As the youngest of six children growing up in Arlington Heights, Annie Aiello was described by her parents and siblings as the “musical one.” She grew up around music and loved to sing and produce shows for family members and friends. But it wasn’t until her parents brought home Olivia Newton-John’s “Have You Never Been Mellow” album that she found her true voice.
Aiello brought her “Always Olivia – An Olivia Newton-John Tribute” to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre last month, a little more than two weeks ahead of the theater’s production of Xanadu. ‘Always Olivia’ has found a life of its own and is on a national tour that honors the life, music and memory of the legendary singer.
SuburbTalk uncovered the backstory and just how Aiello, who starred in musicals as early as her freshman year at Saint Viator High School, went from fan to tribute star.
“I loved her music way before way before Grease,” Aiello says. “I loved her country stuff and style. It just became contagious.”
Aiello now describes Newton-John as her primary vocal influence all her life: “I just admire her, as a woman, vocalist, mother and humanitarian.”
Aiello says coming back to perform in Arlington Heights brings her full circle. She now lives in Crystal Lake and works in ministry by day. For many years she was a lead singer at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington and she now serves as communications director at The Orchard.
Musically, Aiello was a “Round 2” candidate on “The Voice,” recorded alongside Chicago native and 80’s icon, Richard Marx, and even co-wrote with Dove Award winner, Nicole C. Mullen.
Through it all, Aiello clung to her love of Newton-John, particularly during her three bouts with cancer. She vividly remembers seeing the singer in person at a concert in 2017 at the Genesee Theater in Waukegan. Newton-John had just been diagnosed for a third time with cancer, but she still performed.
“It was one of the best concerts I ever heard her sing,” Aiello says. “It was so heartfelt.”
The second song of the night was Xanadu, Aiello remembers, and Newton-John closed the set with her tradition of singing Over the Rainbow.
Aiello was so moved by the concert, she decided then and there that she wanted to do a tribute to Newton-John’s music some day. Consequently, during the pandemic she began building charts, writing arrangements and creating background charts. When she finished in 2022, she began to release YouTube videos, which drew traction.
She entered into discussions with area theaters to produce the show, including Metropolis, but when Newton-John passed away Aug. 8, 2022, interest in the tribute took off.
Sunday’s concert will be a tribute to the singer and the humanitarian. A portion of the revenue will be donated to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute in her native Australia. Aiello also is raising money on her own for the cancer research institute. Find her donation page here.
“It’s an honor to perform in my hometown,” Aiello says. “I feel as though I’ve totally come full circle.”