Mattituck woman competes on NBC’s ‘Songland’

Ever since seeing ‘Selena’ as a child, Raquel Castro has dreamed of being in the spotlight.

“My parents used to write songs together when I was a little girl,” said Ms. Castro, a Port Jefferson native. “My dad would give me a microphone, put on Frank Sinatra and I’d sing with him.”

Tonight, the 25-year-old who now resides in Mattituck gets a shot at creating the next pop hit as she competes against three others on NBC’s “Songland.”

The competition series premiered last year, providing a glimpse behind the scenes of the songwriting process. Each episode sees four hopeful writers pitch a sample to a team of producers including Ester Dean (“Pitch Perfect”), country songwriter Shane McAnally and Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, as well as a celebrity guest.

On the episode, which airs Monday at 10 p.m., Ms. Castro will audition before Grammy award winning R&B artist H.E.R.

Ms. Castro credits her mom, Kathleen, for the opportunity. “She sent my songs into [the show] online without me knowing,” she said. “She’s my biggest fan, my mom.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Ms. Castro appeared as a contestant on The Voice, landing a spot on Christina Aguilera’s team — which inspired her to continue writing songs.

“I thought [Songland] was such a cool concept. I had never seen anything like it before,” she said, adding that she never imagined sharing personal musings written from her bedroom with the world.

“I’m so happy [my mom] did that,” she said. “It’s the first time I got to sing a song I wrote in front of people really.”

After she found out her song had been chosen for this episode, Ms. Castro flew out to Los Angeles in mid January to film. She said nothing could have prepared her for the moment she entered the room before the panel of judges.

“It’s definitely a vulnerable song that I wrote, so it’s weird putting yourself out there like that,” she said. “But when I walked in, it was such a warm, welcoming feeling. It felt like we were just in a writing session where you go in and bounce ideas back and forth.”

If chosen as the winner, her song will be recorded and released by H.E.R.

Music is something Ms. Castro, who got her start in acting at age 4, hopes to continue pursuing further.

Her acting career first saw her cast her in roles on Sesame Street, Empire and in the 2004 movie “Jersey Girl” as Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s daughter.

“It’s been a crazy rollercoaster since then,” she said. “But it doesn’t ever feel like work.”

Ms. Castro has spent the last few years on the North Fork working in the hospitality industry behind the bar at Macari Vineyards and Jamesport Farm Brewery. 

Because of COVID-19, friends and family will not be able to gather to watch the episode air together. Instead, Ms. Castro has planned a quiet night in Mattituck with her boyfriend, where they plan to watch the show over a bottle of wine.

Even still, knowing the show is coming on has been one glimmer of hope amid the pandemic’s uncertainty.

“It definitely is nice to have something positive like Songland to look forward to and feel good about right now,” Ms. Castro said. “We’re really excited.”