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I’m going to operate on the assumption that the more you know about me, the better. Music has always been a big part of my life, but only my profession since American Idol. My earliest memories are listening to Top 40 radio while waiting for the bus to elementary school in Raleigh, North Carolina. Along with a few choice records from my parent’s collection (The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, ABBA, The Carpenters), 90s pop music guides my musical compass at a very basic level. My first CDs were Oasis’ “What’s the Story, Morning Glory,” Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” and Boyz II Men’s “II.”
Singing was always a hobby of mine—one I always worked at through choirs, high school musicals, and a cappella groups. I don’t think I ever realized that I was actually good at it until my freshmen year of college. I got compliments, I never dropped an audition, but in college I got to step out on stage in front of 1500 people twice a year to perform with the UNC Clef Hangers.
Those experiences of performing for a rabid audience of my peers, travelling the world, and leading the group really gave me a lot of confidence.
After college, my best friends and I were going our separate ways and decided that one last hurrah was in order. We took a road trip down to Kansas City to audition for Idol, and the rest is history. One round of auditions led to another, led to another, etc. until that 6th place finish.
That experience was jarring for a couple reasons. First, as a recent college grad used to being respected by the people on my campus, that kind of national criticism was a rude awakening. It wasn’t the criticism per se, but the degree to which people felt free to talk about me as if I wasn’t a person. I read so many racist and insulting comments from people who had never met me in my life. Returning home was equally uncomfortable. I remember going home for a week between the show and tour rehearsals, feeling like it wasn’t home anymore. I couldn’t go to the grocery store without attention. I didn’t like that because I honestly didn’t feel like I had earned that type of respect. I wasn’t happy with my performances on the show, and to be honest, I wasn’t truly happy with anything I did until the “3 Cheers” EP. It just felt contrived…like I was pandering to a bubblegum ideal that just wasn’t me at all. It was hard being on top of the world one day and literally not being able to get a call back from people you thought were your support structure the next. Add to that the fact that in the year after Idol, I was rejected by a girl I was crazy about, moved back in with my parents for a time, had a terrible two month eye infection, broke my ankle, gained some weight, andand I spent more money than I had trying to promote music that just wasn’t me. Things looked bleak.
About two years ago, without many contacts, a fading recognizability, and a novice level of songwriting prowess, I just started working from square one. Every day, I got up and worked at my craft whether it was networking, studying the industry, or writing. Honestly, it’s been lonely and it’s been hard. It’s taken some soul searching and perseverance. In the fall of 2011, I was driving back from a gig with my manager, Calvin, and we started talking about the future. I was unhappy with the kind of progress I was making and I felt that was because I was trying to make music that I didn’t really like.
I was chasing something. Call it a hit, or acceptance, or maybe legitimacy, but I was trying to find it the wrong way. I was hung up on this idea that a TV show created me, and I forgot about my musical influences and the songs and sounds that really defined me. I wasn’t seeking adventure in music, and was instead settling for what fit in.
We discussed a vision based on the type of music I was getting into at the time. Electronic and “vibey.” Visceral, engaging, and true to my abilities and myself.
That conversation started an upward trend. A few weeks after we spoke, I randomly connected with ADHD, a producer and DJ who had just moved back to Atlanta from Seattle. We ran into each other while I was touring a studio space and decided on the spot to start working together. The result is the “3 Cheers” EP. Combining my penchant for pop music, his deep background in the electronic scene, and my emerging love of artists like James Blake, Purity Ring, Little Dragon, Diplo, M83, Active Child, we continue to craft records based on our combined talents, our similar loves, and our dissimilar backgrounds. We fight about music all the time. But I think that’s what makes it work at the end of the day. There’s a creative struggle to find the best answer to the puzzle. Along the way, my writing for other artists has also taken a turn for the better. I now have several songs in the pipeline at major labels with a realistic goal of having my first major placement before summer ends.
This past fall, ADHD and I, along with the band Phive, toured the southeast on an X-BOX sponsored college tour to support “3 Cheers.” It was a blast and really let me know that the music we created is meant for great things. The energy at every single show was electric throughout, but at no time was it better than it was for the last song, “Love War.” It was almost like you could sense a change in brain chemistry when the song came on. Girls would jump on stage and start dancing; everyone was jumping with their hands in the air. As a performer, I know the difficulties of getting this reaction when your audience knows the song intimately. Later in the tour we started performing the song with live drums, electric guitar, and keys. It’s so perfect because the song and the EP as a whole wasn’t meant to be about the experience of being at a big DJ show but bringing the live pop element to it through my vocals and through the energy that I bring on stage.