Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Decked out from head to toe in a motion capture suit, Kaylee Franzen opened her mouth to make her TV singing debut, and her vocals soared from a teal-skinned, magenta-haired avatar displayed a screen away.
Psychology junior Franzen — or Aster, as she is known on Fox’s “Alter Ego” singing competition — introduced herself to a national audience as one of 20 contestants on a reality show made for a digital generation. Singers on “Alter Ego” perform with their identities hidden by computer-generated avatars, which means they are able to put aside any insecurities they may have about looks and embrace their music.
Though Franzen, 20, was eliminated from the show in week five after a head-to-head battle with 31-year-old Atlanta-based singer Dasharra Bridges, she takes away an experience no other Belmont student has had as well as a new degree of forward momentum in her singing career.
“I don’t think I’m a full human without using my gift of music, so I have to actively push against my doubts that I can’t do it. And it’s worth it,” Franzen said in an interview with the Vision.
Energy and passion from Aster during her performance. 🌺 #AlterEgoFOX @kayleenfranzen pic.twitter.com/fzbiCC2bLi — AlterEgoOnFOX (@AlterEgoOnFOX) October 21, 2021
In the show’s second episode, which aired Sept. 23, Franzen caught the attention of celebrity judges will.i.am, Grimes, Alanis Morissette and Nick Lachey with her applauded performance of Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow.”
Franzen said singing for the show was very different from a typical live gig. She sang in full motion capture and face mapping gear on a curtained-off soundstage while her avatar was projected for the judges and audience on the show’s main stage.
Under the technological circumstances, she had to give extra considerations to her performances.
“You think it’s going to be easier to sing when you’re in your own space,” she said. “But you have to make exaggerated motions so that the technology can really pick it up, like blinking your eyes slowly so that your avatar blinks too. You’re also watching the screen while you’re performing, and you just have to think about all these things that you wouldn’t normally have to think about. It was easier over time, though, and I felt like I was able to be myself.”
When the Fox casting department reached out to Franzen about auditioning for an upcoming show, she flew out to Los Angeles with little knowledge of what the challenges would be.
“We didn’t know the concept of the show until after a couple rounds of online auditions. Once I found out, I thought, ‘This is different. This is fun, I want to be a part of this,’” she said.
Franzen and the other contestants helped develop their avatars’ looks, and the show’s graphic designers put a lot of work into making their virtual images authentic to their visions, Franzen said.
“I got to fill out a form saying what kind of vibe I wanted for my alter ego and what kind of person I wanted to be. I wanted my vibe on the show to be a ‘down-to-earth hippie cool-girl’ look.” Franzen said. “When they revealed my avatar to me, I was obsessed with it and I got to pick out different outfits for her, which was really fun. The designers worked so hard on it too, one of them told me the skirt took four hours to design.”
She picked the name Aster for her alter ego because it’s the flower of her birth month, September, and because the word means “star,” she said.
Franzen grew up performing musical theater and writing songs in her hometown of Flower Mound, Texas, and enjoyed competition shows like “The Voice” and “American Idol,” but she never thought she would perform on one of those TV shows, much less as a green version of herself with digital flowers in her hot-pink hair.
And despite the show’s cast of musically talented judges, Franzen said she primarily draws inspiration from her life in Nashville.
“My source of inspiration is other Belmont students. I’ve been able to see how other students are taking advantage of living in this amazing city for music and it’s encouraged me to think I can do the same,” she said.
Those very peers watched her career unfold on TV, and friends like Charlotte Muharsky, Franzen’s roommate, were excited to see her success.
“I was super proud of Kaylee for getting on the show,” said Muharsky. “The show is super cool and different compared to the other singing shows that are out right now. I really like how the show is giving people a chance to step out of their comfort zone and chase their dreams.”
Devanee Pappas, Franzen’s other roommate, said she was overjoyed when she saw her friend on the show for the first time and knew how hard she worked to get the opportunity.
“Once we saw her on the show, we were all teary-eyed in the room,” Pappas said.
Off the soundstage, Franzen has released one 2020 single, “Fool’s Gold,” and is working on new music.
“Alter Ego” continues on Fox Wednesdays at 8 p.m. after “The Masked Singer.”
PHOTO: Kaylee Franzen and her “Alter Ego” avatar, Aster. Courtesy of Fox.
This article was written by Corinne Robinson.