Big Dreams For Saasha Small
● By Robert Frey
Beyond American IdolBy Hailey Hensgens Fleming
There’s no denying the Bayou State has produced several “greats” within the music industry. Call it the culture, musical heritage or strong sense-of-self, there’s something in the water in south Louisiana that’s brought forth musical legends like Louis Armstrong and Harry Connick Jr. Now, Saasha Small, the New Iberia native otherwise known as Aname Rose, hopes to one day be among them. Following the 19-year-old’s recent stint on American Idol, Small has broken onto the scene with big dreams for a career pursuing her passions in music performance.
Setting her sights on a music career was a natural decision for Small, who explains she has practically been singing since she could speak. “My parents have recordings of me when I was three years old singing a Bow Wow song,” she laughs. “Then, I would always sing this Usher song, ‘You Don’t Have to Call.’ He was probably my favorite artist,” she adds. It wasn’t long before Small’s parents, Kenyatta and Sheree, realized their daughter’s voice was truly something special. Small tells the story, “When I was about seven, my dad heard me singing in the office and I was singing ‘We Belong Together’ by Mariah Carey. He told my mom, ‘I think she kind of has a gift. She can hold a tune.’” For the next several years, Small’s parents invested in her talent by bringing her to vocal coaches for instruction and volunteering her for performances to help her truly mature and develop her gift.
Although you may think a singer naturally loves the spotlight, it proved to be an acquired taste for Small, despite the fact she lived most of her childhood in it. With her mom serving as a teacher in her school and dad as a principal, Saasha was as a well-known and well-liked student. However, it took her some time to feel comfortable enough to showcase her talents there. “At first I just didn’t want to. I was so nervous,” she explains. “It was just something I did on the side or maybe at church, but eventually I started singing in school and I developed a mini-career there.”
Small took Gifted Choir and Acting classes throughout middle and high school and was often featured singing the National Anthem at sporting events or for different school programs. She couldn’t be contained for long, however, and began looking for avenues to perform outside the school. “I first started out with Louisiana Kids. That’s where I got comfortable with performing,” she states. Opportunities arose from that exposure and soon Small began booking stand-alone gigs and even landed a role in the 2015 film, “He Watches Over Me,” starring Golden Brooks and Tommy Ford. It was evident: her hobby and her passion was music and Small was determined to chase after it with everything she had.
Opportunity knocked last fall when Small won KATC3’s Front of the Line Pass competition, which allowed her to bypass the line at the New Orleans American Idol Auditions. She didn’t make it through the audition, but was not going to take “no” for an answer. Small explains, “The next month, they [KATC3] had another competition, but this one was for a silver ticket. With a silver ticket, you get to audition for the executive producers in Savannah, Ga.” Small was one of 10 vying for the opportunity. She snagged it once again and this time they passed her through to perform in front of the celebrity judges.
Accompanied by her Dad and Aunt, Small went from one audition to the next with little time to process what was ahead. “I had no idea I was going to be seeing them [celebrity judges] that day! I don’t think I was mentally prepared for that, but at least I had my songs prepared,” she says. Small entered the room a ball of nerves, but was somewhat set at ease with warm comments from the judges. Lionel Richie complimented her hair, but Katy Perry’s comments took the cake. “The first thing Katy Perry told me was, ‘Hi! Oh my God! You’re gorgeous!’” tells Small. “I thought, ‘I don’t care what happens next. She just told me I was pretty and I think that’s all I need!’” she laughs.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as they began and Small was put to the test being asked to sing three separate times. Although commending her vocal ability, she explains judges Katy Perry and Lionel Richie were concerned about her performance, “He [Richie] was explaining that I needed to connect with the music more and I do understand that. It’s something I’ve always struggled with.” She continues, “I’ve always had a pretty good voice, but I’ve never allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to let everyone know how I feel.” Nevertheless, Small was given a golden ticket and sent through to Hollywood. “I remember leaving and I was super excited but I was also kind of sad because I really wanted three yeses and I only got 2,” Small recounts. “And, it was because of something I have been working on for a long time - my stage presence.”
Small spent the next three months sharpening her technique as well as focusing on her stage presence and felt ready to take on the next round of auditions. “By the time Hollywood week came, I was feeling much better and I could just tell my mindset was in a better place,” she says. Her mindset didn’t dull the competition, however, as more than 100 talented contestants spent the week performing multiple times for the judges, both alone and in groups. “The whole week was pretty rough. I have to admit it. It was all early mornings and late nights,” she recounts.
Despite making the Top 70 and a very successful group performance, which was televised, Small didn’t make the final cut. “I’ll admit it. I did cry. I just knew I was so close and I wanted to make it through Hollywood week. I didn’t care what happened after. I just wanted to make it through,” she remembers. Although a disappointing outcome, Small left the negativity behind and focused on the lessons learned. “Always be confident in yourself and your talent,” she says. “That was something I struggled with for a while and going through that process showed me that confidence is so important in anything you do.”
Building confidence as well as a career is the next step for this young vocalist. Although a Music Industry Studies major at Loyola University in New Orleans, Small chose to take a semester off to focus on American Idol and is now using her time to focus on her music. “I was discouraged at first, but after that I started doing what I’m doing now. I got back into guitar and piano and I made myself a game plan,” she explains. “I’ll be 20 this year and I don’t want to not have a job for the rest of my life,” she jokes. “I really want to start my career as soon as possible.”
There’s no question that the extra attention from her segment on American Idol has certainly served as a boost. “People around here have been so supportive of me and, even after I got eliminated, they still feel the same way,” Small admits. “They always tell me to keep going and that I’m going to make it.” Quitting is not a concern as Small continues to pursue every opportunity presented to her. “I think I’m going to audition for some more shows and I’m also doing some acting right now,” she says. She’s also considering a transfer when she returns to school. “L.A. is calling me,” she confesses. “I’ve always wanted to go there but it’s like I should take the opportunity and go now. I’m not getting any younger!”
Small dreams of the day when she can live in Los Angeles, doing what she loves, performing her music as part of the emerging genre, Alternative R&B, led by artists like Sabrina Claudio. “It’s just what I want to do,” she explains. “I’m going to be an artist, not just to make music, but to deliver messages to people who need them. There’s a lot going on and there are a lot of people who need help and I want to be there for them,” Like a true artist, fame has never been the ultimate goal for Small who says becoming the next Beyonce is not what she’s after. “I just want to be able to make music for the rest of my life and be comfortable,” she says. “...and have an Audi. Everything else can be normal,” she adds with a laugh.