By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Candace Campana is, quite frankly, sick of fielding questions about her backup plan.
From the moment she snagged her first solo part in a third-grade Christmas concert, to the release of her very first album this week, the 22-year-old never even considered pursuing anything but music.
So, in 2009, when Campana got signed to Soul 1st Records, a mostly R&B label based in Birmingham, Ala., after an audition via telephone, she knew that years of singing the national anthem in dozens of football stadiums and basketball arenas had begun to pay off.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want it to happen so fast,’” said
Campana, a 2009 graduate of Struthers High School who has been singing since age 3 — and without the help of any formal voice training.
But it would take two more years for the aspiring country music artist to begin recording anything for the album, then another two before its somewhat unexpected release. She had no idea until just days beforehand.
“I woke up, and it was available to buy,” Campana said. “It was the most surreal thing. You feel famous. It was intense, insane and so crazy.”
The album, titled “Sweet,” is released under her stage name, Candy Campana, and it includes 10 songs, ranging from the dark and eerie “Midnight Lady,” to the silly and fun “Is It Hot In Here?” Many of the album’s songs tell a story, she said, adding that she often would bring photos with her into the Nashville, Tenn., studio to remember what she was feeling at that particular moment. It was a way for her to put even more emotion into her vocals.
After all, the ability to fill lyrics with emotion is what either makes or breaks a song, she said. If a singer can’t do that, the song simply won’t have any life.
“People won’t know what you’re feeling,” she said. “That’s the whole purpose of being a singer: connecting with the audience through song without even meeting them.”
It was especially important for Campana to connect with listeners on “Sweet,” because she didn’t write any of the album’s songs — although she did carefully select them from numerous song selections on demo CDs. She has, however, been writing lyrics for more than a decade and began also to write melodies when she started playing guitar, about two years ago.
Her next goal is to devote herself to music full time, which occasionally is a bit difficult as she’s also a student at Youngstown State University.
Next summer, though, she’ll graduate from YSU with a bachelor’s degree in general studies and a concentration in business, and she has her sights set on Nashville — a place, she said, that’s “like living in a bubble, and the bubble is music.” She’s all too aware of the competitiveness inherent in the music industry, but knows that having a thick skin and remaining grounded is key.
“Everyone has a guitar there. You’re like a grain of sand, but have to be sand of a different color,” Campana said. “You have to smile, even if they’re rude, even if they say ‘no,’ even if they say, ‘You’re terrible.’ You’ll hear 2,000 no’s before you hear half a yes.”
Her family — parents TJ and Debbie Campana, along with siblings Dalton, Brooke, Ty and Mandi — also have been an “awesome support system,” continuing to motivate her even when she feels like her dreams of country music stardom are so far away, she said.
TJ Campana said he can easily remember when Candace’s elementary school music teacher told him that his daughter was “blessed with a heck of a voice.”
He’s positive that even bigger things are just a little bit further ahead.
“It’s starting to work,” he said. “She’s got the first part of her dream done. It’s going to happen. It’s all falling into place right now. There’s nothing stopping her.”
Reggie McDaniel, CEO at Soul 1st Records, agreed, adding that Campana is an exceptionally talented singer and songwriter who undoubtedly will make a “big impact on music.”
Aside from her natural talent, though, one of her most significant assets is her family and their support, McDaniel said.
“They’ve been 100 percent behind her, pushing her and pushing me,” he said. “That kind of support and the support of her community is a good way to push her career to the forefront.”
Though Campana’s dreams involve making it big in the music industry, she also remains modest.
“Even if I sell only one album, that’s one person who thought it was good enough to buy,” she said. “God paved this path for me. As long as he continues paving it, I’m going to follow it.”