Updated: May 3, 2021

Proud Mom, Pauline Pratt McGrath, takes us on an inspired journey of discovery about being the parent of a transgender child with a passion for music, which leads all the way to the American Idol competition.

Tell us about you and your family?

Pauline: “My family is absolutely wonderful! I have always been all about family and truly enjoy being surrounded by them. I am blessed to have a very large family and I love it. I knew that when I married my husband, Barry, this was something that I’d truly cherish. My immediate family is a family of 4. Myself; my husband, Barry; my son Colton (18); and my son Carson (16). We are each very different. Colton is the musician and artsy one. Carson is the athlete. Although we are all very different, we are very closely joined.

My extended family is quite large. I have to say that each and everyone one of them, immediate or extended, is quite honestly, the best! Everyone is all so supportive of one another, never judging, always there physically or personally. I cherish this because I know that not everyone has this.”

When Colton came out to you how did you react and feel?

Pauline: “It was a mix of emotions. Colton was 17 years old when he released his statement to me that he just couldn’t do this anymore. I was devastated… because I thought he meant that he couldn’t do music anymore… LOL. We were coming back from a music tour and Colton (Cassidy at the time) had just performed in Philly and New York and we were en-route to New Jersey, and Colton looked deep in thought and sad. He looked over at me in the car and said that he just couldn’t pretend to be someone he wasn’t any longer. To use his words he said, “I’m tired of playing dress up!” He was referring to the fact that he was tired of pretending that he was Cassidy just because he was born a female. I wasn’t hearing it for the first time. This has been years of questions in the making. I hoped that the world wouldn’t tear my kid apart; concern that he was making the right decision (even though I knew in my heart that this was not a phase nor something he just did because it was trendy); sad because I knew it wasn’t a phase; sad because my little girl wasn’t my little girl anymore; worried about how he would transition mentally and physically; and so much more.

Yet I was relieved that he wasn’t talking about giving up music. He was just trying to be who he was meant to be. That may seem funny to some people, that I had such a mix of emotions, yet I was relieved that he wasn’t planning on giving up music. But it’s the truth! Music has literally been the backbone of my child’s life. Yes, Colton is a great singer, songwriter and musician, as his mom, I have been witness to the power of music and what it does for a person’s inner strength, confidence and soul. To Colton, music has been a way to let out his feelings and experiences through his songwriting, has served as a therapeutic outlet and helping him get through depression and anxiety, and has also been a way to help others and bring people together.

In short, what helped me to cope with my own feelings and what made it easier to go through this process, was that I reminded myself often that Colton was still the same person inside. I would think about what I loved most about my child. I didn’t love my child because of his choice of clothing styles, or because of his name or gender. I loved my child because of who that person was on the inside in his heart and mind… and that person was still the same.”

Did you, or do you, have much support as a parent of a transgender child?

Pauline: “I have not had lots of “go-to’s” for support of parents of trans kids, other than a facebook page here or there. However, I have had an unbelievable amount of support from family, friends, students, the music community and the general public. The overall support has truly helped me because my initial fear of whether my child would be accepted in life has quickly because a positive reality of acceptance. As Colton’s mom, I can say that we both feel so truly blessed and lucky to have so many wonderful people in our lives, even strangers.”

What advice would you give to any parent of an LGBTQ child?

Pauline: “My advice is simple, please listen to your child! Nothing is more important than family… nothing! Put aside your religious beliefs, your hatred, and your judgments. Whether you realize it or not, YOU are the one person in your child’s life that CAN make a DIFFERENCE. It’s not always easy. And for some it may be easier than others. But your child is who they are. And they need you to listen. It is not easy for a child to come out. Imagine for a second, how you feel in that moment. And then imagine that your child has probably pondered that moment for an eternity. People are people. Humans are humans. It is more important to raise a child that is good, well-mannered, kind to others, self-confident and whole. It doesn’t matter if they are part of the LGBTQ community. It matters of they are the best possible versions of themselves.”

What has surprised you the most by Colton's transition?

Pauline: “I am most surprised by how well Colton has been accepted as a transgender male. We have had such positive comments in person and social media too. I think the world is growing and becoming more accepting. Honestly, no one cares that he was Cassidy before… I think, in part, because Colton is who he is, and is proud of it. He is confident and willing to share with others.”

Colton has such a musical talent, when did you discover that and how have you helped him develop?

Pauline: “Colton has always been very musical. I know I probably sound like every parent telling cute stories about their child, but Colton was humming to music before he could even speak. I always had music playing and I would sing all the time. His first musical performance on a stage was at 4 years old. And he began taking piano lessons at age 9 and guitar at age 10. He also wrote his first song at age 9 called “Truth” which he performed at Hot Topic at the Dartmouth Mall with his piano/ guitar teacher at the time, Jillian Jensen (known today as Amber Eyes).”

How does Colton inspire you?

Pauline: “I think Colton inspires many people. But for me personally, Colton inspires me every day because he has the strength to be who he was meant to be, no matter what the possible personal cost or outcome. It hasn’t always been easy for Colton, and life has presented its challenges along the way. But Colton has the strength and determination to be true to himself. I admire him for his courage and the fact that he aims to help others along the way.”

How much fun was your experience of American Idol?

Pauline: “My experience at American Idol was incredible, not as incredible as Colton’s, but nonetheless, truly awesome. While in Boston, he was told that he had to be in Chicago in 3 days to go in front of the Executive Producers of the show. Chicago was amazing! He made it through that round and was told to be in New York a month or so later in October.

In New York, this was considered the “Judges Round”, where he was to go before the American Idol judges, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie. Once he finally went in front of the judges, he received 3 yes votes from all 3 judges and got the “Golden Ticket”. This meant he was heading to Hollywood week (aka Hell week… lol). Wow, it didn’t feel real!

Colton McGrath - Photo credit - Pauline Pratt McGrath

I watched my kid be exactly who he was meant to be, surrounded by so many talented people. He was truly in his element! And it was the best feeling in the world! Colton sang, “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown for his solo round audition and made it through to the next round.

Colton could barely utter a word; his laryngitis had kicked in full swing. When his time came, and he stepped foot on the American Idol stage in front of the judges, I could feel the sympathy of everyone. He truly gave it his all!

Colton’s performance that day signified many things… a maturity beyond his 18 years, growth musically and professionally, and a sincere determination to succeed. This moment was truly my proudest moment of Colton. Not because he sang well, but rather because he showed a courage and strength to be the best possible him, personally and musically, up on that stage that day. He was confident in himself and determined to show the world who he was!

And that night in the hotel room, each of the judges spoke to him personally and gave him such wonderful comments. Lionel Richie said that Colton was made for this industry. Luke Bryan said that he would be buying tickets to Colton’s concert someday, and Katy Perry spent the most time chatting with Colton and told him that he was an inspiration. Matter of fact they actually showed that clip with Katy Perry on TV. How cool is that? The American Idol experience was an incredible one and definitely one to remember for the both of us.”

If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only take one movie, one song and one type of food what would they be?

Pauline: “Movie: Any comedy Song: Empty Skies by Colton Food: Pizza.”

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