It’s easy to look at 20-year-old pop singer / songwriter Olivia Somerlyn and assume that she just dropped out of the sky into the Macy’s iHeartRadio Rising Star contest and on tours with the likes of The Jonas Brothers, Big Time Rush, and Jessie J.
That would be an incorrect assumption, one of many falsehoods about those whose age hides the years that go into trying to craft the perfect pop song and build a connection with fans of all kinds. I get it, Nirvana would have never gone into a contest like this, and there is the romantic notion that touring dives cross country in a beat-up van is the only way to break an artist.
But just like there are seemingly endless styles of music, there are just as many ways to “make it,” and even more motivations. For Somerlyn, who has been at this since the age of 12, her aim is simple:
“Writing and sharing my music is something I love doing, and I just want to be a good role model,” said the San Francisco native, whose sincerity is as immediate as her single “Parachute,” which was co-written with and produced by Nick Jonas. So it’s not surprising that upon first listen, Kevin Jonas Sr. saw the potential for big things.
“It was about seven years ago that I started working on this professionally,” said Somerlyn. “I’ve been writing songs by myself since I was about 12 or 13, and then co-writing for about seven years after that, going back and forth between San Francisco, where I was in school, and LA, where I would work. So I got into the co-writing scene there and was working with producers, and through that I met the Jonas family. I was a big Jonas Brothers fan, and their dad came to see me at a rehearsal with my band, and he said ‘this could really be something. I know fans, and I know that they would love your music and love you.’ That was amazing to hear because I always hoped that the music I was writing and performing would be relatable.”
Jonas Sr. became her manager, and within the last year she began hitting the road with the aforementioned Jonas Brothers, Big Time Rush, and Jessie J, as well as Victoria Justice. Then things really started to take off.
“Only last year did I take all the work that I had been doing and then put myself out there,” she said. “Hearing people come up to me at meet and greets or after shows tell me that a specific song or songs really spoke to them is really the best reward.”
And one that made all the sacrifices during her rise worth it. That’s the side few see.
“I had no social life,” she said of her teen years. “I had one really good friend pretty much in high school, but I didn’t mind because I was working and doing what I loved. It was hard for friends to understand though. Some were supportive, but a lot of kids in school could be mean. I almost don’t even remember what they would say because I would not let it get to me at all. I knew I was going to keep working at it, and hopefully it would work out. I couldn’t listen to any negativity.”
Somerlyn says that from an early age, she let her mother know (“with laser focus,” she laughs) that this was her path, and she stuck with it, work ethic and all.
“She knows that I’m doing it for the right reasons,” said Somerlyn. “It’s not just to be in the party scene. When I’m on tour I work, I do my meet and greets, I sleep, then I get up early for interviews, and that’s all I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else. It does look so easy, but it’s not. Touring is the most unglamorous thing ever (Laughs), but it’s my favorite thing to do.”
Sitting at number two in the Rising Star contest (voting ends Sunday) behind Orlando’s Before You Exit, Somerlyn could nab a performing slot at the iHeartRadio Music Festival later this year, a huge boost for any artist’s career.
“It’s a really, really big deal and it’s amazing to even have been picked,” she said. “Plus, it’s all fan voting, so to make it into the top five is great, and we actually made it into the top five at number one, which was huge, so we essentially won the first round. Currently we’ve been going back and forth almost every hour, so it’s a close race and an amazing group of artists that I’m up against, and I know a few of them personally. So it’s a big deal and a hard choice for the fans.”
Somerlyn’s supporters aren’t known as fans though. They’re referred to as “SomerLovers,” and they’ve been out in force to support her, something that hasn’t been lost on the singer.
“They’ve been working and voting so hard, and not just voting themselves, but having big voting parties with their friends and families,” she said. “They’re so supportive that I know that we can win this. And if not, it’s been a really great bonding experience for all of us, and I’ll be excited for whoever wins because I feel like we’ve all been in this together.”
And speaking of together, after some rough social years in high school, touring has finally given Somerlyn a peer group that completely understands what she’s going through.
“I said ‘so this is what it’s like to have a group of friends my age and they’re actually in the music industry and they understand what I’m doing,’” she laughs. “It was really, really nice.”
Those friends just happen to have names like Jonas. Not bad for a kid from San Francisco.
“No matter how busy I am, I’m always thinking about this, and it’s really a ‘pinch me’ experience every day,” said Somerlyn. “It’s really amazing to see Kevin Jonas recording an Instagram video telling people to vote for me. I used to be in the audience at their shows; now they’re telling people to vote for me. And seeing all these new fans handing out flyers about me, it’s so humbling. Some people would think that it would give you a big head or a big ego seeing these things happen, but for me, it makes me ask, how can I be a better person and a better artist, so that I will deserve all this recognition that I’m getting?”