Singer spreads her message
Franki Moscato visits Manawa
By Greg Seubert
Singing the National Anthem before 70,000 Green Bay Packers fans at Lambeau Field was a big deal for 11-year-old Franki Moscato.
The team had invited the Omro Middle School seventh-grader to sing at its annual Family Night in 2013, but the best day of her life also turned out to be one of her worst.
“It was the best day of my life, but it was also kind of the worst day of my life because I lost all of my friends,” Moscato said. “It was like all these bad divorces.”
Moscato is still singing 10 years later, but she’s also spreading a message of bullying awareness, suicide prevention and kindness. She brought that message in an hour-long performance April 12 in Manawa.
The Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coalition organized the event at the Manawa Masonic Center with funding from the Waupaca Area Community Foundation.
Moscato performed several of her original songs, many of them based on her experiences of being bullied in middle school and high school.
Not the same
Moscato noticed things had changed once she returned to school.
“I’d sit down at the lunch table and every kid would get up and leave,” she said. “This was like a daily thing. Then, they made a club called the I Hate Franki Club. They made these social media accounts about it and made it really difficult for me to focus on my schoolwork.
“I became a very shy, introverted kid (who was) kind of afraid of people,” she added. “I was crying to my school counselor and she said, ‘If it’s not punching, it’s not bullying.’ I was in such a dark place and I felt like I had nobody except my parents.”
Moscato and her parents, John and Kathy Sakschek, decided their daughter would leave Omro Middle School during the middle of the school year to enroll at another school, Lourdes Academy, in Oshkosh.
“It was (better at Lourdes) in the beginning, but the same thing happened,” Moscato said. “I left that school after my freshman year. I stuck it out for about 2 1/2 years. I was physically sick often and my grades went down. I was clearly not the same person. School was always my first priority and it still is today.”
Moscato eventually completed high school through Wisconsin Connections Academy, an online public school based in Appleton.
“After my parents took me out and put me in an online school, everything got better,” she said. “I was able to actually make more friends in this online school. The real reason it was so much better is that the teachers were so involved with my life outside of school. They came to all my performances and they were very supportive. That actually led the kids to be very supportive of me.”
It wasn’t long before a staff member of “American Idol,” ABC’s singing competition TV series, noticed Moscato’s talent. An audition on Skype led to her audition in October 2018 in front of judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She left the room with a gold ticket and was able to continue the competition in Hollywood, California, before being sent home.
Online comments about Moscato started up again after her audition aired in 2019.
“The cyberbullying went through the roof,” she said. “It was things like, ‘Oshkosh is so not proud of you’ and ‘Everyone would be happier if you were just gone from this earth.’ It got a little more brutal because there were random kids that would reach out to me privately and they’d say, ‘I’m so sorry for what’s going on.’ I’d say, ‘Oh, thank you’ and they’d say, ‘Just kidding, you disgusting (expletive).’
“I’ve only had a couple of instances where people would call the police on me if I was singing,” she said. “The police have actually gotten to know me and know that I’m doing nothing wrong. There were a couple of instances where it was adults. It’s very humiliating and it definitely crushes your spirit. This time, I was more equipped. With everything I went through, I think I became stronger, I was more prepared, I knew what was going to happen, I knew what I was getting myself into. I was able to get through it.”
Spreading the word
Moscato’s exposure on “American Idol” led to the creation of the Franki Moscato Foundation in 2019 to fight the growing epidemic of teen suicide.
“We give money to parents who can’t afford the insurance to pay for their child’s mental health therapy,” she said.
“We’ve been able to provide a lot of ears for kids. It’s so important to listen to these kids who are struggling. There are a lot of kids who have come to me and said that has changed their whole life. There’s a place they can go – our foundation building – and they can talk about what they’re going through. Sometimes, that’s all they need.”
Moscato, now 21, continues to perform and spread her message. She is also taking online courses at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she is majoring in business.
“I have people reach out to me from around the nation,” she said. “One woman was all set to take her life. The date was set, she had her things given away. After she heard about the music video for my song “I Will Rise,’ she decided to not end her life and we’ve been good friends to this day. I had never gotten to that point because I have love and support at home. The recipe for getting to that point is when you don’t have the love and support at home, you go to school to find it and you don’t get it there, either. That puts you on the edge.”
Sandi Moore, a member of the Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coalition, first heard Moscato perform at Fox Valley Technical College’s Appleton campus and realized she needed to bring the singer to one of the coalition’s events.
“We want to get the word out that suicide can be talked about,” she said. “We want people to know that there are a lot of resources in the county and adjacent counties. We are trying to get people to be willing to talk about mental health. It’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. We’re trying to get the message out to people in a nonthreatening way.”
One of the coalition’s main goals is to prevent suicides, according to Moore.
“All of us are either doing this from the goodness of our heart and/or we’ve lost somebody to suicide,” she said. “We get a number of grants from the Waupaca Area Community Foundation, Parfreyville United Methodist Church and other places to do education and programming. We don’t do services like counseling, but we do a lot of referral.”
COVID-19 had an effect on Waupaca County’s younger population, Moore said.
“Kids are having a rougher time because of the pandemic with relationships, stress, isolation,” she said. “In a rural county, you might be a kid who lives 2 miles from the next kid. Isolation has definitely been an issue. There were no plays, there were no sports, there were no dances. All of those things got canceled.
“Last year, we had seven suicides, which is seven families profoundly affected,” she added. “In the last few years, the numbers were mostly between 10 and 12. Is it what we’re doing? I don’t know, I’d like to think so.”
“I want to talk about something that’s so simple and that’s kindness,” Moscato said. “That’s what leads to lasting happiness, something that we all want. Kids are so focused on temporary pleasures, things that don’t last. They try to find happiness with social media and money, but real happiness is found in just being kind to people.”