Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking blog are pleased to present the following interview with singer, songwriter, and The Voice contestant AMANDA AYALA
See Amanda at The Ridgefield Playhouse May 26th
Although Amanda Ayala is still a teenager, she has a professional resume as a singer/songwriter/performer that would rival many seasoned professionals. She made her mark on NBC’s popular reality singing competition show, The Voice, with a three-chair turn. She was mentored by Adam Levine and John Fogerty. Although she did not make it beyond the Battle Rounds, she rebounded in a big way on social media (with over one million views on YouTube) and sold out venues. She has shared the stage with the likes of The Voice‘s Joshua Davies and seventies icon David Cassidy, and even sang a duet with eighties/nineties icon Taylor Dane.
Pillow Talking had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Amanda as she was preparing to open for season 14 American Idol winner and Connecticut native, Nick Fradiani. She was poised, self-confident, and totally prepossessing. Read on for an engaging and honest interview with this rising star.
PT: Thank you so much for doing this interview with us. We’re really happy to speak to you!
AA: I am as well.
PT: (Stephanie) We have to admit that we are huge fans of The Voice. Wayne has been watching it since Season 1. He introduced me to it a little later on. We saw your blinds [auditions]. It’s going to be great that you will be just around the corner from us at the Ridgefield Playhouse. I believe I’d read that you’ve played there before?
AA: Yes. This is actually going to be the second time that I’m going to be playing there. The last show I did I actually played with another former Voice contestant Joshua Davis.
PT: I know! That would have been a great show to see because we’re actually fans of his as well.
AA: It was cool to see kind of two seasons collide into one.
PT: Yeah, that’s fantastic. So we know you’ve been asked these questions countless times before and we certainly want to know a lot about your history and where you get your talent from. But of course a lot of people are going to want to know about your experiences on The Voice. So why don’t we start as far back as you can remember – when did you have an interest in singing and want to become a performer?
AA: It was around the ages of three to five.
AA: It sounds super-crazy young. I did a summer camp talent show and that was the first time I ever sang in front of people. I actually sang a Mark Anthony song, “My Baby You” at the talent show. They couldn’t get me off the stage. Immediately after my song was over I went into singing Pokémon.
AA: From there I just kind of continued because my brother was a singer and he was really involved in musical theatre. So he was the one who kind of inspired me to want to push forward and be a musician. If he was doing it, I wanted to do it. And then the tables turned because I was the one performing and joining bands. But he was the one who really gave me that drive and push and inspiration to become a singer.
PT: You only have one sibling or do you have others?
AA: I only have one – my older brother.
PT: (Stephanie) So you were a ham just trying to one-up your big brother a little bit, maybe?
AA: (Laughs) A little bit – yeah. He was getting the attention and if he was getting attention I was like, “I kind of want some, too.” (Laughs) It turned out that we both had voices and it was like, “Wow, is this really happening?”
PT: What about your parents? Where do you [both] get this talent from?
AA: My mom likes to say we get it from her, but truthfully no one in my immediate family is musically inclined. I know it’s crazy, but it’s just my brother and I.
PT: Wow. And then what happened after that? Did you have voice lessons or training to get to where you were on The Voice? What happened in the years following?
AA: In the years following up to it, I never really did local lessons. I was in a band at the age of 13 and we performed around in bars; and then I got into another one as I got a little older. In my senior year of high school, I wasn’t in a band and I was kind of doing my own thing. My mom told me, “You really should go out for The Voice or a singing-like kind of competition.” She said, “I really think you have what it takes.” I always kind of brushed it off with her. I was like, “Yeah, maybe, who knows,” but I never thought I had what it took – just the nerve – to go on the show. It was funny. I submitted something online and a couple of weeks later I heard back and they were like, “Hey, would you like to audition for The Voice?” And I kinda thought it was a joke at first. I was like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.” And then I started reading more into it and I actually got a private audition which I was totally excited for that.
PT: Wow. (Stephanie) Those are the kinds of stories you hear about – the online, the YouTube stuff. So it definitely sounds like you had a lot of family support in this. We’ve talked to a lot of people – a lot of performers – where families are a little bit nervous, I guess, about their kids getting into performing and show business. It definitely sounds like that’s not the case with you.
AA: Yeah. My family’s support on it is that we are a big team and we all do it together. They are really the backbone to why I am where I am today. You know it is a risk at times. We often think, “Oh, is this kind of like a gamble?” But if you’re really passionate about it and if you believe as much in it that you want to go out and do it, then you’re going to make something out of it.
PT: (Wayne) You know, it’s interesting. We spoke to Javier Colon – we interviewed him – he was the first winner of The Voice and he didn’t say anything about online. He was talking about how he flew in for an audition and it was kind of a grueling experience. (Stephanie) So is it different for every contestant?
AA: I guess it is depending on how the producers find you. They have open casting calls where thousands of people go to like a civic center or kind of one of those big venues where they’ll sit there hour after hour, going through people after people, and then from there you get a private call back which is in the state or city you auditioned in. From there they have a whole other casting process where it’s called casting finals and then they fly you out to LA to have one last final round. And if you make it past that last round, then you’re at the blind auditions.
PT: (Stephanie) So you bypassed the whole cattle kind of thing where you’re sitting at the civic center.
AA: I was able to bypass the civic center ones where I didn’t have to go with the tons of people. I got to go to the second round which was like the private casting call. But then I had to go through the rest of the process after that.
PT: You have a very distinctive tone to your voice which is really fantastic and which we think really sets you apart – and continues to set you apart. Who were your early influences musically?
AA: I was definitely influenced through my mom by Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. Those were really big female vocalist influences that I have. More of a modern take is Hayley Williams from the band Paramour. They’re the ones that I try and just learn from.
PT: We know that the judges pointed that out when they heard you in the blind auditions.
AA: That was definitely such a grueling process, but the comments that I got from them are something I will always hold with me forever.
PT: (Wayne) How was it working with Adam Levine? I know every girl probably wants to know that (laughs)!
AA: (Laughs) My whole family was freaking out when they found out because my cousins are in love with him. But the entire process working with Adam was so, so great. He really worked and dialed in on things. He wasn’t going to tell you that you were fantastic all the time. If something needed work, he was going to be the one to sit there and tell you what needed work to really make it the best performance and make you sound the best that you can. So working with Adam was such an incredible experience. It was like an eye-opening lesson that I got to learn.
PT: (Stephanie) What was it like being on the show – whatever you’re allowed to tell us – the high points and maybe some of the more challenging lower points about the process and being on the show. It sounds so glamourous and looks so glamourous but we know there’s a tremendous amount of work and probably a lot of frustrations, too.
AA: Absolutely. It’s basically an emotional roller coaster that you’re going through. It’s long hours some days where you’re working, working, working and then it’s weird when you get two or three days off because it’s like, “What do I do now?” The highs of it were being on the show and being able to experience what some others are not able to. So really tried to take advantage of everything that was around me, and really absorb what was going on and meeting everybody that I could and making as many friends as I could. But some of the downside, I think, was the emotional stress that you go through. You are making friends with everybody, but at the end of the day when the competition really comes in, you forget that this is actually a singing competition and you are trying to find your way to make a spot. I think that was the most grueling thing. Because once battles came around you felt like you were competing now, but you were also friends which was a weird thing and was something you had to get used to.
AA: So you were up and down, but it was an amazing experience overall and I would do it all over again if I could.
PT: (Wayne) Well, whether or not you’re on The Voice, cream rises to the top. Even though you’re still young, you’ve had a great career. I read somewhere that you even sang with one of my favorites from years ago, Taylor Dayne.
AA: That was a dream come true! I don’t even believe how that happened,].
PT: How did it happen? Tell us.
AA: We were all backstage because I opened the show. We’d heard that she arrived. My mom was the one that said, “Let’s just go, knock on her dressing room door.” We had some vinyls and we were just hoping to get them signed and take a quick picture. And from there it just escalated. My mom, my brother and I went in there and we just started talking about music and what the event we were doing was for. Then she told me that Cindy Lauper pulled her on stage last minute and she was going to do the same with me because I’m a young and upcoming artist, so she said was going to put me on the spot, too and she was going to ask me to sing “Love Will Lead You Back.” My eyes widened in disbelief. I literally could not believe that I was going to be singing with Taylor Dayne. That was all because of my mom. I was so shy, I didn’t even want to go in and say hello in her dressing room because I didn’t want to intrude, but it turned into something so much bigger and greater.
PT: Wow. When you were going through The Voice, you said you were in your last year of high school?
AA: Yes. I was a senior in high school which I did have to leave slightly early, but it’s okay.
PT: (Stephanie) What was that like? Obviously it must have been a challenge to balance everything. Were you tutored? How did you get through it?
AA: Well, I had about a couple weeks left. But all my teachers – because you have to get all these forms filled out to leave high school – but all my teachers gave me work early on so I could finish by the time I went out there.
PT: Oh, okay.
AA: So I kinda really crammed in all the work in the coming weeks before I left. So I kinda got that done, but getting there I had no work left to do. I couldn’t be a part of the prom or graduation, but under the circumstances it was totally worth it.
PT: Right. We know anytime you’re doing something non-stop, there’s kind of a let-down period afterwards. So what was it like after you left the show and how did you get into the next stages – your next projects?
AA: After the show was over, I did experience a low point. You’re in California – and that was a dream come true – I had never been out there or done something like that. So my emotions were really at an all-time low. I did take it really hard at first. But I think that the best thing about that was as soon as I got home I started writing songs. That’s kind of what I used to cope with the emotional distress about not being there anymore – just knowing that the show is going on without me. So I really turned to writing to dial in my emotions about how I was feeling and make songs out of it. After everyone found out that I had auditioned, the highs came back up again. Everybody wanted to know about it and hear about it. So it was definitely low and then went back up.
PT: Were you writing songs before that?
AA: I dabbled in writing but not really intently because I didn’t know what to write about. I felt like I didn’t have any emotions to write about. So The Voice was that one thing – such a crazy ride – and this is a part of my life now and I can take these forever. That’s when I really started writing seriously.
PT: What’s interesting is that we’ve interviewed a number of singer/songwriters, even Javier said it, how important the songwriting element is to their singing. A lot of singers do covers and sing other people’s songs, but the songwriting has really helped them and is a big part of any singer’s arsenal – that is, if they can also write songs.
AA: Absolutely. I think that if you’re able to come and sing something that you’re going through and write something that you’re going through – it’s like you said, it’s one thing to sing another person’s song but they wrote it and that’s what they’re going through. But when you’re singing your own music, you’re telling your own story of your life and of your experiences – I think that’s one of the most special things about writing your own music – that people get to hear you, what you’re going through, what you’re capable of and your songwriting skills.
PT: (Stephanie) So what was the first thing you did after The Voice in terms of performing? We know that you’ve worked with some big names in addition to Taylor Dayne. So how did all those experiences come your way?
AA: It was all through my mom and brother. They will book and manage what I do with my schedule. But when I came home right after The Voice, it was hard because all my friends just left for school [college], so I didn’t have anybody really home. We worked out a plan to boost up my social media and that was one of the things we were going to follow. When I came home, we still had a couple of months before the show even aired. So we had to figure out a kind of game plan: when it does air and a marketing thing – to figure out the best way to go about telling everybody and all that stuff. That’s what we worked on. And then after it aired, that’s when things really started picking up. That’s when we started booking shows and adding things to the resume.
PT: (Wayne) Well your social media presence is impressive! One million views on YouTube – I’m very jealous (laughs).
AA: (Laughs) When I saw it hit a million, I really couldn’t believe it. Wow, a million people have watched my audition which I think is so so crazy!
PT: (Wayne) I have a YouTube channel and I would say about twenty-blah-blah-blah (indecipherable) of people are on it (laughs). (Stephanie) He literally just launched it though, so he has to give himself some time.
AA: Hey, twenty people are better than no people!
PT: (Laughs) (Wayne) That’s right. But getting back to the songwriter thing for one minute, a lot of our readers and listeners are singers and songwriters and artists, and they always want to know about process or technique. Do you have a process in terms of how you write songs? Do you do lyrics or melodies first? How do you approach it?
AA: It’s different every song. If something comes into my head lyric-wise – if I’m thinking of something – I’ll literally go into my phone and I’ll write down the two lines that came up with. And then I’ll go and pick up my guitar and start noodling and playing some chords to see if I can throw a melody on it. Once I get the melody down, then I’ll try and find a concept. When I sit down and write I want to know what I’m feeling at the time to try and write a song about what I’m going through. So I’ll go to guitar, to melody, to lyrics last.
PT: (Stephanie) We are hearing so many people who say they record into their phones which obviously was not something that people had available to them years ago. Even Javier said he was using a little, portable hand-held recording device. You’re starting out as a young person who has always been able to utilize these technological advances and social media. Do you think it’s easier because you have all these advantages or not?
AA: I think there are pros and cons to social media. With social media, people can stay connected with you across the world and people can really know what you’re doing just by looking at their cell phone and computer. So I think those are things that can expand your audience and your fan base. So people who are not in your town or your state can know more about what you’re doing and can stay connected. But there are definitely some negative aspects to social media. There are a number of people who are going to look down on what you’re doing. I’ve had it myself. And I always try to look away from any negative comments. Social media is one of the most powerful things in today’s world. For the most part, it definitely helps people in trying to achieve what they’re trying to achieve.
PT: What do you hope the audience will take away from your upcoming concert at Ridgefield?
AA: I hope they can see how hard I’ve been working and hopefully they can take in what I’ve been writing and relate it to themselves. “Wow, I really like this song” – and that they are really interested in what I am trying to say in my music.
PT: (Wayne) I think we can get a lot of social media attention if we set up a contest. Since you’re from The Voice and Nick Fradiani is from American Idol, we can set up a contest – which is better – The Voice or Idol – I’m only kidding!
PT: (Stephanie) how did you hook up with him, by the way, since you’re from competing shows?
AA: Actually my mom found out through the venue [Ridgefield] that they were looking for support for the show. And then when I found out that they wanted me on the show I was so happy because I remember watching him on American Idol, too. I said, “Oh, my gosh, that’s a perfect fit.” I think it’s great when you get to perform with someone who has gone through the same kind of stress level and the same experience from those [kinds of] shows.
PT: (Stephanie) Yes, definitely. It is like a quirky sort of odd couple, in a way, but then not.
PT: We know you are still so young and still getting out there but we also know you are on the pulse of everything of what young people are going through to make it. And you’ve had all these successes. So what would you say if you were talking to somebody like yourself (or even a few years younger) who was trying to make it into the business? What words of wisdom would you give them?
AA: I would say go with your gut instinct. I know it sounds cheesy, but the truthful thing is to really believe in your talent and your craft and if this is something you really want, then don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t go after it. No one can tell you that you can’t do it or this is impractical. Just believe in yourself. If you want it then go after it. Nobody else can tell you no but yourself. If you don’t want to do it, then you don’t have to, but if this is something that you want and want to pursue, then by all means one hundred percent go for it.
PT: Great advice! (Stephanie) If you could think in terms of a parallel universe – a term that Wayne likes to use – if singing hadn’t worked out for you, or if at some point you yourself had enough or it wasn’t going the way you wanted it to go, what else do you think you might be doing?
AA: If music wasn’t my option, in high school I was big into film. So anytime I would go out, I would have a camera in my hand and be filming something and making little videos. So I’d probably get into cinematography.
PT: (Stephanie) Well, you’re talking to a filmmaker. Wayne is a pretty accomplished filmmaker and they are complementary fields anyway – people crossover. (Wayne) You never know – maybe you will become a filmmaker someday.
AA: (Laughs) Who knows? That’s why – you never know.
PT: (Stephanie) We have a signature question, but you’re so young to ask this question of you. I’ll let Wayne ask it. (Wayne) This is our last question that we ask every interviewee. If you were to sum up your life and career, to-date, in one word what would it be? (Stephanie) I think what we have to say to you is to sum up your experiences so far in one word, what would it be?
AA: In one word? Let me think. That’s a big one!
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) We’ve asked it of Pulitzer Prize winners and Oscar and Grammy winners. (Wayne) And they all say the same thing, “Wow, that’s a really hard question.”
AA: (Laughs) I’m trying to make sure that it is the perfect word – I truthfully say – and this might be corny – but I would truthfully say – amazing.
PT: That’s fantastic! That’s a great answer and it is a perfect word.
AA: There have been ups and downs, but I would have to say that or grateful – grateful for everything that has come my way. I would go with that.
PT: We’ll give you two words. Amazing and grateful. (Stephanie) You are very poised and you keep everything in perspective which is really fantastic. We wish you all the luck!
AA: Thank you guys so much. It was really a pleasure to talk with both of you!
PT: Thank you. Same here!