I love my new nose!” Alexa Ray Joel says, smiling. “I could talk about my new nose all day. See, they shaved off the bump.” She turns her head to display her new profile. “There’s no great shame in having your nose fixed,” she says. “It’s not like I’m hiding some drug problem.”
We’re sitting on an old sofa in the control booth of Electric Lady Studios on 8th Street, where she’s been recording a new album. We’ve just listened to a playback of the single “Notice Me,” a catchy, old-fashioned pop song with an infectious hook: “I can light up a room now,” she sings. “I can write a good tune now.” When Alexa played it for her dad, “he did an old man’s dance in celebration,” she says.
The Old Man is, of course, Billy Joel, 61, and Mother is Christie Brinkley, 56. “I got the double whammy,” Alexa says, laughing. Her parents aren’t just famous; they’re both icons. “It’s tough to live in that shadow … I’ve been pushing and pulling and I’m still fighting my way out of it.” But they did their best. “My parents tried to shield me from how famous they were when I was growing up on Long Island,” she says. Growing up, “I had no idea. When everybody said ‘Hello, Billy! Hello, Christie!’—I just thought they were popular.” She’s wearing a silk vest she found in her mother’s closet (“The best place to go shopping,” she says). Her parents divorced when she was 9 years old, but after a few rocky years they became good friends.
So far, at 24, Alexa’s had a quiet career, playing small gigs on Long Island and in the city, releasing an EP four years ago to tepid reviews. And not more than a nibble from a record company about signing her. “I worked a long time to get good at what I’m doing,” she says, “and nobody handed me a recording contract because of who my father is. What people don’t understand is that my dad isn’t up on the contemporary music scene. He’s been a legend for decades and he doesn’t know what’s going on right now and he doesn’t need to.”
On her own, she’s got a new manager, a new producer, and, like a lot of young musicians these days, she’ll likely distribute and market her music through her own company. Plus she’s starring as the face of Prell shampoo in a national advertising campaign, including a TV commercial—for which she wrote the music. She points out that her mother, who was the face of Prell 25 years ago, did not get her the job. “It was Prell’s idea,” she says, “and it’s kind of cool to carry on the family tradition.”
This past December, Alexa was taken to St. Vincent’s in what was reported as a suicide attempt. She calls it a “faux overdose” and was mortified at the coverage. “That was a crazy media storm,” she says, “considering I didn’t take anything that was going to end my life. I didn’t cut my wrists open. I was depressed breaking up with my on-and-off boyfriend of four years, living alone in this huge apartment in the West Village, and I took, like, eight homeopathic anti-inflammatories. I panicked and there was no one around, so I called 911. It was an awful experience. There was a really rude guy in the ambulance who was laughing at me while I was crying, and at the hospital they made me drink two big glasses of some charcoal thing” designed to absorb the effects, just, she says, to be safe. “I’d like to think that was as bad as it’s gonna get. I had to move because every tabloid in town published my address. This is the calm after the storm. I’m happy and I’m working every day and I don’t feel embarrassed about anything.”
Her parents disapprove of her being so open about her personal life (after the incident in December, the New York Post quoted extensively from her complaints about dating on her MySpace page, which listed her mood as “forgotten”). “My parents became famous in a time when you didn’t see celebrities on TV in their sweatpants, and they’re very old-school. But I think with this younger generation, you kind of have to be more open, because everybody is interested in not just the face or the name—they want to know the person. It’s a double-edged sword, but I think it is to my benefit that I am the open and honest person I am.”
She wrote “Notice Me” for a boy she had a crush on at a party. “Yes, he noticed me,” she admits with a shy smile. “It’s been a very successful flirtation, but only a flirtation. I’m making work my priority, and I’m having the ride of my life right now.”