November 15th, 2007 11:04 EST
Chase von Interviews Rising Singer and Beauty, Alina
Interview on behalf of the Student Operated Press with...
Alina Smith-- Soul/R&B and Pop Rising Star and Beauty!
Chase von: Alina, thank you so much for finding the time to do this interview. I know you are incredibly busy. I do want you to know, though, the more I learn about you, the more amazed I am. Anyone looking at your pictures can easily see you could be a world-class model if you chose to be. In a way, you are a model since your face is so well known. You're beautiful.
But there's this saying that everyone here is familiar with that basically goes, "I'm more than just a pretty face." In your case, that is like one of the biggest understatements one could possibly make. You're a prodigy!
As I was doing my research I was thinking when are they going to make a movie of her life? You could read and write at two? Were singing at three? Began painting and speaking English at four even though your native language is Russian? Writing poetry and stories at five? I know also that your mother was a teacher and an actress as well as an opera singer, and all that is truly remarkable. Especially at the tender age of six, and here you were being faced with choosing between a scholarship to a music academy or going to the famed Vaganovsky Ballet School.
Six? I think I was still wetting the bed! (Smile) Not really... busy failing the first grade, though:) No, really, I heard someone else had problems in school, think his name was Einstein? (Smile)
How was your childhood? And did you truly choose to do all those things at that young age, or were you driven to? I only ask because sometimes parents can be extremely demanding on some occasions with their children, although I am certainly not trying to cast yours in a bad light. You have turned out nothing short of spectacular.
Alina: Hey Chase, thanks a lot for all of your compliments. Also, thank you for arranging this interview with me-– it’s one of my very first ones, so I’m really excited.
You know, whenever a child is actively involved in art, music or sports, it is questionable whether the decision to do all of those things is really theirs. In many instances, parents really do push a little too much.
I think that my case was pretty much a mix of both. I have pictures of the 2-year-old me painting, and I remember my favorite pastime at 5 was writing short stories and poems about my teddy bears. Playing piano and singing, for me, was like playing with toys is for most kids. I was always creative and really did love doing all those things.
My mom was never aggressive in driving me to develop my artistic side, but she really did try to take advantage of every interest of mine. At one time she had me simultaneously going to ballet, music, dancing, art and gymnastics schools. Having to get straight A’s in regular school too… I did cope with it all well for a while, but as the time went on, the classes started getting more challenging, the teachers more demanding… I had to make a choice.
Chase von: You were raised in Russia. I've been there once and wasn't prepared at all for how friendly the people there would be. Many of them had never seen someone of my complexion, so they wanted to take pictures with me. Felt a bit like Michael Jordan. (Smile)
I was in Vladivostok and so many of them also spoke English. But, from what I understand, perhaps the part where you grew up wasn't quite as friendly. How bad was it really? Also, do you ever miss Russia and have you returned? And I guess the big question is do you have as many fans there supporting you and your dreams as you have in the United States? Although, I am also sure you have fans worldwide, but with your being one of their own, I would think they are immensely proud of you.
Alina: Growing up in Russia in the 90s was definitely a unique kind of experience. From what I know, the kids born in the late 90s-early 2000s are being raised in a much safer, pro-Western environment. I would even go so far as to say that it is very comparable to the U.S. now.
Of course, everyone born before me had gotten a taste of the communist Russia. I can’t imagine what that was like. The 90s were difficult for many people. The country was just barely bouncing back from perestroika, there weren’t a lot of good clothes or food and most people didn’t make much money. The Russian currency (ruble) wasn’t stable either. The prices had tripled around ’98. St.Petersburg (my hometown) looked drab and run-down with its dusty yards, littered sidewalks and gray rainy sky.
Were the people friendly? Why would they be friendly? They were miserable! I have never been to Vladivostok, but I’m sure that the culture there is very different. It’s like East Coast and West Coast here.
I miss Russia a little bit, but I miss my family a lot more. I have been back once for my grandma’s 80th birthday. I felt kind of like a tourist – so many things have changed.
Though the majority of my fan base is Americans, I do have quite a few Russian fans. R&B is a very new genre there, so I’m not sure if the older people would like my music. Young Russians dig it though.
Chase von: Although you sing so very soulfully, you're also classically trained as well. You also can sing in Russian, German, Spanish, French and Latin. How many languages do you speak? And do you ever plan on doing a purely classical piano CD, since you play so beautifully?
Alina: It would be really cool to do something with classical piano and/or orchestration. I would probably mix it with some funky drum beats and soulful vocals. It would also be great to use a gospel choir with that. Hmm…
As far as the languages go, I’m only fluent in English and Russian. I know a little Spanish, I even wrote a few songs in it, but I would have to study more to be able to converse freely. I can sing in pretty much any language--- I have really good sonic memory. I once had to do a tune in Japanese for a concert at my school, that was pretty funny. I wrote out all of the words in Slavic letters to help me learn faster. I had no clue what I was singing about!
Chase von: Your new CD Piano and Sax is incredible. And your voice is truly amazing. You have what appears to be a pretty direct message for men and women alike in your song, "Pull Your Pants Up!" and "I Wanna Live" is the kind of slow song that really tugs at the heart.
You, however, didn't grow up listening to R&B in Russia, but you have so much soul in you. I know since learning of R&B, you have a great respect for the legendary Aretha Franklin and also Isaac Hayes, but do you care to tell our readers more about your fascination with Michael Jackson? And have you met him in person yet? Also, this is going to break a lot of male hearts, but I want you to share if you will, how Michael, in a way, is sort of the reason you met your husband. (Smile)
Alina: When I was 15, I had picked up a Michael Jackson Greatest Hits album in a record store (I’m really dating myself now) and once I popped it into my boombox, I just couldn’t stop listening.
After that, I started buying every MJ item I could get my hands on. I had this tape with his videos and I learned the dance moves of every single one of them. I got myself a man’s suit, a pair of white shoes and a black hat. I would start the tape every day after school, throw my suit on and dance for hours. My mom still has those white shoes, they’ve got almost no soles now-– it’s all one big hole.
I was obsessed with MJ for the longest time and I even made up a web site where I fanatically ranted about him. I’m so glad that I did, because it was that silly site that connected me up with my husband, Brad.
He was making travel plans and researched Russia. My web site came up. My husband collects autographs of musicians and he had a sheet music book signed by Michael Jackson. Seeing how crazy I was about the King of Pop, he figured that he’d give me the book when he was going to be in my city on my birthday.
I was kind of excited to meet an American and practice my English, but I never expected anything beyond making a new pen pal. It does really sound like a fiction love story; but, once I met Brad, I knew that he was The One. He felt the same way about me. Two weeks later we were engaged.
I haven’t met MJ yet, but I really hope that I will. I don’t know how I’m going to react when it happens. I’ll probably be so startled. I’ll just stand there and go, ”Um…uh..huh.”
Chase von: You were the youngest singer ever invited into the prestigious choir “Aurora” and the only one honored with solo performances. What was it like touring all of Europe at such a young age and performing in so many different languages?
Alina: It was awesome! I absolutely loved it! We toured all around Europe in a bus and sometimes we’d go days without stopping in a hotel. We slept in the bus and everything. I think the older girls found it pretty uncomfortable, but I couldn’t care less. It was so much fun looking out the window, seeing all the different buildings, the people, the landscapes. Performing was great, too. The choir participated in many contests, so a lot of times we would sing in front of huge crowds. I remember being 9 and having to sing in front of 5,000 people, acapella.
Chase von: If I had to try and tell someone who had never heard you sing, I would begin by saying, "If you like Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Norah Jones, Sara McLaughlin, Alicia Keyes, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan and-- I could go on; but, anyone born with a gold mine in their throat will love Alina. I know of your admiration for Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin, but who are some of the other people you truly admire?
Alina: I’m probably not going to sound very original on this question, but I love pretty much all of the great R&B/Soul artist’s of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. I’m a huge fan of Stevie Wonder, I love Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Prince, Etta James, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Ashford & Simpson, Otis Redding-- I really could go on and on.
Chase von: Ok, I happened to see on your page where you said you missed your mom's cabbage and carrot omelets. Boy, did I suddenly feel hungry! (Smile) But I've never heard of any omelet in my life with cabbage in it. Is that a Russian dish? And strange as it might sound, I wouldn't be surprised at all if people, particularly women, started eating that religiously so they could look and sing like Alina. (Smile) And do you also ever plan on pursuing acting in your future?
Alina: Hahaha, no there’s no such thing as a Russian cabbage omelet. I don’t particularly love vegetables (c’mon, who does?), and I especially hate raw cabbage. I always have an omelet after a workout, so my mom started sneaking all of these veggies into it to make me eat better. I didn’t even know it was in it until she told me. The whole thing tastes delicious.
I would say that acting is pretty much required now for anyone wanting to really make a living in the music business. It’s all about the expansion of your brand. The more people see you-- the better your concert tickets and albums are going to sell. I would certainly be interested in doing commercials and small TV/film roles. I have never acted on television before, so I would want to start out slowly and see how good I am at it before trying out for bigger roles. I wouldn’t want to star in a movie and be horrible. I’ve seen singers do that and I don’t think that’s at all helpful to their careers.
Chase von: How important is family to you, and what is your take on the state of our current world?
Alina: Family is my #1 priority. I work 10-14 hours every day, but I always try to find time to spend with my husband and to call my parents. I have a very small family, so luckily there are not too many people to keep up with.
I don’t want to sound like a downer, but I definitely think that our world could use some major improvement. Aside from the obvious tragedies like war, hunger and disease, I feel like there is enormous degradation of the human mind. There are really a lot of people who are just mindlessly consuming the products of mass media and are completely unconcerned with having an opinion of their own. Just look at some of the profiles on Myspace. I see so many teenagers that have their profiles swarmed with curse words and offensive images. Some of the most popular music videos on Youtube are promoting sexism, racism and disrespect to anyone who doesn’t have a “pimpin’ ride." Half the songs on the radio are about “hooking up." What happened to being kind, generous and intelligent? Are those qualities going the way of the dinosaurs?
Chase von: What would you say, if you were standing in front of a microphone and be heard by every child on the planet and, regardless of what language they spoke, they would understand you? What positive advice would you give the children, if that were possible?
Alina: I would say: find your dream and follow it. So many people are dissatisfied because they never really take time to figure out what they’re all about and what makes them happy. They’re just doing what their parents, teachers or friends expect from them. Find out what your dream is and go for it. It is so incredibly rewarding to be doing something you actually enjoy.
Chase von: How can our readers find your music and more about you? Can you share your links and web pages? And are there any future projects you are working on you care to share with our readers? Or is the novel you're working on a secret? Oops, (Smile). Also will you be performing any time soon in the near future?
Alina: Myspace is probably the best way to check me out online: www.myspace.com/alinamusic. To watch my videos please visit my Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/alinamusix.
There is a lot going on with me these days. I have a Christmas album that I was commissioned to record by a German company. I am shooting a music video for one of my songs early next year. I will also be consistently performing in New York and Los Angeles. I have been really busy with writing and recording this year, so I have been selective about doing shows. My next live performance is in NYC in a club called “Sugar Bar,” owned by my musical idols, Ashford & Simpson. Your readers can check my Myspace page for more info on it if they’re in the area and would like to come.
My novel is kind of a secret, it is still far from being finished, so I haven’t shared the contents of it with anyone but my family. It is my first English language novel (I have written a couple in Russian) and I’m actually really psyched about it. It’s about a high school romance in a very strict, upper-class Academy in Russia--I will reveal more when it’s time.
Chase von: I have a special request, Alina. I know you put up videos on YouTube of yourself playing and singing. I've seen you singing Carole King and even Marvin Gaye songs, and beautifully I might add. If time permits for you, can you do one song I truly love and I think you would do just as lovely as you do with all the songs you approach? "I Can't Make You Love Me' originally, I believe, by Bonnie Raitt?
Alina: Sure, I like that song, too, I would love to learn it. Ok, I’m putting it down on my to-do list, #254. lol
Chase von: On behalf of The Student Operated Press and myself, Alina, I really want to thank you for taking the time to do this. With all you're doing it is really truly appreciated that you managed to find time for this.
I would wish you luck, but you have so many natural gifts that you're surely going to simply keep rising based on your God-given talents.
Thanks so much, again, and best wishes to you, your husband and your family.
Alina: Thanks a lot Chase. I had fun answering all the questions.