Alessia Cara on How ‘Growing Up’ in a Strict Italian Household Shaped Her Musical Journey

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In the latest episode of Billboard‘s “Growing Up” series, Alessia Cara traces her journey from manifesting her success through fake acceptance speeches and secret YouTube covers to winning a Grammy and performing on national television.

The Grammy-winning singer (real name Alessia Caracciolo) grew up in Brampton, Ontario, in a very traditional Italian household, which Cara categorizes as having strict parents (especially a strict father), prominent focus on school, smaller friend circle and no sleepovers. But the one thing her upbringing did allow — and plenty of — was music.

“Italians love our music and we love to dance and we love to be loud. So that was always kind of around my life,” she tells Billboard. “My mom would play the tambourine when we were kids, and we would dance around.”

Instead of picking up the tambourine just like her mother, Cara received her first guitar on her 10th birthday, but she didn’t start playing it until a few years later. Even if she let the passion for the instrument marinate a bit, she certainly manifested her success and the kind of speeches she would be giving at the 2018 Grammys — when she won the award for best new artist — the Junos, VMAs, and more award shows where she’s taken home quite a bit of hardware.

“I feel like I learned manifestation before I knew what manifestation was, because I really would just pretend that I was already successful. I would do fake interviews in my shower and in my room and talk to no one, fake acceptance speeches — the whole thing,” she recalls. But the practice sure paid off. “All of the fake acceptance speeches I had done in my room as a kid had just totally come full circle.”

Even if those pretend press runs or award speeches were never filmed, her covers were recorded in her closet on her camcorder and uploaded to Cara’s secret YouTube channel. The 25-year-old artist said she never sang around her parents and was particularly afraid of her father finding her videos, especially since she had dropped out of school to pursue music and promised her parents that if nothing ever turned up, she would go back and enroll in university.

But it was her dad who ended up flying with her to New York to take a meeting with Cara’s current label, EP Entertainment, after the head of the company’s daughter discovered her cover of The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather.” And just like the executives, Cara’s father heard her sing for the first time.

“I was more petrified for him to hear me than the production company,” she says with a laugh. But it wasn’t until she performed on TV for the first time in July 2015 on The Tonight Show that her dad showed some emotion regarding her talent. “After I went backstage — it was Jimmy Fallon — and I had performed my song ‘Here,’ and I remember going backstage after it was done, and he had tears in his eyes,” Cara remembers. “He didn’t want to say it, but I know he cried a little bit. It was really sweet.”

Watch Cara’s “Growing Up” episode above.

 
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