If anyone had a fun fact about themselves, it would be Maria Lucente. Yet she’s been reluctant to admit it. When she was around 20 years old, she served as the inspiration for the band All Time Low’s hit song “Dear Maria, Count Me In.” Now a vegan, yogi, married mother of two living in Austin, Texas, and more than a decade since the song was released, Lucente is ready to come forward.
The pop-punk anthem has recently gone 2x platinum thanks to TikTok, where Gen Z users have been romanticizing the scene era and millennials reminisce over their mid-2000s emo phases, with many sharing the song and saying, “Mom, it was never a phase, it’s a lifestyle!”
For Lucente, the song brings back memories of the Baltimore music scene around 2007 when she was hanging out with the not-quite-yet famous members of All Time Low and other emerging bands in the area, including Boy Crazy; Oh, The Story; Underscore; and her now-husband’s band Downtown Singapore.
Lucente told The Daily Beast how when the song kept popping on TikTok, she felt it was time to out herself as Maria. Posting a video that has now been seen four million times, she played the song and wrote “when your friends write a song about you being a stripper that gets them famous, but they don’t tell anyone where you work so you don’t make money from it.”
Through laughter, Lucente explained she didn’t expect for it to go viral; it was just a fun video to make because, apart from her close friends and family, she doesn’t publicly divulge that she’s Maria. “I really don’t tell anyone,” she said. “Honestly, I think that’s why the TikTok is so funny, because this was the first time that I had a moment to really take control of it and do it myself. Usually, other people are outing me.”
Lucente explained she was part of a friend group with the men from All Time Low—Alex Gaskarth, Zack Merrick, Jack Barakat, and Rian Dawson—from regularly attending local shows. “It was just a group of us and there was never really anyone there. So, we all just became really great friends,” she recalled.
Around that same time, she started gaining a following on Myspace, becoming a notable local scene queen where people reshared photos of her, her hair, and just general style—an influencer by today’s standards.
Lucente described herself as shy and pretty introverted, but with a boost of confidence from her following on Myspace and desperate for a job having graduated from high school with nothing lined up, she turned to dancing at a local strip club to make some money.
“I just did it,” she said. “I didn’t have a car; I didn’t even have a license. [My roommates] were like, ‘We’ll drive you,’ and so it was easy. It was very difficult at first because like I said, I’m very shy. But then I put on this whole different persona, which is what you have to do anyway.”
After dancing for around a month, it was at one of these local shows that Lucente disclosed to her friends, including the All Time Low members, that she was dancing at clubs. “They didn’t expect it from me because I don’t really talk, I’m quiet. They were like, ‘No, there’s no way. That’s not possible.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I started dancing and it’s really out there.’ They’re like, ‘It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t get it.’”
Lucente said following that conversation the matter was dropped and no one really discussed her dancing again, plus she was reluctant to tell many people where she was working because she didn’t want her dad to find out.
But a few months later, Lucente said she got a text message from the band’s former tour manager Matthew Flyzik, who simply said, “Hey, Alex is writing a song about you.”
He then sent over the lyrics to the chorus, “I’ve got your picture / I’m coming with you, dear Maria, count me in / There’s a story at the bottom of this bottle and I’m the pen.”
“I said, ‘What does that even mean?’” Lucente recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t know, but that’s what he has.’ I was like, ‘OK.’”
Flyzik declined to comment when contacted by The Daily Beast. Representatives for All Time Low did not return requests for comment.
Another few months went by and Lucente got a text from a friend who was attending All Time Low’s May 2007 set at Bamboozle in New Jersey. “Holy shit,” the friend wrote. “Alex just yelled out, ‘This is a new song, this is the first time we’re playing it. It’s about our friend Maria and she’s a stripper.’”
“Then they played it and that was the first time they played it,” Lucente said, adding that her friend recorded the audio of the song for her. “I wasn’t there for it, but it was all happening on the phone for me. I didn’t know what was going on. Then right after that, it just took off.”
Lucente said she didn’t really listen to the song too much, maybe once or twice when it was first released and then a few times later on, admitting it’s a very catchy tune, But given that it was playing everywhere, Lucente said that she began laying low, primarily because at that point she wasn’t even dancing anymore and was working for the state’s health department.
She said due to her Myspace popularity, she started getting tagged about the song on the site, in Wikipedia pages, and there was even a fan page launched that was called “Fuck Yeah, Dear Maria,” which she quickly tried to scrub her name from.
Eventually things quieted down, but every now and again friends would tag her in posts about the song or if it played while out in a bar, they’d nudge Lucente and cause a bit of a ruckus over it. But sometimes she’d wink at the connection, jokingly commenting in 2015 to the song going platinum, “you’re welcome.”
In an interview with American Songwriter in June, lead vocalist Gaskarth explained how he thought up the song. “There was a girl from around where I grew up named Maria,” he said. “I found out one day that she had become a dancer at a few different clubs, and it just struck me, I didn’t expect that for her, not that there was anything wrong with that decision, but it inspired me to tell that story about a girl doing what she has to do to make ends meet and live the life she wants to live. And I thought it was a badass story about a badass chick taking control of her life.”
“The line (there’s a story at the bottom of this bottle and I’m the pen) is literally about me wanting to tell her story,” he continued. “We would go to this club in downtown Baltimore, and we were probably not of age and drinking. And Maria was a little bit older than me, and she was telling the story about how she became a dancer and that line popped into my head, like, ‘I’m going to finish this beer and write a story about this’ kind of thing.”
Nowadays, Lucente isn’t as close with the All Time Low band members, but still keeps in touch with Merrick, the band’s bassist and backup vocalist, texting him every now and again when All Time Low stops in Texas for a show.
When TikTok users doubted her story, she posted a screenshot of an Instagram conversation between herself and Merrick as proof. She wrote: “The kids on TikTok are tough. Can you confirm for me, am I Dear Maria?” He responded, “lol I believe so. How are you btw.”
Outing herself in such a public way as Maria is just a bit of fun for Lucente, who says her dad has known for a while that she danced when she was younger, so there’s no big reason to keep it a secret now.
And she wants to be clear that she doesn’t want anything from All Time Low. “I hope they can see that,” she said. “I’m not expecting anything from it. I’m just trying to take control of it and have fun with it, rather than other people constantly tagging me and outing me since it was from something that I was once trying to keep a secret.”
“I thought I was being really funny when I posted that. The TikTok really was meant as such a light-hearted thing. I didn’t expect it to blow up at all and in no way did I mean for it to be taken seriously, which is why I’m shocked that it went viral.”
As for TikTok users who think Lucente should have a word with the infamous Delilah from the Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah,” Lucente said she actually met singer-songwriter Tom Higgenson a few times while volunteering for a music promotion company a few years before “Dear Maria, Count Me In” was made.
“I was there when that song broke,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is so funny.’ And then it happened to me a couple of years later, which is hysterical. Everyone keeps saying that I need to meet her now.”