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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Alessia Cara, Singer

“My four best friends were in the front row, so I could look at them the whole time.”

I was performing at a talent show at school — I was 16, maybe 17, and it was one of the first times I’d ever performed in front of people. I had done videos on YouTube before, but I was really hiding behind the camera. I had a moment of hesitation, like, “Oh, I don’t want to go up anymore. I’m scared. Why did I do this?!” But everyone was being so supportive and encouraging me to go on. So something in me told me you have to get over your fear. Like, how are you going to be an artist? How are you going to be a performer, if you can’t do this? So I just went for it. My four best friends were in the front row, like in the very front row, so I could look at them the whole time, but I didn’t even open my eyes, of course. I was so nervous. But the one time I did open my eyes, I looked at my best friends.

I was playing guitar as well, just sitting on a stool, and I just did this loop-pedal cover of a Drake song. A Drake medley. It was a whole bunch of different ones, his old stuff and his newer stuff, because I’m just a huge fan of Drake, and I love all his songs. I just thought doing a medley would be different, and I wanted people to remember it, and it to be something they could sing to. Everyone loved Drake at my school, and I thought it was teen-appropriate music, because he’s like obviously huge for teens, and I just love him, and I was kind of messing around with it, and then I realized that he did a lot of his songs with these chords that I was playing. It sounded cool to me. I kind of morphed the songs. Like “Started From the Bottom,” I sort of changed it into a melody. I made my own melody for the songs. I kind of created my own chords and keys for them, ones that would fit me best, that I could do well. And it ranged, like it starts off low and then goes higher. It’s a mixture of different things and showed off a bit of everything. He’s a rapper, so of course a lot of his stuff isn’t too melodic. He is a melodic rapper, but a lot of the stuff I wanted to take a rap thing and turn it into a melody with a guitar, singing them instead of rapping them.

The feeling afterward, when I heard everyone clapping for me? I was just so relieved! I remember feeling that I wanted to feel that way forever. That I just wanted to perform. Because that feeling just after you’re done, that feeling of relief, that feeling that you just gave everything, that’s when I really knew: It’s okay to perform now. Before that, I used to be scared, and I realized there was nothing to be afraid of. You just have to do it, because the feeling afterward is so rewarding and awesome, and everyone was so supportive. I was like, “I finally did it! I performed for my whole school! People that I know!” It’s just the most addictive feeling. Afterward, I just wanted to change out of my clothes, because I was like, “Why did I choose this?” I got paranoid, like, “Why did I pick this bright-orange shirt?”