Nazanin Mandi was 15 years old when she auditioned for American Idol. A talented teenager who loved to sing and act, she still remembers the ad for the now-famous TV show flashing on the television in her suburban California home as she and her mother watched Fox Eleven News.

“My mom was like, ‘You should go do this,’” Mandi remembers. “But you had to be between 16 and 25 years old, and I was 15 at the time. She said to me, ‘Let’s see how far you get. I started making every round. I just kept going and going and going. And right when we got to the top 35 out of thousands of people, they did a background check and discovered I was 15. They kicked me right off the show.

The incident derailed Mandi’s nascent career—and, for a while, her dreams. “At that age, it’s like the world is going to end, you think that’s your only chance,” she says. “When in reality, your life hasn’t truly begun.