By Geoffrey Rowlands
From virtual unknown to competing in a three-way battle to become Britain’s Christmas number one single. This is the career path travelled by 24-year-old American singer / songwriter Ava Max.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Albanian immigrant parents, Ava’s family moved to Virginia when she was a child. Inheriting the vocal ability of her opera singer mother, young Ava competed in numerous singing competitions and was wowing audiences long before she entered high school.
“I always loved singing,” she affirmed. “You could say singing came as naturally to me as breathing. But it wasn’t just singing. I also loved going up on stage and performing for people.”
Few artistes can make a name for themselves in Virginia or South Carolina, where she also spent some of her teenage years. So it was that Ava, full name Amanda Ava Koci, made the decision to seek her fame and fortune in Los Angeles. It was a SoundCloud posting which eventually saw her sign with Atlantic Records.
“I’d been struggling for about four years. I’d go into the studio to record demos and wouldn’t get my stuff back from producers and songwriters. Everything changed after I met Cirkut (real name Henry Russell Walter). People will probably know him for his work with The Weeknd on his Starboy album, Miley Cyrus on Wrecking Ball and Katy Perry on her Prism album. The first song that we put on SoundCloud got so much traction that I ended up getting my record deal.”
Ava’s introduction to the recording industry was as the featured artiste on a number of collaborations. The first came last year when she provided the vocal on Clap Your Hands, a single by American electronic dance music DJ / producer Le Youth.
She also guested on Vice and Jason Derulo’s song, Make Up, and not only features on but co-wrote Let It Be Me, a track from David Guetta’s latest album, 7.
Ava’s debut solo single was My Way. Released earlier this year, it is not a cover of Frank Sinatra’s classic song from 1969.
“I wrote My Way as a feel-good song. But it was also a reminder to myself that I had to be strong and clear about who I am and what I want. I don’t have to listen to outside voices and opinions. When I need to be reminded of these things, My Way is the song I listen to. It’s like getting a pep talk emphasising that I’m going to do things my way.”
The video reinforces her point as Ava is seen cutting short her long blonde hair on the right side of her head. The quirky style of shoulder-length on one side and very long on the other has been dubbed as the ‘Max Cut.’
Although My Way did not sell in great numbers, it was quickly followed by a second single, Slippin, which also featured New York-based Albanian rapper / singer Gashi. This track disappeared without trace so one wonders what the expectation really was for Ava’s third single, Sweet But Psycho.
Critically acclaimed as an instantly addictive slice of pop, Sweet But Psycho transformed the little known singer / songwriter into a star. Apart from a few surprising exceptions such as America and Canada, the song has become a massive world-wide hit topping the charts in numerous countries.
“The song basically concerns female empowerment. It’s about a girl who is misunderstood by her boyfriend but never takes any nonsense. She is being called a psycho in her relationship but she is simply a strong, outspoken and independent woman.
“The song itself says she’s going out of her mind because she is going out of her mind in the relationship. I think it’s important for your partner to love all sides of you, the various aspects of your character, so that’s really what the song is about.”
Ava makes no secret of her delight in achieving such enormous chart success.
“I’ll finally be in a position to repay my family for all the support they’ve given me since I was eight years old. They have been my constant supporters but I also want to repay everybody who has helped me along the way.
“I still can’t really believe what has happened after all those years of disappointment. It’s also wonderful to see people react and relate to my music, particularly young people. I’ll sometimes get messages saying someone was bullied at school but they listened to my song and felt much more confident and happy. Knowing I’m having a positive effect on their lives makes me happy.”
Her debut album is in the pipeline but Ava has other plans for the more immediate future.
“Sweet But Psycho is still hot so I have much more promotion work to do. I’d really like to release some more singles before the album and maybe do a couple more guest appearances. I love artistes like Bruno Mars and Cardi B so it would be great to do a collaboration with them. But my album should be finished early next year so I guess I’ll have to see how things go before deciding on the next steps in my career.”
It’s amazing what appearing on a reality television series can do for an artiste’s career. Just ask English singer / songwriter Fleur East.
Nearly three years have passed since anything was heard from London-born Fleur. She had found fame after finishing runner-up to Ben Haenow in the 2014 series of The X Factor. A deal was signed with Simon Cowell’s Syco label and Fleur recorded her debut album, Love, Sax and Flashbacks.
The album peaked at number 14 in Britain while lead single, Sax, hit number three. The follow-up, More & More, proved nothing like so popular. It stalled at number 85.
Fleur’s departure from Syco came as no surprise. Although she was said to be recording new material, nothing was forthcoming before she entered the Australian jungle last month as one of the competitors on British television’s I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here.
She finished in fourth place but her time on the show allowed viewers to recognise Fleur’s personal qualities and undoubtedly gained her a legion of new fans. Having now signed to Hunter Corp Records, Fleur has to hope all those people who supported her efforts in the jungle will be interested in her new music. Her comeback single, Favourite Thing, will be released on January 4.
“I can’t wait for everyone to hear my song,” said Fleur, 31. “I was down for a while after parting from Syco. The music industry is so cut-throat. I didn’t know how I could come back from losing my record deal. But I’m a Celebrity came at the right time. I feel like people now know the real me from my time in the jungle and will have a greater understanding of my music.”
As yet, there is no audio posting or video for Favourite Thing.
Have many of her fans lost interest in Canadian singer / songwriter Avril Lavigne?
It was 2002, when the then 17-year-old Avril stormed on to the music scene with her chart-topping debut album, Let Go, and the smash hit single, Complicated.
Let Go registered world-wide sales in excess of 16 million copies. But this proved to be the zenith of her career. Sales figures for each of her subsequent albums have dropped by about one third in comparison to her previous release.
Avril’s self-titled 2013 album sold just 650,000 copies. Most artistes would love to have these sales figures but the numbers are in stark contrast to those of her early career.
Significant singles success is also proving elusive. It was 2007, when she last enjoyed a top ten US or UK hit.
Her new album, Head Above Water, is scheduled for release on February 15. Response to the first two singles has been unspectacular. The title-track reached number 84 in Britain and 64 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Tell Me It’s Over has recently been released as the follow-up.
Has Avril lost the magic touch? Judge for yourself by checking out the videos. Head Above Water is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKF6ghfcQic while Tell Me It’s Over can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5wseA6HoNs
Sales may not be great but the Head Above Water video has been viewed nearly 53 million times and Tell Me It’s Over has already notched up more than five million views. Avril’s fans may number fewer than in her heyday but those she has retained certainly seem to appreciate her work.
There is happier news of American singer and actress Selena Gomez.
The 26-year-old star has completed her treatment for anxiety and depression. She was recently seen enjoying a day of snow tubing at Big Bear Lake in California with her friends, actress Bailee Madison and model Connar Franklin. This was followed by a hike in the Malibu hills.
Selena is said to be in good spirits, feeling a lot stronger and happy to be spending time with her family and friends.
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