Authenticity is Key: A Q&A With Avalon Young

From the quiet beaches of San Diego to one of the loudest stages in the world, Avalon Young has seen it all. This So Cal singer has a lot going for her right now. Her debut album, SHIFT, debuted at #2 on the Itunes R&B charts. She finished in the top 8 on the final season of American Idol. And most importantly, she can sing her ass off.

Avalon Young isn't your typical rising star though. Even with all the attention she has received in such a short time, she has stayed true to her image and personality. It may have taken away some opportunities from her but she's fine with it. She's in it for the long haul and she's determined to find success on her own terms.

I caught up with Avalon to talk about her debut album SHIFT, the American Idol experience, being persistent after facing rejection, catering to her new fans, and more. Read the full interview below:

What kind of creative stuff did you grow up around as a kid in San Diego?

Art-wise or music-wise?

In general.

time between the ages of 5 and 6, I told my mom I wanted to be an artist so I started drawing and coloring. And then in middle school I realized I also really liked poetry. After that, I started branching out and seeing what other talents I had. I wanted to know what everything felt like. I started playing guitar too. My dad would always listen to the Eagles and that definitely influenced me a lot. Most people would never guess I grew up on The Eagles but I also listened to a lot of No Doubt, Eric Clapton, and that first Maroon 5 album. My mom put me on to that. The Songs About Jane album was so crazy to me.

'Sunday Morning' was a classic.

Yeah! The chord progressions and production elements were so crazy.  That's the kind of music I grew up around.

When did you realize that you were a good singer?

I used to be really shy and couldn't sing in front of anybody. I would always sing at home. Every once in a while, my mom or dad would say, "Oooo, you sound good!" Then some of my friends would hear me and say,  "Whoa, you're really good, we have to show so and so!" So my friends and family first validated me. Then once I learned to play guitar and sing at the same time, that's all I started doing. I could feel myself progressing the more I did it. One time in the fourth grade, we had a Mother's Day thing at school, and my teacher asked who wanted a solo, and all I can remember is really wanting it but being too nervous to ask for it. That's the first memory I have of thinking I was a good singer.

How did you go from shying away from a solo in fourth grade to auditioning for American Idol?

When I was 16, I auditioned for American Idol. I registered online, went to the Bay, went into the stadium at two in the morning, fell asleep in the stadium, and then got woken up for the audition. We waited in groups of ten and we each got to sing for ten seconds. After my ten seconds, they were like, "Nope" and sent me home. Being 16 and having that be my first experience made me think that I wasn't a good singer. A few years later when I got into college, I auditioned for The Voice. The same thing happened. I got to the audition, waited, and waited, and then they send me in with another group of ten people. I got ten seconds to sing and then they cut me off and said I was done. At that point I said f*ck reality TV (laughs).  I felt I had the talent but not the look they wanted so it was cool with me because I didn't want to go on TV and pretend to be someone I'm not just to get an executive producer to say, "Oh cool let's get her on." I felt that if I was going to be on TV, I needed to be myself. I wanted people to love me for who I was and not who I pretended to be on the show. So a few years later…

Wait. How did you get the courage to try again?

Well, The Voice hit me up two years ago. A casting director hit me up and said they wanted me on the show. I went in for the first audition and I made it through to the second round. Then I made it to the third round. But you have to make it through the fourth or fifth round before you make it to TV. I didn't make it that far so at that point I officially gave up on TV shows. Fast forward to early 2015 and American Idol hits me up. They invited me to try out for the last season and I was like "No. F*ck that." Then I told my mom about the situation and she said, "Well you really have nothing to lose if it's the very last season, what's the point of not doing it? It's not like it's going to go on forever and ever. This is the last season, you have nothing to lose." After she said that, I decided to do it. I had a Skype audition with the executive producers and I sang a Michael Jackson song with my guitar but the connection was like low-key bad. It was crackling and I thought to myself,  " either they like me or don't" (laughs). They said they would let me know.

Wow. What was going through your head at that point?

It's so hard to read producers so wen you hear the "We'll let you know," you really have no idea. The next day was my 21st birthday and I got a call from them right before I went to Vegas saying, "Congrats, you made it through to the next round", and I lost it! I was supposed to go to an audition city where the judges were for the next round but they called me the week before and told me to skip that round and go right to the judges. It finally felt like things were going in my favor. At that point, all I had to do was make it to Hollywood. So I went in and sang. To this day, every time I watch the audition tape, I think it's f*cking terrible (laughs). I was so nervous going in there. I was literally shaking. But after I sang a few seconds of a Beyoncé song, they loved it and let me through to the next round. Going to Hollywood was crazy. It was crazy because every time I would leave the stadium crying and thinking I was going home, I made it through to the next round. It taught me to stop telling myself I couldn't do things and that I needed to push through.

That's so crazy. Besides the exposure and platform, what was your biggest takeaway from the whole experience?

I got a lot of performance confidence. Now when I step on a stage, as nervous as I am, I can put on a front. Now I know I have to walk onto every stage telling myself that I'm the shit. There's no other way to do it. I used to have hella stage fright. But I learned from myself, the show choreographers, and everyone else on the show that all you have to do is get up there, shake it off, and kill sh*t. After being on national television once a week, nothing really scares me.

When you came off the show and had a ton of new fans, did you feel the pressure to create more music/content?

Absolutely. I still do every day. I try to make my fans happy without letting social media run my life. There was a time when it was really tough. During and right after American Idol, I realized that people didn't give a f*ck about my feelings. People either said things like, "Oh my god, loved your performance," or "Wow she f*cking ruined that song." After learning how to deal with that kind of attention, I decided to just focus on the positives. My fans are really important to me so of course I feel a need to make more music as soon as possible but I also I don't want to rush it.

Let's talk about your debut album SHIFT. It hit number two behind Bryson Tiller's Trap Soul. Describe the feeling you had when you woke up and saw that?

It was crazy because the night it dropped, we were in my manager's apartment constantly hitting the refresh button (laughs). The first time we looked it wasn't even on the charts but the next time we looked it was at #80, then it was #60, and then it was in the 20s so we started losing our sh*t. It was the biggest deal to me since the album didn't even have a label to help push it. We did everything ourselves so to see it move like that made us feel like everything was worth it. It was worth all the stress. The last week before we finished the album, we cut 5 new songs. We were going crazy to get it all done. So when we saw the album hit #8 all my fans on Twitter started going crazy too. It kept moving and when I fell asleep it was me, The Weeknd, and then Bryson. When I woke up the next morning, I was at #2, ahead of The Weeknd. It was the craziest feeling.

F*ckin Bryson Tiller…

Honestly, I wasn't even mad at it. Trap Soul was so good; I was fine with it staying at #1. It was still the best feeling ever. Little things like that remind you to keep going. After that, I thought to myself, "okay, I made #2 on the first one, what's the next album going to do? What will my next single do?"

Let's go back to how you created the album. You said that you did five songs in the last week. How long ago were the other songs made?

Some of them are old because of my American Idol contract; I wasn't allowed to release anything until the August after the show was done. But I already had some songs done because I had been working with this producer Midi Jones and this writer Jordyn. I've known Jordyn since high school and we've been working for a long time before Idol even happened. We already had some songs partially written and beats that I had adlibs on, so when I came off the show, we got right back to work. But in the last week, we didn't have as many songs as I thought. We had enough for an EP but not enough for an album. So we knocked out four or five more songs.

What song on the project means the most to you?

They're all special and when you make an album, every song is like one of your children. To me, the intro probably has the most feeling to it. To me, 'Favorite' isn't the deepest or saddest song but it was the one I had the most fun making. The video was so fun to make too. Every time I perform it, it has such a great vibe to it. That one is my favorite off the album for sure.

At this point of your career, would you have done anything different?

I think about that a lot and I always tell myself that every single thing happens for a reason. Even the most annoying sh*t happens for a reason. Am I where I want to be yet? No. Do I have time? Yeah. Do I wish that I got kicked off in Top 8? No. I would have loved to go to Top 2 but the day I went home, I was asked to go on my first tour and that's where I met my manager. Every little thing happens for a reason.

Who is on your Ones To Watch list?

Currently I'm a huge fan of Marc E. Bassy. I also love Nao. She's so tight.

Now that your album's been out for about five months, what are you focusing on now?

I'm already on some new stuff right now. We have some stuff coming out really soon. I have a song being released through Soulection. It's a collaboration with a really talented producer/singer named Bowtye. I'm looking forward to dropping that. After that song comes out, I'm going to release a new single and video. I'm just ready to transition into my new wave.

Look out for new music coming soon from Avalon and listen to her debut album SHIFT here