Pia Toscano has come full circle. It was almost exactly a year ago today that she auditioned for American Idol. “My dad just emailed me today saying, ‘Make sure you wake up early tomorrow. We have the American Idol audition,'” she told Neon Limelight during a phone interview on Tuesday (August 2). “He was just kidding around, obviously, because last year, August 3, we waited overnight and that was my audition.”
Week after week on the show, Pia showcased her powerful pipes, fearlessly — and most often, stunningly — belting out songs by Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. And even though she was famously prematurely axed from the competition, she’s got nothing to feel bad about. The raven-haired beauty is now touring the country on the American Idols Live! tour, basking in the positive response from fans for her debut single, the triumphant, Ester Dean-penned tune “This Time,” and recording her debut album under the guidance of music industry heavyweight and Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine on Interscope Records.
While preparing to perform in Kansas City, Pia took time out chat more with us about meeting the fans who voted for her, recording her new album, feeling competitive with her fellow Idol contestants, and trying to bring back the good old fashion vocalist.
Read our exclusive Q&A with Pia below:
Neon Limelight: What’s it been like being on the road and meeting all of the fans who voted for you?
Pia Toscano: It’s incredible. I mean, we’re all very aware that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the fans that voted. Just meeting them every night, doing what we love, not being judged after every song, it’s very freeing, rewarding. It’s amazing. It truly is.
NL: So, tell me about that first night on the tour — because you said “not being judged after every song,” does that feeling of judgment ever go away or do you truly finally feel free?
PT: I do finally feel free. American Idol was amazing, but it was also a lot of pressure that came along with it. It was kind of a crash course in the music industry, and you learn and you grow. But now we just get to do our thing. We get to go on stage, do what we love, and not have to worry about are we being compared to the artist we [just performed the song of] and all that stuff.
The first night, I just remember in Salt Lake City, I remember it so clearly. The first night, I got off stage and was like ‘that is the best feeling in the world.’
NL: You debuted your very first single on the tour. What was it like to not only perform the song live for the first time, but to debut the song and have people hear it for the first time, in front of that many people?
PT: I’m not gonna lie, I was terrified. [laughs] No one had heard the song, and even though I loved the song, my team believed in the song, I did not know how it would be received by the public. But there was a good response to it. And now that we’re about 20 shows in, I believe, people are actually singing the words back to me. And that…I just get goosebumps when I see that because that is the best feeling. It’s like everything I’ve ever dreamed of, someone singing your song.
PT: And people are doing covers of it on YouTube. It’s crazy!
NL: Do you feel like a real artist or still like this girl trying to find her way?
PT: I definitely feel like I’m coming into my own. I definitely feel like I’m finally that artist, but, you know, there’s lots of growing that we have to do and lots of finding ourselves on this tour. We’re not there yet, but we’re still finding our way.
NL: The lyrics to “This Time” are very interesting. It’s like about this relationship that went bad and you’re finally taking back your time. If we believe the rumors, you’re very happy in your love life, but do they hold any personal meaning for you?
PT: I think they could relate to my experience on Idol. It’s not so literal for me. It’s more like this is my time, I’m finding my way, and I’m finding who I am as an artist and as a person. I learned so much about myself on the show. So, I kind of relate it more towards that rather than a personal relationship kind of thing. But any girl has gone through a break up, especially being my age, and I have as well, but I try to relate it more towards finding myself throughout this whole process.
NL: Oh OK! So, have you shot a video yet?
PT: I have! [laughs] I was just watching some little behind the scenes things and it’s awesome!
NL: Cool! What was it like shooting the video and what’s the concept?
PT: I don’t want to give the concept away just yet because I think the video is coming out like a week from now, but it was so amazing. Like, the whole process — just a year ago I was waiting on line — actually, a year exactly. My dad just emailed me today saying, “Make sure you wake up early tomorrow. We have the American Idol audition.” [laughs] He was just kidding around, obviously, because last year, August 3, we waited overnight and that was my audition. It’s kind of crazy that a year later I’m on tour, I have my own single, I signed a deal…it’s crazy. Everything happened so fast. And the video, the video was just beautiful. Like, I had this gorgeous trailer…I’m still pinching myself that this is all happening to me.
NL: Do you think “This Time” is a good example of what the rest of the album will be like?
PT: It’s kind of like a little shade of what the album is going to be like. It’s going to be like a rainbow of things. It’s definitely going to be a pop album with an R&B influence. [“This Time”] is a little color of what this album is going to be like. It’s gonna have those power ballads, but it’s also gonna have those fun, up-tempo tracks as well. It’s gonna be edgy, it’s gonna be powerful. It’s gonna be cool.
NL: Awesome! How far are you into the recording process? How many songs do you have done?
PT: I am about eight songs in right now. I have a few more songs to go, but we just want to make sure I’m gonna do some collaborations and, hopefully, I get to put my little creative touch on the rest of the songs on the album. It’s been a dream so far. I’ve been working with Rodney Jerkins, Rock Mafia…it’s been really, really awesome. I’m working with people I’ve been dying to work with my whole life.
NL: You said you were looking to do some collaborations. Who is on your wishlist?
PT: On my wishlist right now is definitely Evan Bogart from The Writing Camp, Ryan Tedder, people like that.
NL: Any artists you want to work with?
PT: Alicia Keys. Oh my God. Alicia Keys would be amazing. Jay-Z, Eminem…that would be crazy.
NL: Is it tough to record your album on the road or do you think being out there with all of these people is providing inspiration?
PT: It’s definitely providing inspiration. Just being with the top 11 on the road, they’re inspiring in itself. Just watching backstage — because the second act is lighter for me — I’m just watching Haley and Jacob, James, Scotty and Lauren, and I’m just inspired by them and their talent. So, I mean, everybody is so different on this tour and we just get a little piece of everybody. But I got a head-start. I got to start recording right after I got eliminated from the show, so I got the bulk of it done, so I really haven’t been recording on the road.
NL: You mentioned Haley, and she just got signed to the same record label. Do you feel any friendly competition between you two?
PT: This show is a competition, and we all have to have our little competitive edge, but we all get along. We’re all supportive of each other. We’re all happy for each other. We’re all going to have our time to shine. And me and Haley really aren’t in the same lane, genre wise, so it’s more of like an inspiration kind of thing. I look up to her a lot as an artist.
NL: Can we expect a collaboration from you two one day?
PT: I would love to be able to collaborate with her somewhere down the line, yes. For sure. I mean, we get to sing with each other on the tour, so it’s really cool.
NL: Cool! So, you’re like a singer’s singer. You really focus on the vocals and hitting those belty notes. What’s it like to be in a world currently controlled by auto-tune, flashy dancers, and just a lot of image?
PT: Definitely performance is huge. You need to want to entertain everybody. But, for me, I’m just so focused on those vocals because I grew up just looking up to and admiring Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Etta James. And, for me, I just want to see that again. Like, I want to get the chills just by a vocal like when I used to watch Mariah Carey and how that affected me. I just definitely want to bring that back. I just put so much into my singing. I just have so much emotion behind it.
NL: Who do you think are some of the singers out now that are trying to bring that vocal performance back?
PT: I think definitely Alicia Keys is. She has so much soul. There’s Janelle Monae, Ellie Goulding, perfect vocals. Then there’s Lady Gaga, too, who can sing her butt off and do everything. Beyoncé. Those are people who can just do it all.
NL: What’s one bit of advice that you’ve taken from the Idol judges that’s going to follow you into your career?
PT: When I got eliminated from the show, Jennifer Lopez said to me, “I’ve had so many doors slammed in my face. Please, Pia, don’t ever give up on your dream. Don’t ever give up. Just keep trying.” That really stuck with me, because, yeah, I am signed to Interscope now but who knows what’s going to happen a year from now? You just truly can not give up. I auditioned for American Idol five times and I finally made it. So I think you truly just can not give up.
NL: Who is the one Idol contestant, not from your season, that you would love to duet with the most?
PT: I think it would be Adam Lambert or Carrie Underwood.
NL: Awesome! They’re two of our favorites here!
NL: Yes! Love them! And our final question: what can we expect from your second single?
PT: Well, we haven’t chosen the second single yet. We definitely have a lot to choose from. So, I don’t know what it’s gonna be [laughs], but it’s definitely going to be powerful. I always want to keep power in there. And definitely edgy.
NL: If you had to pick, would you choose something again like “This Time” or something a little more uptempo?
PT: We have some uptempo songs to choose from. I just want something that’s lyrically just so powerful that people can say ‘Pia gets me…when she sings that song, that’s the story of my life.’