrey coming to school less and less. Eventually, she transitioned to cyber school for our junior year and I didn’t hear from her at all. I saw her when she performed at her usual performance space, the Keynote Cafe, or at our school sports games, but not much outside of that. Soon, I checked in on her, and she was quick to tell me she was fine, but just working on a secret project. Oh? That’s different. I mean, I knew she worked on music videos and she’d worked with a few well known people before, but nothing like this. We were only 17, and I questioned if she’d finally been discovered after all these years. It turns out, in a way, she had. She later announced that she landed a spot on American Idol! This was the show’s season that produced Gabby Barrett (also a Pittsburgh native), and sidenote, Aubrey was featured in a Gabby Barret music video years prior. I wish I could find the link for you, but I can’t find it anywhere, and it looks to have been erased from Gabby’s socials. All I remember is it was a video with a bunch of girls on a boat.
Sadly, Aubrey did not make it to the later episodes of American Idol, but she returned home and continued singing around town and gaining fans everywhere. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with her performance in Rocky Horror Picture Show one summer! We didn’t talk too much after junior year ended, and I found a new boyfriend. After transferring to cyber learning for our junior year, she missed out on some core junior curriculum, so when she came back for senior year, she took different classes than most of our friends, and I saw much less of her than I usually did. She didn’t audition for musicals anymore, and I maintained a busy schedule in stage crew. Just as my boyfriend and I broke up, she found a new relationship. When I was stressed about college applications and college tours, she was looking for a new job, focusing on her new boyfriend, and performing around our town: completely different wavelengths. We graduated high school. We hadn’t been in sync for awhile, and our new lives were headed in different directions. I made time to attend almost every grad party I was invited to, but sadly, I didn’t see her at mine. I missed her so much, and we always said we’d meet up, but soon, messages went unanswered longer and longer than usual. We didn’t call regularly, and when I started college, there was too much to catch up on, that it was probably better to tell her everything in person.
When we finally met up again, it was, as always, like no time had passed. In the winter of 2019, we sat in my basement and talked for hours about her life in our hometown and all the exciting things she was up to, including another project. I gushed about all the boy drama in my life and all the confusion my degree was causing me. It felt like there was endless stuff to catch up on. When I was working through my second semester of university, she released a song (“Nothin on Me”) and you better believe I blasted that song in my dorm and reposted it everywhere. When she saw the praise I was giving this song, she messaged me to thank me and we insisted we’d meet up next time I was in town… but then spring of 2020 happened. Even after restrictions loosened, it didn’t feel right to meet up when we both had asthma. Now it’s been three years and we haven’t met up in person since that winter. As much as I wished we could have been on the same page with meeting up, she was busy pursing opportunites and continuing to make content, so while I’m gushing about her music, I have to share my favorite song she’s ever written, “Love Murder Misery,” (p.s. you need to listen, I know you’ll love it).
Over the course of 2021, I was coming out of a very isolating time and a strong depression, even worse though, I noticed Aubrey going through something similar and I couldn’t get ahold of her. Everytime I tried to get in contact with her, she was always taking breaks from social media, or slow to respond to messages. At some point she reassured me she was doing better and still working, and later I saw her posting about the importance of mental health. It seemed like she was recovering from a tough time, and as much as I wished I could have been there for her, this made me realize that we were no longer close enough for us to be comfortable allowing one another into each other’s lives.
We may have spent years on different wavelengths, but 2022 was one hell of a year for both of us. I spent months saving, campaigning for, and working out details for my internship in Australia. I pushed myself so hard to get there, and while away, I fully immersed myself in the Australian lifestyle. I needed a break from America, and the 12 hour time difference helped a ton. The only time I used my phone was for taking pictures, listening to music during my commutes, or calling home. I blocked out the world back home and only ever made an effort to call my mom. I felt unbelievably fulfilled and so much like my true self. When I got back to the States, my hometown was abuzz with news that Aubrey was headed for America’s Got Talent! Wow. Dreams were really coming true this year. I voted every chance I could and posted about her on every social media platform I used. She was unbelievely amazing. Simon Cowell himself told her that her career is going to “sky rocket” and Sophia Vergara said that “America is going to fall in love with (her).” Although she did not stay on the show for long, I’m certian that their encouragement will offer her some opportunities in the future.
I can’t lie, I was so proud of her, but shouting her praises and posting her progress felt a little inauthentic. After all, we aren’t “best friends” anymore: we’re more like former best friends. As I write this article, I feel a twinge of guilt to say how close Aubrey and I used to be as teenagers. As true as all of that is, her and Stephen were much closer and still are. I can’t call myself a former best friend without acknowledging the one who was there before and after me. It made me so happy to see him fly all the way out to LA to support her performance on America’s Got Talent. It made me wish I could go with him, until I realized that he and I haven’t spoken since our senior year musical. As I said, he’s like her brother, and they’ve always been like family. Even as I write this article, I write from a place of nostalgia and unconditional love of mine and Aubrey’s friendship, and not at all from a delusional perspective that I was ever her bestest friend above any of her other high school friends that she remains close with to this day. She has quite a few close friends that I never really vibed with that well in high school. We don’t really fit into each other’s lives anymore, but we’ll never be out of each other’s lives either.
As you may have established, Aubrey and I have consistently had a bad habit of falling out of touch and then coming back together. We keep each other so dearly, but we both live very different lives. In most friendships, that happens. I go to IUP and write articles for Her Campus. I don’t go home often and when I do, I’m so exhausted from school that I don’t message a lot of people. Aubrey works in our hometown and travels a lot to perform. Between schedules, pandemics, and energy levels, we just haven’t been able to meet in the middle. Aubrey has always known who she is, and I had a lot to learn about myself and the world. She seems the same, and I barely recognize myself from last year. I miss her a lot, and seeing her perform on television has filled me with such joy and such pride. I have reposted everything she’s doing with America’s Got Talent and voted for her as much as I can. A part of me feels that because she and I haven’t spent one-on-one time together in years that our friendship isn’t real anymore and my posting this content will be viewed as sort of performative.
Regardless of how my public support may appear to others, I can’t hide the fact that I’m so proud of her. I haven’t had a direct hand in her success, especially in the last 4 years, but I still have so much love for her and I’m always cheering her on. Her and I are living realities we never thought possible for ourselves: me traveling the world, and her on a hugely broadcasted talent show. We’re both doing things we never could have imagined, and that’s huge. Our paths are so different, and while that’s perfectly okay, I wish our different lives didn’t keep us from being in contact. Aubrey recently left America’s Got Talent, but I’m so certain that this isn’t the end for her. She has so much kindness, talent, and such a strong drive within her. We may have drifted apart, but I’ll love her forever. You may not have had a former bestie with a huge platform, but if you’ve ever lost touch with a friend, you know how I feel. My girl is going to go far, and if you don’t believe me, I insist you follow her Instagram or YouTube channel to keep up with her journey. I love you forever, Aubrey!