Norwin grad honors mom in performance with Carrie Underwood at Pittsburgh show
Molly Papp’s champion is her mother, Joan.
Always has been. The two are best friends, Molly said, and “do everything together.”
A nearly 30-year battle with multiple sclerosis has seen Joan Papp have to persevere and keep fighting.
So when country megastar Carrie Underwood posted a call to action earlier this year, Molly, a 2018 Norwin graduate who already had tickets to go to Underwood’s show Saturday at PPG Paints Arena with her mom, jumped at what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The task? Submit a video of you rapping Ludacris’ verse in Underwood’s “The Champion” with a written explanation of who your champion is and why.
The reward? In each stop along her 60-plus-city Cry Pretty Tour 360, Underwood would pick a submission from that town, and the winner would sing that verse on stage and complete the song with Underwood.
“She’s had MS for about 30 years, but not once has she let it defeat her or has she given up,” Molly said of her mother. “She’s a champion, and she’s a fighter.”
Joan said that though she has the disease, not many know. She shows few visible signs of it, but she said Molly can always tell when she is feeling its effects.
So Molly gave the Ludacris verse her best shot in a video submission just a few weeks before the show.
And, well …
“On Tuesday, they sent me an email saying, ‘You’ve been chosen to sing with Carrie Underwood,’ ” Molly said. “I screamed. I cried. I called my mom. That’s just crazy.”
Molly, a sophomore at Youngstown State University, said she had no public singing experience outside of Norwin talent shows and singing the national anthem at the school’s sporting events. She also got to sing it at the 2017 WPIAL basketball championship game at Petersen Events Center.
“I thought that was going to be the largest crowd I was going to sing in front of,” Molly said. “Little did I know.”
It’s the powerful lyrics of the chorus in “The Champion” that were the hook behind Molly’s written explanation to the contest.
I am invincible. Unbreakable. Unstoppable. Unshakable. They knock me down, I get up again.
“This disease could knock her down and break her, but she always manages to come out stronger,” Molly wrote. “My mom is my biggest champion.”
What transpired Saturday at the concert was a whirlwind. Molly sat with her mom in the crowd until three songs before “The Champion” was set to come on. A stagehand took her back and under the stage, and she got prepared.
No rehearsal. No meet-and-greet. An application of glitter tears from Underwood’s makeup artist and a quick sound check, then it was onto the stage for Molly.
“Molly has always been such a supporter of me. She’s been a rock for me,” Joan said. “To have her honor me like that and just be on stage singing with Carrie Underwood (was amazing). She’s a great kid, and she deserves everything she can get.”
What she got Saturday was a thunderous ovation from a stunned crowd that seemed to be trying to figure out why this 20-year-old with a powerhouse voice isn’t doing anything professionally with it.
Molly also got the hat Underwood wore during her performance of “Drinking Alone” earlier in the night.
Not to mention high praise from Underwood herself.
“Girl can sing!” Underwood said, reacting to Molly belting out the final notes of “The Champion.” “Molly’s coming after my job, ya’ll.”
As for what the future holds musically for Molly, Joan said the family knows she is “super talented” but they aren’t sure what steps to take to advance that into a singing career.
In the meantime, Molly is focusing on her business studies at Youngstown State. She makes time for music while driving around and singing with her mom. Christmas is on the horizon, and singing holiday songs together is one of their favorite times of the year.
“I never thought this would even happen to where I would even have to consider thinking about (a singing career),” Molly said. “But maybe. I’ve loved country music my whole life. Carrie has made it a dream that I’ve wanted to become a country singer and write those songs that people can relate to.”
Matt Rosenberg is a Tribune-Review assistant multimedia editor. You can contact Matt at 412-320-7937, [email protected] or via Twitter .