Fans of Montana State University-Northern Athletics may know Sierra Diehl as an outstanding former volleyball player for the Skylights. Diehl, a Helena native, daughter of Dawn Larson and Shay Diehl, was also the voice of the national anthem at many Northern home games.
Now her adventure auditioning for a national television series will help an incoming freshman continue mixing education and music, funding a one-time scholarship to help a Havre High School graduate attend college.
It was Diehl’s voice that caught the attention of one local sports fan — businesswoman and entrepreneur Renelle Braaten. Braaten got to know Sierra through Northern’s Adopt-a-Skylight program, which pairs local “parents” to out-of-area students. During this time, Braaten mentioned to Diehl on several occasions that she should try out for the television singing competition “American Idol.”
As Diehl entered her final year at Northern, she finally agreed to take Braaten up on her offer to help raise funds for a trip to an “American Idol” audition. They researched upcoming audition locations and decided that New Orleans, La ., would be Diehl’s destination.
Several Northern sports fans, community members and local business owners worked together to help Sierra raise funds for her trip, including Christy Holden. Holden, who joined Diehl on her trip to New Orleans, used her frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards cards to help Sierra find a good deal on a flight. Diehl was overwhelmed by support.
“They just announced it at half-time (of several Northern basketball games), and people donated,” Diehl said, “I also sang a couple songs at halftime of one of the playoff games.”
In July of last year, Diehl arrived in New Orleans with nearly 8,000 other contestants to try out for “American Idol.” Unfortunately, she didn’t make it past the first round. Diehl says she learned a valuable lesson about the business side of a show like “American Idol.”
“You have to stand out completely,” Diehl said, “I probably just looked like an average girl.”
Though her “American Idol” adventure was short-lived, Diehl says the experience is one she will never forget. She said she might consider trying out again in the future, though she would prefer to pursue her love for music on a smaller scale.
“I don’t need that grand of a stage,” she said.
Because of the generosity of donations, Diehl returned to Montana with money left over in her audition fund. Braaten, who is also a committee member of the MSU-Northern Foundation Scholarship Committee, suggested that Diehl donate the money back to Northern in the form of a scholarship.
Kodey Sands, daughter of Jim and Trish Sands of Havre, will be attending MSU-Northern as a freshman this fall. She heard about the “Sierra Diehl Scholarship” when it was announced over the intercom at Havre High School. Sands, an elementary education major, indicated on her scholarship application that she had a “passion for music” and an interest in being “a big part of children’s lives.”
Kodey seemed like the ideal candidate according, to committee member Gail Rader.
“She continues the musical tradition of Sierra’s,” Rader said.