It’s almost baffling to realize Zhavia is only 17 years old. While turning 18 on the night of her first official L.A. show at the Troubadour on Wednesday, March 6, will be monumental in itself, Zhavia has already proven why she’s a full-blown star. The singer-songwriter has over 3.3 million followers on Instagram alone, and creates relatable music with her loyal fan base in mind at all times.
While her humbling journey began when she was discovered on Fox’s The Four: Battle for Stardom, where she competed onstage in front of judges Diddy, DJ Khaled and Meghan Trainor, the “Candlelight” singer captivates audiences around the world with her standout voice and impressive pipes. On top of her music capabilities, Zhavia has a heart of gold, as evidenced by the tattoo covering her knuckles reading “KIND SOUL.”
Trainor was even seen in tears on national television the moment Zhavia was sent home from The Four. A couple months later, in May 2018, the Norwalk native signed a new deal with Columbia Records, proving she has what it takes to become the artist she had always envisioned herself to be.
L.A. WEEKLY: Some people may consider you pop. How would you describe your sound?
ZHAVIA: I would consider it R&B/hip-hop, but I don’t like to put myself in a category because every feeling has a different sound. My music sounds like many different genres but what keeps it consistent is the way I write and my voice.
You’re from Norwalk. How does that play into your life and your career?
Well, growing up, I moved around a lot. Norwalk is the place I would consider my hometown because I spent a good amount of years there. I just know the area so well, like the back of my hand. It’s just my home. I do go there sometimes to visit family and friends, so I’m still always connected with that area.
What was the household like growing up?
I was always around music. Both my parents were musicians. My dad sang R&B, played guitar, piano, drums, everything. My mom was in a metal band, so I was always in the studio, always at band practice. I was brought up in that; that’s what I was attracted to. I’ve always known I wanted to be a singer and always pursued that in my life.
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
To me, I always thought it was for real. [laughs] I’m the kind of person who believes it’s really important that you believe in yourself. I always would tell myself, “You’re gonna make it, you’re gonna be a singer.” That’s what got me here, because if I didn’t think like that, I would still be wondering.
I know The Four was big for your career, but was there any other moment when you were like, “All right, it’s happening.”
Definitely The Four, of course. But when I got signed to Columbia Records, that was a really big deal for me because one of my favorite artists, Adele, is signed to Columbia. She is very big! Also Beyoncé is super huge. That tells me this record label is for real. How much support they’ve shown me and how much they believe in me has motivated me a lot.
Have you crossed paths with Adele?
No, I haven’t! But hopefully soon. That would be awesome to do a song with her because oh my God, her album 21. I would just play that on repeat when I was younger. I know all the songs to it.
“Candlelight” is at over 19 million views on YouTube alone. Did you foresee it blowing up like this?
I knew it was a really good song. I knew the message would sit well with everyone because that’s something anyone can relate to. We all go through hard times. I felt it would get a lot of attention because of that but I definitely didn’t expect it to get that many views in such a short amount of time. My boyfriend kept telling me, “OMG, this is gonna be a hit. Everybody’s gonna love this.” It was just more than I thought. He was right about it.
Can you bring us back to that studio session?
I had actually written “Candlelight” two years ago on guitar. It was me making up shit as I was singing, but it was about a time in my life a few years before that where I just felt hopeless about my dreams and my visions — which was really out of the blue for me because I’m always optimistic and positive. It was a very depressing time in my life.
You were only 15…
I mean, I was going through a lot. I always had that vision for myself, so for me to feel like it was out of my reach was not of my nature. I was writing it alone in the dark in my room, all simpin’. Last year, I remembered and was like, “Wait, I should try to rewrite it in a way that’s more my style now.” Because before when I wrote songs, I would just freestyle. I was like, “I’m actually going to make it into a song.”
I took it to a studio session with SoMo and Cody Tarpley. I was a huge fan of SoMo, so it was really awesome to be able to get in and write with him. We kept the production very simple because the message was something I wanted people to focus on. Me and SoMo were freestyling melodies in the booth. We came out and wrote lyrics to it super fast because it just came out so natural. It ended up being an amazing song.
Do you feel pressure with so many eyes on you?
Of course, there’s a pressure for me to do great for myself and for my fans. I always want to give them the best and work the hardest I can for them, myself and my family. That’s good pressure. I don’t look at it as something negative.
Are you still in school? Did you finish school?
Yeah, I graduated at 16 because I knew I wanted to do music. I finished it quickly so I could focus on this.
What do your parents think? My parents are super supportive. They’ve supported me my whole life with music. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me and I really appreciate it.
You just released your new single, “100 Ways.” Talk about your state of mind in creating this one.
I did “100 Ways” with the producer Oak. In my life, there’s been plenty of obstacles, people and things that have tried to get in the way of me trying to accomplish my goals. I’ve learned there’s not only one way to do something. You can always find another way to get around those obstacles; you just have to work hard and stay positive. Because a lot of times, people get discouraged when they try something and it doesn’t work out the first time, or the way they wanted to. They have to realize, “Maybe I should try this or do it this way,” then it works out.
What can we expect from the upcoming EP?
There’s three songs I already released and three new ones. A few of them are love songs, then there’s one called “17,” which is what the EP is called. It’s about my whole journey and how I’ve gotten to where I am at 17, which is when everything just took off for me. I go in depth and talk about a lot of my experiences, things I’ve never shared about my life. It’s super personal. Hopefully it’ll inspire a lot of my fans to go after their goals.
When is that dropping?
Hopefully on March 6, but because we added “17” really last-minute — I literally just wrote it this month, I really wanted put this song on the EP — so it’s postponed a little bit, but it’s worth it! [laughs]
Being that you’re only 17, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself touring the world, just having fun. I just want to be happy and do music. Being able to support myself, my family and all of their dreams.
What can we expect from your L.A. show at the Troubadour? Also your 18th birthday!
It’s gonna be really lit! I’m turning 18 so it’s gonna be a show and my birthday celebration. I’m having a live band, it’s gonna be the whole shebang. Honestly, this is my first show I’ve ever done for myself. I’ve done shows before where I did probably three songs, but this is my first full set with all my music. I’m not opening for nobody. It’s gonna be a really amazing experience.
Talk about getting the co-sign from Missy Elliott on “Deep Down.”
That was cool! A fan was like, “This would sound so dope with Missy Elliott on it,” then one of the girls from TLC saw it. Missy was like, “Oh, this actually slaps.” That was lit because she’s an icon. She’s legit. To have someone like that dig your music is really awesome.
Being 17 in the music industry, what do you do to stay grounded?
Honestly, just focus, which is not hard for me because when you want to do something, you put your best effort into it. The fact that I’m able to do what I love, it’s not hard to do. At the same time, it is a lot of hard work, but I just work and hang out with family. I don’t go out or nothing. i got my boyfriend, so I just relax on my days off. Work, relax, work, you gotta have a good balance of all those.
What advice do you have for an inspiring Zhavia?
First, be yourself. Don’t let anyone change you or think you have to be somebody else to make it, because you as a person is what makes you unique. That’s what makes you stand out. Make sure you work hard and stay focused. Set goals for yourself and try to make them.
Zhavia plays at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6, at the Troubadour.