Angelina Nazarian on “The Voice” (photo Greg Gayne NBC)

Angelina Nazarian Sets Her Sights on Musical Success

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BOSTON — The road to success in the music world is a difficult one, but if perseverance and dedication to continuing self-improvement are indicators of success, 18-year-old Angelina Lola Nazarian already is going places. She has 24,400 followers and 1.4 million likes on her TikTok account. After competing on NBC’s singing competition television show “The Voice” in the fall of 2023, Angelina went on to enroll in the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where she is now a freshman, preparing for further musical successes.

Angelina Nazarian (Photo Dave Bjerke/NBC)

Family on the Move

Thanks to Angelina’s parents, she has enjoyed a truly international childhood and upbringing. Her father Albert was born in Ararat, Armenia, and her mother Christina in Baku. They met in an English class in Ararat and fell in love. They came to the US to further their education, and Angelina was born in Ann Arbor, Mich. However, due to her father’s career in finance, the family ended up living in six different countries, China, Korea, Russia, the US, Armenia and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai). Angelina’s father worked over 24 years for General Motors in various posts, such as CFO for Africa and Middle East Operations (AMEO) or managing director of AMEO Commercial Operations.

Angelina proudly declared: “My parents worked really, really hard to create a good foundation and basis to move forward in their life, and yes, we are 100 percent Armenian, very proud Armenians. That is one reason why I take my life goals so seriously, whether to represent Armenians on ‘The Voice,’ the Armenian community here at the Berklee College of Music, or my future endeavors as an Armenian-American singer or songwriter.”

Angelina speaks English, Armenian and Russian, and also can get by in French, which she said she studied for some six years. Wherever she lived, she always went to international schools following either the American or British curriculum, and teaching in English.

She learned Armenian at home. She said that in the family, they would mix languages. Angelina said, “Sometimes it was even in a sentence. We would start it in Armenian, the middle words would be in Russian, and the ending in English….I think my mom and dad would speak Armenian at the beginning of our childhood, and then us children, who were being sent to American schools, would bring back English, so we would all speak Armenian and English. Our grandma lives with us and speaks Russian, so we learned Russian that way.”

The Nazarian family with Angelina in the center

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Aside from periodic visits to Armenia, Angelina related that her family also got stuck there when the Covid pandemic began. Living in Shanghai, like many other expatriates, her family was warned about the virus, and so they left, thinking to stay in Armenia two weeks until things appeared safe. As it happened the two weeks turned into almost nine months.

Music

Angelina remembers having a special connection with music during her childhood. When she was around six years old and living in Russia, she said she recalled watching Michael Jackson making his moves on television, and she would get up and imitate them. She taught herself how to moonwalk, for example.

Angelina Nazarian (photo Dave Bjerke/NBC)

Her family realized her ability when Angelina was nine years old and was inspired by “America’s Got Talent,” a competitive singing show. She said: “I was young. You don’t put limits on anything….So, after I watched, I played the karaoke, and I sang Listen by Beyoncé. I recall my mom walked in the room and asked, was that you or Beyoncé? I was like, what? That was me of course.”

Her family never arranged for her to get formal music lessons but Angelina knew what she wanted and was persistent. She said: “Even though I didn’t end up getting coaching, I sang in front of them all the time. I made it obvious that this is what I wanted to do. I applied to every talent show at my school. I introduced myself, ‘Hello, I am Angelina. I am a singer.’ So before others could take me seriously through credentials or maybe videos, or how I was on the show, I took myself seriously. I said I am going to be a singer. I want to be a singer.”

Angelina said she joined choir clubs and performed in talent shows and musicals at her schools. She started posting on social media at 11 years old, singing covers on Instagram. At 13 years old, she said she wrote her first song and posted that on Instagram too. She took a poem she had already written and added melody to it. At 14, she released her first EP, titled “Underwater,” with three songs.

Her parents ended up supporting her. She related: “I had parents that believed in me, that were honest with me and told me, you know what, usually this isn’t a path that we would just push towards anyone, but we see how you sing, we see how you perform, we see how you write, so if you take this seriously, we believe in you.”

Angelina did have one family member who had musical interests. Her father’s father was an amateur wedding singer. “When we would have family dinners, after I performed something, maybe, let’s say, a French song or an English song, he performed something in Armenian. It was nice to have one relative who could be like I also sing,” she said. “He was good at it, and I think it was more of a passion than his main thing, but for me, it is my passion, my drive and my goal for a future career.”

She said while she did not have formal training, she did listen to people’s opinions: “I always say this: I don’t learn about singing and songwriting and how to be an artist only from other artists. A lot of what I have learned is from people who are not even musicians, who tell me, when you sang that, I felt this way. And then I, as a singer, was like, hmm, I didn’t want you to feel that way, so I must have done something wrong.”

Her younger sister was a useful testing ground for new songs. Angelina said, “I used her a lot. I would say, come here. What do you think of this? I would sing, and she would go, mm, this one sounds like this song. And I am like, oops, okay, change the melody again. Come back, Sophia, what do you think? She would be like, wow, this one was great. So I used her as my little test machine.”

Composing

Angelina does not play any musical instruments. Consequently, when composing, she said, “I have to come up with the melody using my own humming. I would use myself as the instrument. So where maybe a pianist would find the chords of what she is looking for while she is making her chorus … as I write songs, what I do is I just take my hands out and tap onto wood as if I am [playing on]… my wooden desk or my bed… My vision is so deep that I can hum my own background music and melody, like chords, while I write [lyrics] at the same time.”

Angelina Nazarian

When asked whether she would write out the notes for her compositions, she revealed, “This is the thing about my journey that I used to be very ashamed about, that I didn’t want to mention to anyone, I don’t know how to read notes, or I don’t know what you mean when you say sing it in this key.” Instead, she could repeat a melody once someone played it.

With hindsight, she said, “When I think about it, I can’t believe I was ever ashamed. I think that if you can do something like that, if I could have produced and written and made melodies without knowing absolutely anything about the theory of music, that just speaks to my hard work and the natural feel for music that I do have.”

As far as writing lyrics went, she said that it came naturally to her. She explained: “When I would write songs, what it would be is that I would have pencil and paper, and I would write, like, what’s the main subject. Boom.” She gave the example of her song, Being Under Water. “I would say anxiety, panic attack, boom. Then I would say, what do I associate that with, or what kind of imagery.”

She was going to start writing the words after taking a shower, but “When I am in the shower, the water is like falling over my face, and I am so in my head that I forget, and ooh, I can’t breathe for a second. Then I was like, this is what panic attacks and anxiety feel like, being underwater.”

She went back and wrote the song in minutes, first as a poem, then added verses, made a chorus, and played her fake piano, trying different things musically. She made multiple recordings so she wouldn’t forget and asked her younger sister and other family members their opinions along the way.

As a young adolescent, she did not have a wealth of experience to draw upon for songwriting. She said, “I used people’s stories and what they went through as inspiration to write. For example, one of the songs in my album is called I Remember. I wrote this at 13 years old, and it was about being cheated on by someone you love. Mind you, I had never been in a relationship, never been cheated on, right? How could you write about that? But when my friends told me of their experiences and I got their permission to say my viewpoint on it, that is how I wrote.”

Angelina Nazarian with her parents at her high school graduation last year from the American School of Dubai

As she gains more personal life experience, she said she feels this is helping in her songwriting because it adds to her “ability to fully write from the heart.”

Musical Genres and Cultures

Angelina was first attracted to American music as a child living in the US. She said, “I like R&B, pop, soul anything sort of ’90s. This is the kind of music that hit my core, because I like the writing style, the storytelling, the emotion… the musk of music that has soul in it.”

However, her international lifestyle and family background have also influenced her singing. She sings in English, Armenian, Russian, and French. Angelina said, “I think that the way that I sing and what gives me my originality is the fact that I am affected by so many different cultures and different styles of music. I love Armenian music, for example. Through Armenian music I learned how to use my vocals in a way that I do more vibrato and more riffs, and maybe I play more with the emotion of sad love, because I feel that is a main subject in Armenian music. That also affects my writing in a sense.”

Angelina said that she prefers different musical genres in different languages and associates them with different emotions. If in Armenian, it is love, family and relationships, in French it is classical music. She said, “I associate the French … language…and the music when I sing as being in an alternate reality, where I am fine dining and I am wearing pearls. It is like a different me when I sing in French.”

She said she likes operatic classical music in French. In English she remains in the world of R&B and mainstream pop. While living in Dubai, Arabic music, she said, had some influence on her.

Moreover, when she was living in Korea and China, she absorbed the focus there on the imagery of songs and the production of music videos.

‘The Voice’

Angelina got a lot of exposure for her music through her recent appearance on “The Voice,” where she made it to the “Battle” round, but more importantly, Angelina said it was one of the best things that ever happened to her because it allowed her to get a taste of the industry and see how serious she was about the work behind the scenes. Despite the long hours, she said, “I was just fueled when I was there…It really helped me be like, you know what, 9-year-old you was not wrong. This is what you want to do.”

She remains friends with some of the other young contestants on the show. She said she could not disclose much about her connection with Reba McEntire, her mentor on “The Voice” because of a nondisclosure agreement she was required to sign. She did reveal that Reba follows her now on Instagram, so there is at least that road for communication.

Appearing on the show also helped her realize that she needed to get more musical education and training. She said she saw that everyone she was competing with had some sort of classical training. She recalled, “I said, girl, no more fake piano. Go to music school, learn the chords, learn how to sight read, learn the notes.” This decision led her to Berklee.

Berklee and Beyond

At first, she did not want to go to university at all. Her thinking, she said, was “In this industry, if you want to be a singer, you need to have the talent, you need to know the basics, and you need to be available. Availability is the biggest thing in this industry…I said, how can the world or producers find talent if talent is sitting in a small room somewhere in a college?”

However, she realized that Berklee would not hinder her in this aspect. She declared: “They actually say – I don’t know if this is the slogan of the school, but a lot of people that I have spoken to or when I read about Berklee said, if you are doing all four years then you are not doing Berklee right. I didn’t understand that. I was like, what? Wouldn’t a college want you to stay all four years? But this college is so understanding that they say, you get what you need, you do what you need to do, but if there is an opportunity, skip class, go to your gig, go to your tour, go perform, because this is why we’re here.”

She wants to become a professional music major, which means that she could do some songwriting, music engineering and production, and learn about music theory, application and technology along with ear training and everything else needed for a well-rounded artist. Piano is the instrument she plans to learn to play.

Up until now, she has been a solo artist, using karaoke, but Angelina said she sees people forming bands at Berklee and wants to try performing with one. She also wants to pursue acting and modeling in addition to singing and songwriting. She did a little bit of runway work and was in a few magazines when very young.

When asked whether she has considered a backup career plan considering the difficulties of succeeding in the music world, she emphatically replied: “I’ve said this since I was young, and I always say it: I don’t have a plan B and I won’t have a plan B because that means that I doubt plan A, and I truly don’t. I will fight and work and push myself and learn until I achieve my dream. People say it is unrealistic, but I think that you are already so brave in taking an industry like this, so why not go the whole way. If you are going to even take it in the first place, be as crazy as people think you are and believe that you can go to the top, because even making that first decision is something that most don’t do.”

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