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By Lillian Boyd
When Ava August (Zaharek) was 8, she attended a concert with Katy Perry in a banana costume.
August had heard that fans in costume were more likely to be invited to the stage or to be granted exclusive backstage access.
âBut we were back in the nosebleed seats. There’s no way she saw us, âAugust said with a laugh.
After successfully reaching the last 12 rounds of season 19 of American Idol, it’s safe to say this time around August made its impression on Perry, who judges the nominees alongside Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. After being banned from the series before the last nine games, August, 15, says she has no regrets and is considering a music career.
Looking back, Dana Hills High School’s freshman music foundation began with her parents’ eclectic taste for music: honoring classics while embracing new sounds.
âIn fact, our family is not musical at allâ¦ but we are passionate about music,â said August’s mother, Amy Zaharek. âWe played reggae, we played old timers like Elvis Presley, Queen, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac. But current things tooâ¦ whatever our mood.
When August started looking for her own music to listen to, she turned to artists such as Adele, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, Julia Michaels and Shawn Mendes.
âIt was when she was about 8 years old and she decided to sing the national anthem at a youth basketball gameâ¦â Zaharek said. âThat’s when we heard it and really was like ‘Whoa. “
August remembers his nervousness before the gig – but that was part of what was thrilling about playing addicting.
âEver since I came into this world, I felt destined to do it,â August said. âI’m meant to sing and play for people. I really feel like this is what I’m supposed to do.
After her first public stays, August begged his mother to let her go to a vocal trainer, which helped refine and develop August as an artist. But Zaharek attributes August’s later artistic development to learning instruments.
âWe were on a family trip to Kauai, and I saw this shop with all these beautiful ukuleles. I went inside and spoke to the owner and told him I was a singer, âAugust said. “The owner tells me to go to her son’s music store on the island and sing for him.”
August, then 10, followed the woman’s instructions and walked into her son’s shop, Komoa Ukelele Company, and sang “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars and “Stay with Me” by Sam. Smith.
âThere, on site, they gave me my very first ukulele,â August said. âThat’s really how I started playing the ukulele. It boosted my writing and also stimulated my interest in learning other instruments. “
August returned to the hotel that day and wrote his first song, âMermaid Childâ. She continued to play the keyboard as well as the guitar, learning from local teachers including Donna Fidone and Barbie Aglio.
August continued to play concerts locally and even performed the national anthem at the time capsule ceremony held in Dana Point Harbor in 2019.
In the summer of 2020, August was spotted auditioning for American Idol, thanks to his social networks highlighting his song. She impressed the first panel of judges on Zoom and continued her hearings in San Diego in October.
âAt first I was a little worried. I had competed for The voice before, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do another reality show, âAugust said. âBut I thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’ All of my performances had been canceled due to COVID. I was singing for my walls at the time.
It was a decision August was happy to make. Come to think of it, one of the highlights of the show’s season was August’s opportunity to sing an original song.
âI decided to do an original song, and it was a huge risk, because making an original on the show can be very scary,â August said. âAnd so I stayed true to myself and sort of blocked everything around me. I stayed with my roots.
In the performance that aired on Monday, March 29, she decided to sing “Ghost of You,” written during the pandemic about eight months ago in her bedroom.
âI wrote the song about a strong emotion that I was feeling, just like losing someone you love a lot and they kind of leave you … by pulling you away from your life,â said August. “That’s what the song is about, how you left yourself with the ghost.”
August performed his song without a band or backup.
âIt was really meaningful. It means a lot to me and is very close to my heart, âAugust said. âSo I performed this song and gave it my all. I put everything there, I poured out my emotions.
August had also previously performed Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License” and teamed up with Josh Groban for a theatrical performance of Joni Mitchell’s generally unadorned “Both Sides Now”.
“Do you realize that you sing well beyond your age?” Richie said in response to his performance. “If that’s you at 15, then you with your driver’s license, you’re going to be terrifying.”
Perry, who may have missed August’s sight in his banana costume all those years ago, described August as an old soul.
âI think your soul says I’m coming back this time. I’m going to do it right, 100%, pass this life test and become this queen, âPerry said. “You better buckle up, honey, all these licenses are coming.”
August described this moment as surreal. âOverall it was a great experience. I have to show sides of myself that I don’t usually get the chance to show. Playing alongside Josh Groban I really have to push boundaries that I had never pushed before – this style was so different from anything I’ve done.
âI entered the competition wanting to share something that excites me, and that is singing. I wanted to meet people, open doors and create opportunities, âsaid August.
Since returning to Orange County, August has been more invigorated than ever to continue the momentum towards a career in singing. Whether it’s rehearsing, contacting industry contacts, or writing daily manifestations of a singing career, August says she remains focused on advancing her goals of singing on stage.
âI want to release an EP, I want a top song on Billboard, I want to win a Grammy, I want to perform at the Troubadour,â August said. “I’m going to make all of this happen.”
Lillian boyd Lillian Boyd is Editor-in-Chief of Picket Fence Media and City Editor of Dana Point Times. She received a journalism degree from Humboldt State University. His work experience includes interviews with people incarcerated in Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering US Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.
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