Idol Gone Country: Ayla Brown Takes the Nashville Road to New Album
When Ayla Brown toured Afghanistan, the audience knew her name and her story. They stood shoulder to shoulder in the relentless heat and dust to hear her sing. The soldiers proved gracious hosts; one group used their downtime to prepare a special welcome for the country singer. Proudly, they shared a photograph of entertainment mogul Simon Cowell taped to a small explosive device, then handed Ayla the detonator. Kaboom.
There is a bemused tone to Ayla’s voice as she tells this story; she confides that she never found Mr. Cowell intimidating. At six feet and seventeen years, the contestant towered over the American Idol judge and considered him a coach rather than an adversary. Her exit from the competition came too early, but Ayla remains grateful to the Idol machine. She credits her thirteenth place finish on the show’s 5th season for creating opportunities that she could never have imagined.
While Ayla hopes that her talent show success will open doors in Nashville, it may be her work ethic and competitive spirit that set her apart from hundreds of other country music hopefuls. Unlike her fellow contestants, Ayla could not leverage her television fame at the end of the 2006 Idol season. Her NCAA commitment wouldn’t allow it. A scholarship basketball player at Boston College, Ayla started most games during her senior season and graduated with a degree in communications. Only recently has she been able to devote her full attention to a career in music.
At a recent Boston seminar I watched Ayla put her college degree to good use. She was poised, confident and articulate as she described her music industry experience. She was succinct in her advice to aspiring singers: take every gig, sign every autograph, diversify and smile. Keep smiling.
Ayla herself has had good reason to beam during the last two years. She has been a special correspondent for the CBS Early Show, focusing on youth topics. One of her contributions was a story on “Songs of Love“, an organization that provides personalized songs to children and teens who face serious medical challenges. Ayla is now a national spokesperson for the non profit and has written three songs for and about children in need.
There have been several high profile appearances, including an opening gig for Darius Rucker on Independence Day 2011, and a performance of the national anthem with the Boston Pops. It was the latter performance that led to Ayla’s current job as the official anthem singer for the Philadelphia 76ers. At every home basketball game this season, Ayla provides a stirring live rendition of the national anthem against a recorded video of The Philadelphia Orchestra playing “The Star Spangled Banner”. That’s her job, the one that pays the bills and allows her to live in Nashville and pursue her passion for country music.
Passion doesn’t pay well, especially in Nashville. For local television appearances and full band shows, Ayla foots the bill, paying the band from her own pocket. She leaves town to make money, but is grateful to come home to Music City where she is making new friends, writing songs and learning to play the guitar. Ayla is a quick learner.
Her newly minted, self-titled country music album is currently available only at Philadelphia 76ers home games. Of the ten songs on the disc, Ayla co-wrote seven. She is the album’s producer and the music is released on her own independent label, Ambient Entertainment.
Most of the songs are about love, covering common themes of longing, loneliness, jealousy and that old cheatin’ heart. There are the requisite references to tobacco, whiskey and honky tonks. A pickup truck graces the album’s cover. Despite, or perhaps because of these cliches, the songs on Ayla Brown fit easily into the mainstream of country pop music with radio ready beats, solidly constructed song hooks and an equally solid vocal performance. Standout tracks include “Miss You Already” and “Goodbye for Good”. The latter finds an emphatic Ayla singing “This ain’t goodbye for a moment or two; this ain’t goodbye til the next time I start missin you. This time it means what it should, goodbye, goodbye for good.”
Ayla has a clear, pure tone that covers an impressive vocal range. There is no country twang, but at the lowest end of her register there is a faint huskiness that adds character . This is most apparent in the final cut, the acoustic “Can’t Make Up My Mind”. Here she debates whether to leave or stay in a relationship gone flat, and the emotion and vulnerability in her voice are convincing. Ayla does vulnerable well. It probably helps that the song was drawn from personal experience. Ayla admits to a few sniffles in the studio as the song was recorded. On a side note, this song was co-written with Nicolle Galyon, a current contestant on NBC’s The Voice talent competition.
Two songs that stray from the album’s theme include “Country Found Me”, an autobiographical tune that traces Ayla’s journey from Idol to Nashville, and “Beat by a Girl”, an in-your-face nod to girls who win at the boys’ games, sung with familiarity and with relish.
Following basketball season and when her schedule is less hectic, Ayla plans to release the new album to digital music outlets for distribution. The plans are not finalized, but she may just hop in a van and take Ayla Brown on the road. Touring would be just one more new experience in a year of firsts for the new Nashville resident.
At twenty-three, Ayla Brown has been a featured entertainer and reporter on national television, played on a Division 1 collegiate basketball team, started her own record label, taught herself to play guitar and written/recorded several original songs. She has also donated her time and talent to entertain United States military deployed overseas, and to children with medical illnesses. Blessed with a multitude of talents and a willingness to learn and work, Ayla could take her career in a number of directions. She’ll just need to make up her mind.
For more on Ayla Brown, visit her official website here. Follow Ayla on Twitter here, and on Facebook here. For a sneak peek at some of the songs included on her new album, watch the following UStream capture of Ayla’s recent appearance on The Billy Block Show, filmed at The Rutledge in Nashville and broadcast locally. The introductions conclude and the music begins at the 3:00 minute mark.
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