Try to keep up.
Try to keep up.
Text: Gretty Garcia
For months, I have heard Zhavia Ward's music through the grapevine. Whether it be on the TV screens of friends who religiously watched "The Four," from my sister, a longtime fan, introducing me to her "Candlelight" video, or after hours watching YouTube that led me to videos including one aptly titled "Zhavia: She's Only 16 But Wait What Happens When She Opens Her Mouth" (her "In My Feelings" is another must watch, though), I, like much of America, was hooked.
The fact of the matter is that Zhavia permeates uniqueness. Her stage presence is idiosyncratic - all consuming and demanding, yet intrinsic and effortless. She is the epitome of the phrase "do you."
And she does it well. Zhavia catapulted into the entertainment industry since the world was introduced to her on "The Four: Battle for Stardom," and she shows no signs of slowing down. The singer has appeared on the Deadpool 2 soundtrack alongside French Montana and Lil Pump, has scored a massive record deal with Sony Music, and has just released another single. "Deep Down," released today, is a seamless tribute to the past, present, and future. The manifestation of an iconic Etta James sampling along with Zhavia's own words and distinct voice remarkably captures the essence of self-reliance, self-identity, and self-efficacy.
V got the chance to speak to Zhavia herself about being on “The Four,” her music, and the exciting road ahead.
It is no surprise how unique of an artist you are because of the combination of your amazing voice, song choice, and ability to write your own music and make it come into fruition. You’ve mentioned how the OC Hit Factory has played a large part in helping you develop as an artist, especially in your career well before “The Four.” Can you tell us more about what the experience being in that environment was like as well as the lessons that you learned there that you still carry with you today?
Before I was at the OC hit factory I had never been in an actual studio or even sang into a recording mic so being able to grow in an environment like that was really helpful. I had access to everything I needed and got to work with all these different writers and collaborate with them and was able to learn from them and explore my sound. That development over a year really helped me discover my own style.
Auditioning for the show was almost serendipitous - you just happened to be in the studio that day, and, even then, you turned down the producers numerous times the opportunity to be on the show until you learned more about how fostering genuine creativity and novelty was at the root of the show. This is clearly a testament to how important originality is to you and it’s why it was so easy and seamless for so many people to love you on the show. Where did this outlook come from? How do you think it sets you apart in an industry that for so long played it safe in terms of original content and public figures?
What I’ve experienced and seen is that people who make it in the industry for the most part are original, different and stand out. Not only their voices and their music but also their look so it’s very important for you to figure out what sets you apart. When we had to do covers on the show it was important to make it my own and make people forget who even sang it in the first place.
A main part of the running narrative on the show was the deep appreciation you had for your family, who remained so supportive on the show - especially your mom, Bobbi Jo Black. How would you say your relationship with your family has progressed during the show and beyond it? Has the show in particular served as a vehicle that has brought you closer?
I have always been tight with my family and we’ve been through a lot together. As we go through life we all get closer and the show helped us be at peace with some issues every family goes through. I learned a lot from my mom while on "The Four," the show was a lot of hard work and could be frustrating at times and she would always calm me down and talk me through it.
In all of the music competition shows that I’ve seen, nothing is quite like “The Four,” even starting off with the online streaming platform it uses as opposed to being on a major network. The judges have a really dynamic energy, and it seems to extend to the rest of the show. Overall, what was your experience being on the show like? What was your favorite moment on the show whether it be something on camera or off?
My experience on the show was overall good. Like I said it, was a lot of hard work and was even harder for me cause I kept getting sick during the show - lost my voice and got a cold - so it was challenging in general. The panel was really cool because they were honest how they felt, good or bad, and that’s very important.
My favorite moment was when I sang “Killing Me Softly,” and as I finished the song I felt complete and happy and pushed through something that was really difficult and it could’ve went really bad. It was such a good feeling. I felt like I had already won in my heart.
That's amazing! The judges, especially towards the end, seemed to be very bonded with the contestants. They especially looked to you to seek out advice for other performers and were always honest and respected you. It was clear to see that there was definitely good synergy there with all 3 judges. How would you describe your relationship with each of them, and what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned from them?
My relationship is really good with all the judges. We all have a lot of respect for each other and appreciate what we all do and how hard we work - there’s really great vibes there.
The biggest thing I learned from the judges was to be myself 'cause as an artist that what’s people look for and that’s something I made sure to do throughout the show; they always reminded me of that.
Right after your final performance, you mentioned that you were ecstatic about immediately hitting the studio because you knew that your fans were waiting for new music. I would love to hear about the short term goals you have and the immediate things you want to do with all of the opportunities you have, but I also am curious as to what your long terms goals are in your career, which definitely seems full of endless possibilities.
Short term, I really want to get my EP out that I’ve been working hard on for the past 5 months. I want to have music out there that the fans can enjoy and listen to cause on the show I didn’t get to show them my actual music and me as an artist and what I have to say so that’s really important
Long term, I really just want to go on tour already and travel, perform and meet all my fans.
You were featured on the Deadpool 2 soundtrack alongside French Montana and Lil Pump in a song called “Welcome to the Party.” What was that experience like? Are there any other people you would love to work with?
It was such a cool experience. I actually sang French Montana’s “Unforgettable” in the first episode on the show, so it was really cool to work with him and going from performing one of his songs to actually doing a song with him.
Some people I really want to work with are Jessie J, Post Malone and Drake..and Ty Dolla $ign.
Who is your biggest musical inspiration?
Post malone, Jessie j….ahhh that’s hard all of them!
It is no surprise that during and after the show, your social media presence has been affected. Fans have constant access to the amazing things that you are doing and get a sneak peek into your personality, things you like, etc. In fact, after tweeting that you thought pigs were cute, a fan actually sent you one that you named Wilburrr the Icy Pig, who has his own incredible following. How would you say that social media has affected your relationship with your fans and to some aspects of your career?
Without social media, I wouldn’t be here. It expanded my career in ways that I couldn’t imagine. Being able to have this connection with my fans and respond to them within seconds of typing is really cool! I love to connect with them and share our appreciation for each other. It’s really awesome
Tell me about “Candlelight” and how do you feel about the response you've gotten?
It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It really surprised me how many views it’s gotten so far, and I’m glad that people connect with what I was trying to say. I wrote this song about 2 years ago and it was about a hard time I was going through about 5 years ago so this song has been a huge part of my life.
And your new song, titled “Deep Down,” not only clearly pays an homage to staying true to one’s self by listening to one’s own gut and instinct over what other people have to say, but it also pays homage to the iconic Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Ellington Jordan, who co-wrote the song with James, mentioned that the inspiration for the song came from sitting in a piano room and beginning to write after being tired of losing and being down after he was in prison. Meanwhile, Etta James has claimed the song as a sonic symbol of her feeling blind in her love life and personal endeavors at times. Given the rich history behind the song, what aspect about it made you choose it? How did you go about the process of changing it to suit your amazing rendition of it (which, by the way, you did so beautifully)? What are things that you want your fans to take from the single when they listen to it? Are there any lyrics that really speak to you? I know, for me, the line “Gravity just wants to be defied,” really resonated and made me connect with my personal take on the song.
Ah thank you! Swag is the producer who made the beat for me and he showed me a beat where he sampled Etta and I thought it was awesome because I’m all about classic music and meshing that together with my style and modern hip hop: it inspired me to write “Deep Down.” Even though that song has so many different meanings, even from the people who wrote it, I wanted to make it something totally different and used deep down to describe the feeling you have inside when you try to decide on something and you know what’s best for you and you have trust that.
And definitely “Gravity just wants to be defiiied”- you have to go against what everybody else wants for you and stand up for yourself and you know what’s best. Of course you’re not always right but trust your gut.
Agreed! Are there any other exciting projects that you can tell us about, or things you are excited about releasing?
"Deep Down" video is out now and stay tuned for new music, EP and tour !