Musician Maddie Zahm comes to Philly with album about growing up and coming out

Maddie Zahm. (Photo: Gus Black)

About halfway through a North American tour in support of her debut album, “Now That I’ve Been Honest,” Maddie Zahm will bring a mix of confessional lyrics and upbeat pop to Philadelphia on March 7.

Across the album’s 12 songs, Zahm shares pieces of her life story so far in chronological order. We meet the singer as a teenager grappling with the pressures and expectations of a leadership role in her family’s church, then follow Zahm into her 20s, where she comes out as bisexual and faces love and heartbreak.

“[Placing the songs chronologically] came naturally,” Zahm said. “I was struggling so badly to decide how to present it, and the songs range from fast bangers to slow, heartbreaking ballads. In the end, it feels like it takes you on the same emotionally-charged journey I went on in coming out.”

Zahm’s earliest musical experiences were in the church, where she learned to intertwine her faith and her passion for singing. It wasn’t until Zahm auditioned for American Idol’s 16th season, which aired in 2018, that she applied her love of music outside of a church choir.

On her 2022 debut EP, “You Might Not Like Her,” Zahm sings about the conflict between her sexuality and experiences with depression, and the self she thought she was meant to present at church. The EP’s title track, which also appears on “Now That I’ve Been Honest,” finds the singer offering herself love and compassion, even if her teenage self would have struggled to feel the same way.

Growing up queer and Christian isn’t the only deeply personal topic Zahm’s work tackles. In 2022, her song “Fat Funny Friend” went viral on TikTok, sparking conversations about fatphobia and body dysmorphia — a strange experience for Zahm, who hadn’t been sure upon recording the song that she’d even want to release it.

“At first, I told my publisher the song would never see the light of day, but I was mid-weight-loss journey and felt that it would be a disservice to not at least put the song out into the world once,” Zahm said. “I posted a short video to TikTok and when I checked back a few months later, I was shocked people were using it to tell their stories.”

For Zahm, one of the most rewarding parts of touring is sharing space with her audience during her hardest-hitting songs, so much so that she often leaves the stage to sing “You Might Not Like Her” from the audience.

However, writing highly vulnerable material presented some challenges as Zahm recorded her first full-length project. While the songs on Zahm’s EP let listeners into her internal world, writing about family dynamics or breakups for the album required others to buy-in — conversations where Zahm worked to express herself without crossing boundaries with people she cares about.

With coming out and some of the tumult of early adulthood — leaving home, dating and breaking up, and the like — behind her, Zahm’s relationship to the songs on “Now That I’ve Been Honest” has shifted.

“I’ve grown up a lot since I wrote these songs, and I tend to look back and think, ‘Oh, girl, we didn’t need to be this dramatic,’” she said with a laugh. “Writing this helped me at my most emotional time, but I’m glad I’m out of that period. I’m grateful for the things I’ve learned.”

Growing up with the fear of letting her loved ones or her religious community down, Zahm has dealt with similar feelings as a musician — but talking with her listeners is helping her unlearn that, too.

“Seeing so many people getting tattoos of my lyrics and telling me about how important a role my music has had in their coming out, or leaving the church, or their body journey — I feel this anxiety to not let them down,” Zahm said. “But I think seeing and talking to everyone has made me realize that I’m allowed to grow and be a human too. I am not the poster child for coming out or growing up. I am allowed to keep my humanity. And I’m so grateful they’re reminding me of that.”

Maddie Zahm will perform at 8 p.m. on March 7 at World Cafe Live, ​​3025 Walnut St. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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