Dade City teenager Alanis Sophia has come a long way from belting out tunes in local libraries and graduation ceremonies.
In fact, she’s headed to Hollywood as a contestant on ABC’s hit television show, “American Idol.”
The 19-year-old college student and Pasco eSchool graduate’s first audition was aired on the Feb. 28 season premiere of the nationally televised music competition show.
Performing a rendition of “Anyone,” by Demi Lovato, Sophia wowed the distinguished group of celebrity judges — Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie — securing a golden ticket to advance to the next round of the popular competition series watched by millions.
Perry, one of the world’s best-selling pop singers, characterized Sophia’s performance this way: “She’s the best we’ve seen today.”
Richie complimented “the purity” of Sophia’s voice and personality during the aired segment, adding the young singer has “huge potential.”
The teen vividly recalls how it felt to perform in front of the trio — who are among the most successful and recognizable personalities in the music entertainment industry today.
She described the once-in-a-lifetime experience during a recent phone interview with The Laker/Lutz News.
“When I walked into that room, I enter saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I’m actually here,’ because I didn’t expect it. I knew it was coming, but it doesn’t really take you until you’re in front of them, and then they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s your name? Sing for us,’ so it kind of still feels a little bit surreal that I even passed.
“Not that I don’t believe in myself, but just because of the fact that they’re just these big celebrities with so much success and they have a lot of influence in the industry, and as an artist who’s trying to make it, it’s kind of hard to believe.
“It still feels a little surreal. I still pinch myself,” she said.
The next step for Sophia is the show’s Hollywood Week, airing March 21.
Contestants must pass through three rounds of performances at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, something Sophia acknowledged is “a little hectic, a little crazy.”
The young artist initially received an email from a casting director for the show last summer, who invited her to audition. That actually was pre-recorded back in November.
The opportunity has been a “dream that came to life,” Sophia said. “Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be in the show.”
No stranger to fame
It’s almost as if Sophia was destined to be an artist.
The area teen’s mother, Katherine, actually named her after Canadian-American alt-rock singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette.
Naturally, Sophia lists Morissette as one of her many influences, stylistically: “You can hear that kind of in my voice because I grew up listening to her, and lyrically, kind of the same.”
Sophia’s sound has likewise been shaped listening to classic rock acts like Journey’s Steve Perry and Queen’s Freddie Mercury.
“My voice has a lot influence from the ’90s, and the ’80s and the ’70s, but then musically, it’s more of like the modern sound of now,” she said.
And, she’s no stranger to the big stage and bright lights.
Her first major break came in 2013.
Then, at age 12, Sophia was a contestant — and finished runner-up — on Telemundo network’s “La Voz Kids” (The Voice Kids), a Spanish-language singing competition in which kids are chosen because of their vocal talent.
Fast-forward to 2017, where Sophia inked a record deal with Big Machine Label Group — believed to be the first Latinx singer to sign with a major country music label.
Though no longer with the label, Sophia regularly commuted from Florida to Nashville, working alongside several music professionals, including multi-Grammy Award winning record producer and songwriter Julian Raymond, who has collaborated with Cheap Trick, Glen Campbell, Hank Williams Jr., and Sugarland, among others.
Sophia sung background vocals and on stage for those bands including Cheap Trick, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has sold more than 20 million albums.
She also recorded more than 100 songs, in some form or another.
The myriad opportunities with the label has proved beneficial for her career.
“All of those songwriters and producers helped me figure out what type of songs I want to write and kind of guide me into who I actually want to become,” Sophia said. “They gave me the experience that I needed,” she said, noting she had the chance to work with musicians in the studio and to do some co-writing.
“I’d never co-written songs until I worked with them, so they gave me all of the experience that I needed, working in the studio and all that,” she said.
Sophia also has been featured in numerous commercials over the years, for the likes of Walt Disney and Sea World. She even served as an ambassador for a Visit Florida tourism campaign for which she recorded jingles that have aired all over the world.
Sophia has built up quite an online following over this time. Her Facebook page boasts 373,000 followers, while her Instagram page sits at over 87,000.
She acknowledges that being in the public eye for so long has given her a bit of an edge in the American Idol competition.
“I’ve had experience since I was like 11, so I kind of have an understanding how all of this might play out,” she said.
Small town girl
Sophia was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but moved with her family to Wesley Chapel around age 5, and then to Dade City a few years after that.
Growing up in Pasco, it was always very comfortable because of the fact that it’s a small town and I love small towns. In Puerto Rico, we lived in a small town, so it kind of felt like home away from home,” Sophia said.
She still lives in her childhood home in the quaint East Pasco town with her parents and three siblings, and three dogs.
She leans heavily on family for advice and comfort — especially now as her fame and music career is poised to skyrocket.
“They’re my support system, who I fall back to whenever I’m upset about anything or wherever I’m feeling stressed because I have a lot going on.
“They’ve always been supportive, because they don’t care what I do. If I want to do singing, if I want to do acting, if I want to work at a 9-to-5 job, like they don’t care, just as long as I’m happy doing what I love to do, and something passionate, yet stable,” she said.
Sophia detailed sacrifices her parents, Carlos and Katherine, have made to help in her pursuit of a career in show business.
Her mother quit her job to accompany Sophia on a demanding travel schedule that’s taken her to Nashville, Los Angeles and Miami, among other places.
Despite a tight budget, her father has paid for dance classes and music instruments, and makes the effort to travel overnight to catch Sophia’s numerous performances or television interviews.
“Anything to make my dreams come true — they would do that,” Sophia said.
She also credits Pasco County Schools, and Pasco eSchool — the county’s virtual instructional program — for allowing her to showcase her talents and original songs on various livestreams and other events during her youth.
“The support system was actually crazy,” she said. “They had me perform in graduation ceremonies and sing some original stuff on like their websites and livestreams. I really enjoyed that, and they even still ask me if I want to do livestreams.”
Singer stays busy
Between working part-time and studying media communications at Full Sail University, the self-described homebody mainly spends the days fine-tuning her craft.
She aims to write at least one song every day, to keep her writing skills up to date.
She practices singing and dancing choreography in her bedroom, and records covers and other content to post to her social media pages. She also is learning to play guitar and piano.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has allowed Sophia to focus on her music and online branding, since other activities have been so limited.
She’s taken advantage of the time to record videos on YouTube, to join TikTok, to do more songwriting and to record covers.
“It kind of helped me grow as an artist,” she said.
Being featured on American Idol also has kicked her work ethic into high gear.
At the same time, in between her concentrated music regimen and schedule, she makes it a priority to “take a breath”— which can mean hanging out with family and friends, or cuddling with her pets.
Beyond aspiring to make it as far as she can on American Idol, she plans to continue to release her own music, which she hopes will connect with people to “change their lives or make them escape from any type of situation that they’re in, just for a couple of minutes.”
To learn more about Alanis, visit AlanisSophia.com.
Published March 10, 2021