Countless before have tried and failed – but Snoop Dogg and Chuck Harmony had no problem welcoming the 19-year-old Australian Idol runner-up from Darwin into the R&B fold. Anna Tsekouras talks growing up and getting dirty with Jessica Mauboy.
You recently returned from recording in the US. What did you think of LA?
I love it over there. I've been there a few times, but this time around I was there for four months, working on this album. The amazing thing was being able to work with producers and artists that are today's music and were some of my idols growing up. Getting the chance to be personal with them and making music with them was incredible.
Can you name-drop some of those idols?
I've always looked up to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey for their outstanding vocal performances. I've always been inspired by them. I got to work with Harvey Mason Jr, who produces a lot of their stuff. I got to be up close with him and write amazing music. We wrote a song together called "Fight for You" and "Here for Me" and they're both on the album (Get 'Em Girls). I was really inspired by his work. He plays the piano so well. I had fun making melodies and hooks with him.
When does it hit you that you're working alongside some of music's big movers and shakers?
I think it's half way through doing the song. When I get into the studio, it's not about trying to get a good song, it's about whatever comes naturally. I felt with this album I was able to take control, because I was pretty much by myself writing the album over there, making new friends. It was almost like going to high school for the first time and learning all these new things (laughs). I learnt a lot of different ways of recording and being in the booth and thinking, "Do I write the melody first, or do I write the lyrics first?" Just seeing how they worked really interested me. It's so totally different to over here.
What was so different?
So we would start around 9pm and wouldn't finish until the next morning. I'd never done that before, apart from going out with the girlfriends! It was almost like being in a club because we'd be in a room playing loud music and putting everything out there. It was like a vocal dance, experimenting and playing around with the music.
Who else did you work with?
I remember working with Chuck Harmony, who's written a lot for Rihanna. We wrote a song with Evan Bogart, who wrote "If I Was A Boy" for Beyoncé, and he's just amazing. You don't expect this guy with googly glasses and curly hair to write such emotional songs. He came in the door and I was like, "Alright, so what are we going to write today?" He's so full of passion and emotions. We wrote a song called "Scariest Part", and I got the inspiration also from the Freddy Krueger films. At the time, they were just showing the trailers, so I wanted to write a song that makes you terrified in a good way. I think everyone goes through that when you just want to close your eyes and count for a few seconds and then open your eyes and think, "Did it happen?" I'd never been so open before and we really put everything on the table. I remember doing this sort of "Ave Maria" operatic type thing and it worked! It was like, "Wow! I can't believe I just did that." He really brought something out of me that I'd never thought I could get out.
How does it feel to be so open?
It's so good. I think from that point on I set out how I wanted it to be. With the first album, I was pretty much just following what everyone else was doing rather than putting myself first and doing things they way I wanted.
Did you do anything differently on this album?
I think the US made it different just because of the environment. Going out of the country was like a whole other level. I remember everyone hating Idol, saying "It’s fake," and "No-one gets anywhere". It really bothered me for a while. I was like, "You know what, I'm going to change that. I'm not going to stop, I'm going to do whatever I have to do, even if I have to go the States and just do it."
I got the courage, as much as I was shit scared, I said to myself, "If I Britney can do it, and mime and look sexy on stage, I'm sure that I can go into the studio, put my heart into whatever song comes out and just give it. And I did. I think every studio time I gave my best performance and I always think I did it in a humble way. Despite the fact that these people had worked with Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé or Usher, I was like "This is so cool, but I'm going to step up that level and do it like they do it." It was a life-changing experience.
What do you think they liked about you so much?
They were shocked that I was an Australian artist! They've had so many people who come in and they get all these demo tapes from people all around the world. I felt I was just another artist to them and no different to anything they've seen. There was one point I walked in with my Been Waiting album and I met Jazze Pha - he pretty much made Ciara and the sound of Ciara. This was in Atlanta and the culture is very strong hip-hop and R&B. They were like "So, this is pop?" And I'm like "Huh?" They said, "So you like pop music?" I'm like, "Yeah...but I like R&B music just like on the album." But they just kept saying that it was pop! That was one of the big differences. The music I was playing was pop to them. But over here in Australia, we're still new and we're still growing into the R&B thing. To Australians my music was R&B. It was a spin-out. To them R&B is Missy Elliott! All that hardcore stuff.
Did the experience change you?
If I heard something I would speak out. LA made me more confident. It didn't change me totally, just in a musical sense. It gave me broader view of everything and there's heaps of room over there for different artists, as long as you can keep to what you're doing and keep the build of that artistry. I'm hoping we can go over there. We want to leak the song and then gradually build the music over there.
What set you apart from all those other artists whose demos were rejected?
I think it was just having the belief in my own music. I went into the studio feeling strong and I was dedicated and committed to what I wanted my sound to be. They'd never worked with an Australian artist before, so the culture was different. I think that's what they loved. They've heard so many different things about Australia, and they want to come over here, but never have, so it was really nice to be able to give a little gift and a bit of culture they've never experienced.
So you're kind of like an ambassador for us?
Yeah, it was kind of like that. They wanted to know so much more. They would ask me to say the word "No". And they'd roll around laughing about how it sounded like I was saying "Noi", and I would say "No, it's not!" and they'd laugh and mock me and copy the things I'd say (laughs).
Jess with Snoop Doog
So what was it like working with Snoop Dogg?
It was incredible. I've never met someone so smart and intelligent and as much as he smokes weed, he's a businessman and he keeps that controlled. He is a people person. Apparently when he came to do the video shoot he had a 20-person entourage that he didn't even know! He just met all these people on the way to doing the video!. I was talking to him and said "So, do you know all these people?" and he was all like, "Nah man, I just met them on the way." He's so open, I think I found that he enjoys seeing people grow and over the years he's been through so much. You see his signature all over him. Apart from the rapping, he has this signature bell that he has in a lot of his songs. I'm just in love with everything he does.
Who made you feel most womanly?
Wyann Chain. He's incredible, just fabulous. I really feel comfortable in my own skin and it inspired me. The different clothes he introduced me to and focusing on the hourglass look - things that really shaped my body. It’s really nice to feel like that at the same time because I'm always in the spotlight. I'm a big Jennifer Lopez fan, and he styles a lot of her stuff. The week before the shoot he was styling for her, and he had a schedule for her and he pulled everything out. He wanted me to see that she was really normal and he said, "You know who you remind me of? You remind of Jennifer Lopez". I said "No I don't, that's far off. Don't even say that to me". He just replied saying, "You're just crazy, you know, you'll try anything, you'll try it on and if it doesn't work you'll say it straight." He's very inspiring and I'll be working with him a lot. I can't wait!
Who would you compare yourself to or who would you like to be compared to?
I've always been a big fan of Mariah Carey. I think it's her personality. As much as she has an amazing voice, she has a crazy personality and I love the fact that she’s not afraid to hide that. Over the years, she's put on weight and she doesn't care. She'll still wear what she thinks looks great on her. I love it. I just laugh. That's where her personality comes out, she just makes me laugh. It's great.
Was there any pressure to look a certain way in LA?
There was a little bit. I didn't have too much trouble but I think the more I went in there being myself and dressing the way I felt comfortable, I think they enjoyed that more. I think today you get a lot of young artists and walk in there thinking they have everything. I think that's also one of the things that refreshed them; I walked in with pride but also tried to be really humble about what I had and if it was to go tomorrow. I've always followed "if it's meant to be, it's meant to be". I try to live every day with humbleness.
How do you maintain that humbleness?
I still have the same friends, I try and keep up and catch up with them. Obviously my boyfriend, my mum and dad, my sisters help. They're always reminding me of who I am. My dad always says, "Remember the word 'respect'."
Did they travel with you to the US with you?
No, they didn't. I was on my own. So I alone for the whole four months. It was the worst, but at the same time great, because I was experience things I'd never had in my life and I think that opportunity was incredible.
How do you hope audiences are going to respond to the new album?
I hope they'll be dancing to it because it's very much about the empowerment of women and the domination of women. I think every woman needs the motivation and it's that sort of album. Every track says something about a woman's needs. I tried to pick songs people would love to hear and chant to.
Best Song on My iPod:
"Do You Wanna Get Funky" by C&C Music Factory.
Best lesson I learnt the hard way:
(Laughs). I think I learnt about that in studio time. Just walking in there, I felt I really found myself. Initially, I cared too much what other people thought. I've since learnt to relax.
Best advice I've been given:
My dad's advice to be respectful always.
Best romantic moment:
I think every moment has been romantic. I don't get to see my boyfriend that often so every time I do see him is a really great moment.
Is he in the music industry?
No, he's not. He's the total opposite in fact. He works for the Darwin City Council, so when I go back home he's very masculine. He likes to fish, hunt, he's my crocodile hunter, Crocodile Dundee! (Bursts into a fit of giggles).
Best item in my wardrobe:
Ooooh...My Jimmy Choos. I have a black pair of suede Jimmy Choos. I've only worn them once to a Sony event. The heels have these arrow plates in a pattern. There's gold, black and white and they're amazing!
Best review I've received:
I think the best thing is hearing that I've grown up and appearing like a woman. I like to hear that.
Do you feel more like a woman?
Honestly, I do. I think over the past months I've grown up really quickly.