The Four's Stephanie Zelaya Battles for Stardom
Guatemala City native Stephanie Zelaya was practically destined for stardom since the moment she was born. Her maternal grandfather sparked her passion for singing at a young age, inspiring her to perform publicly for the first time at the tender age of five. After expanding her musical knowledge at Manhattan School of Music in New York, Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Instituto Vocal de Miguel Manzo in Barcelona, Zelaya was prepared to fulfill her singing career full time. In 2015, many of her songs--including "Traigo Un Corazón," "Bastaba Una Mirada" and "Andas En Mi Cabeza"--organically received millions of views and drastically increased her popularity in Guatemala. She self-released an album, “Es Un Viaje” in the same year that was funded by her fans and through crowdfunding. She reached her goal in just three days, ending the campaign with 213% raised. Since then, Zelaya has toured with prominent Latin vocalists such as Enrique Iglesias, Alejandro Fernández, and II Divo. Additionally, Zelaya has received numerous accolades: she was named “Artist of the Year” by the Societá Dante Alighieri, elected as one of the 50 young leaders in Iberoamerica, pronounced as one of the ten most influential women in her country and one of the most acclaimed artists for the recognized Pepsi campaign, “Guatemorfosis”. Now she has come to America to bring her songs to today’s Latin Pop charts, taking the first step by competing for a recording contract with Republic Records on Fox’s The Four: Battle for Stardom. Zelaya was chosen as one of the original members of “The Four,” but unfortunately only lasted two weeks on the series. However, she was chosen to compete on the comeback episode the week before the finale and fought for her seat back. Although she was defeated, the audience was blown away by her passionate, spirited rendition of “Bailamos” by Enrique Iglesias. Zelaya is not looking back and is ready to move forward in her career now that she has sung from her heart for millions of viewers. She discussed with me what’s coming up next for her, and why she has no regrets about her time on the show.
Has music always been your passion?
Yes. My grandfather introduced me to music at a young age, and from that moment on, I started to fall in love with it. It’s as if I always knew that I wanted to make music for the rest of my life.
What about music is so special to you?
I love the fact that I can connect with people’s hearts and make them feel something special through my music, no matter where they come from.
How does your native country of Guatemala impact the spirit of your songs?
In Guatemala, everyone is a hustler and hard-worker--people are filled with energy and light. I always try to project those values in the music I write by coming up with rhythms that make people happy. I also try to include empowering messages covered in love stories through my songs.
What, specifically, is the message you are trying to get across through your music?
I want to make people feel good when they listen to my music. The songs should inspire them to do what they love and pursue their dreams--after all, we only live once.
Why did you decide to bring your music from Guatemala to America?
I’ve always dreamed of becoming an international artist and touring the world with my music. Guatemala is a very small country that lacks a music industry, so even if you have talent, it’s very difficult to make it big as an artist. Bringing my music to America and opening doors for me here will not only bring me one step closer to my dream, but it will inspire other people in small countries to dream big. I want to prove to them that there are opportunities out there if you are willing to work hard and fight for them.
How did you come to be one of the original seat holders on FOX’s The Four: Battle for Stardom?
It was a big surprise for me. I got a call from the production team saying that they loved what I was doing as an independent Latin artist. They believed that going on the show would be an incredible opportunity for me to take my music to America. I was very excited when I found out so I decided to audition. I sent a couple of videos singing my original songs acapella, then I had to audition for the executives through Skype. Finally, they flew me to Los Angeles for the final audition in front of the music team and all the executive producers. That same day, I found out that I was going to be an original member of “The Four.”
Which judge did you connect with the most during your time on the show?
I connected immediately with [Sean] Diddy [Combs]. He gave me a standing ovation for my first performance and always had amazing feedback for me. I respect him a lot for everything he’s done in his career, so it was incredible to see that he liked what I’m doing as an artist. Also, even though Fergie is the host and not a judge, I really connected with her as well. She hugged me and said the most beautiful words to me backstage when I left the show.
What was the best piece of advice you received from the panel of judges?
They told me not to perform any song that I don’t feel 100% connected to. In the end, the most important thing is to always stay true to yourself, because that’s what will make the audience connect with you the most.
How did you pick out your outfits for the show? Did you work with stylists?
Being a member of “The Four” gives you access to work with an incredible styling crew that helps you decide what to wear for interviews and for the show. All of the outfits they picked were amazing and super fun to wear. For the comeback episode, though, I had to make my own outfit, since I wasn’t a member of “The Four” anymore. I decided to ask my grandmother for help and we designed and created a cool outfit. But getting it done on time was certainly an adventure...lol.
How did it feel to be a part of the comeback episode?
It felt amazing to hear that so many people from around the world voted for me to come back on the show. Being the only Latina called back, I knew that it was going to be tough. I needed to challenge an R&B artist in front of an audience that is not familiar with my genre of music. But I decided that no matter what, I was going to perform with all my heart for the people that supported and believed in me from the beginning.
Do you have any regrets from that episode?
Honestly, I don’t regret anything about my performance. I gave it my all and I think the audience really felt my passion through that song.
What’s coming up next in your career?
I just finished recording my new single, a powerful Latin song that I wrote after I left the show in the second episode. I’ll be shooting the music video in Los Angeles very soon, and I can’t wait to release it and share it with the world. I’m also starting to plan a potential tour in the U.S. and some places in Latin America to meet all my fans and perform live for them. Stay tuned on my social media for more info!