Written By: Jayme Face
We first saw Alex Nester on American Idol now we’re catching up with her about her latest projects, how she is using her talents to help others and what she thinks about American Idol’s comeback!
upfrontNY: You became well-known on American Idol. What is it like being an artist in a competitive atmosphere like that?
Alex Nester: It’s interesting because being an artist is always a competitive atmosphere. It always is and it always isn’t because art itself is not competitive it’s about growth and change. However, in a competition like that I wouldn’t say it’s as much competitive as it is a good learning experience. You learn from so many people there. You hear somebody else and everybody has different things to offer; everybody has different strengths. Instead of competing against each other we befriended each other and wanted to kind of grow together. “What do you know that I don’t know, I want to learn that. Oh, hey this is a cool trick that I learned it could help you too.” So, I was really blessed to be able to work with a lot of really cool people. As a competition itself it gets super stressful, but thankfully we were all there because we all love singing and we all love music. It was competitive, but at the same time it was a good hub for artists to get to know each other.
upfrontNY: You are a cancer survivor and are now using your experiences and your talents to help others in similar situations by writing fight songs for them, how did this idea come about?
Alex Nester: I’ve always written songs for people. It started with my uncle a bunch of years ago. He had an autoimmune disease and I wanted to write him a song because I felt like that was important. I was working with my mentor at the time, Robby Robinson, he is a good friend. I told him I wanted to write this song for my uncle so we started laying it down. We basically thought he wasn’t going to make it so a lot of my lyrics were things like I’ll remember you. I started recording that and it was weird, it just didn’t feel right. It felt like I was eulogizing him and he wasn’t even gone yet and so I decided I needed to rewrite. I went back in the studio and I rewrote all the lyrics from being more I will remember you to saying how much he meant to me and always when I think of you I smile. It was something positive, something encouraging. I remember when I took that song to him he was in bad shape and I took it in the house, I gave it to him and my aunt, they played it while I went outside. I remember he was in a wheelchair at the time and when my aunt brought him back outside it felt different. It’s so weird, it felt different like he had fight back in him and he came through that experience. We had him for another ten years, healthy and good. I feel like it’s such an important thing and it’s the way that I can help encourage. The most heartfelt way for me to say something to someone is through a song. I’ve written songs for friends when they get married. I’ve written songs for people who are fighting diseases and cancer. I’ve written songs for my husband, for my family, my oncologist, who recently passed. It’s my way of showing someone I love and care about them. They inspire me too. Jamie’s fight song “I Am More”, she was in such rough shape. She was fighting a tremendously, hard uphill battle and I knew music was so important to her. I know that music empowered her and it was a source of power and comfort for her. I wanted her to have her own fight song, something that she could sing at top of her lungs. “I Am More”, it’s an affirmation. A fight song is the best way to describe it and I wanted her to have one that was her own. By writing a song for her I wanted her to know just how important she was to a lot of people. She needed a boost, she needed some strength, she needed some holding up, she needed some help, she need some courage and the best way that I knew how to help her find that was through song.
upfrontNY: Can you tell us about your style of music and has writing fight songs influenced your style?
Alex Nester: I’m a soul singer, I’ve always been a soul singer. My style is soul, R&B, blues, funk. I grew up in the studio doing albums for Concordia Publishing House. They have bible camps for kids over the summer, it’s a week-long program, and every year they have a different album with a different theme. What was great was I did that album for Concordia for 12 years. It was just this mish mosh of different styles, like one song would be hip hop and the next song would be country and the next song would be polka. So, I really got to be immersed in a bunch of different styles which was a great learning experience. It was a great classroom to have, but from there I always gravitated towards soul. My mom would always play Motown in the car, Earth Wind and Fire, blues, funk and my dad would always play jazz. So, I really got a lot from those worlds and my sound kind of melded into soul, occasionally there are rock elements to it. I’m a soul singer and writing songs for people I’ve noticed that it doesn’t necessarily influence my style, but it helps to hone my style. When I start writing a song whether it’s something I came up with on the piano or it’s a lyric or a melodic idea I came up with in my head, I want them to come to fruition. I want what’s best for each song. So, if I’m writing and it’s going in a certain direction and it’s going really well in that direction- like say it’s this really bluesy ballad then I’m going to go in that direction and it’s going to become that really bluesy ballad because that’s the song; that’s what feels right. Other times I’ll have an idea in my head, I’ll start writing it and it just doesn’t feel right. I’ll have to shift the focus. Each song is its own story; it’s its own entity. I want to make sure each entity gets the full treatment for what it needs to be.
upfrontNY: You recently hosted the Burn It Down Gala, can you tell us more about that event?
Alex Nester: This year was so much fun! So much work, but so much fun. Back in 2011 is when I was coming up on my tenth anniversary for being declared cancer free. I knew I wanted to have a party, but because I had so much love and so much help from so many people I decided it should be a benefit concert. We thought let’s give back. It’ll be fun with music, it’s me, it’ll be a celebration and at the same time we can also do some good as well. I called it #BurnItDownToRiseAboveIt. At the time I thought everyone would either think I was really cool and on the edge for writing things with hashtags or they’d think I was an idiot, but either way it might get some attention. So, that first year we raised over $10,000 which was incredible for this grassroots project. It was me, two other volunteers, my parents, my husband, and we just had this idea to do this thing and we had no idea if people were going to show up, if they were going to buy tickets, if they were going to bid on auction items, if we would come away with any money. We had no idea, but we had to just put it out in the world and try. Thankfully, we were able to do it and then every other year we’ve hosted one. This year was our fourth one. This year I was so happy to do it. We broke our record; every year we raised about $10,000 and this year we were able to raise $15,600. Not only did we surpass our total, we shattered it. It was a great night. We had a bunch of different bands play. I played a bunch of original tunes. All of the proceeds went to the Marcelle Erian Cancer Foundation, which was formed by my Oncologist, in honor of his mother who passed when he was just six years old. She died of breast cancer and as a child he would go with his mother to all of her doctors’ appointments and all of her treatments, trying to understand and learn and try to figure out how to heal his mother. After she passed he kept on that path and became an incredible doctor, brilliant oncologist and a tremendous man. He formed the foundation, it’s completely volunteer run. Every penny from the foundation goes where it needs to go to. We’re small, but we’re mighty. We provide services where insurance falls short. A lot of times, with a cancer diagnosis, insurance will pay for your chemo, but they won’t pay for your anti-nausea meds. Maybe you need a wig or maybe you need a wheelchair, maybe you need a taxi service to and from your treatments because you’re too weak to drive – there are so many different things that go into it. Wherever we see a need we do our best to pay for it no matter what it is. That’s why Burn It Down supports the Marcelle Erian Cancer Foundation. I am the president of the foundation, I took over after my oncologist passed back in May. It’s super unfair. He retired, moved back to England and then found out he had a very rare form of cancer himself. It was a very unfair turn of events. He saved lives from cancer and then it took his. So, I really wanted this event to be a big one and do good things in his name and continue this foundation and continue this concert. Using music to help other people and help inspire is such a powerful entity. So, we will do another one in two years. The foundation as well as the event is all volunteer run. Everyone gave their time and their talents and we did not recoup any money from that.
upfrontNY: How can people get involved if they want to volunteer or donate?
Alex Nester: They can always check us out. We have a website burnitdown.info with information about the show and how they can get involved. We have a Facebook page as well and so does the foundation, marcelleeriancancerfoundation.org.
upfrontNY: Your husband was your boyfriend of only four months when you were diagnosed with cancer and stuck by your side through the whole thing, how did he help you through your journey and how can we all help loved ones in that situation?
Alex Nester: It’s hard. I’ve been on both sides of cancer. It’s not easy from any standpoint. My husband and I had been dating for four months and I got really sick. I didn’t just get a phone call telling me I had cancer, I wound up in the emergency room. For fifteen days they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. It was bad and very, very scary. People had asked my husband years later what made you stay with her. Many sixteen year olds would turn tail and run. It’s a really hard thing to deal with at any age, let alone when you’re a teenager. He said no matter what I wasn’t going to leave my friend. He has a good heart and his parents raised him well. He is a loving, caring individual and I was lucky to have that. My parents, my family, everyone was incredibly supportive. Being on the other side of it, seeing someone you love going through it, you have to realize that it’s just something you have to do. If you love somebody this is what you sign up for. You don’t just sign up for the good times. You sign up for the scary times, the bad times, the times when you have to be stronger than you think you can be. I’ve seen my friend Jamie fight for her life. It was so hard for me to watch her go through that, but if I walked out of the room and didn’t sit with her and talk with her and be with her and support her, it just makes her journey that much harder. We all have that capacity to care for someone else. It may be really scary and really hard, but I was actually with Jamie when she passed. To be honest I felt honored to have been with her. A much as it hurts I feel honored having been a small part of comforting her at the very end. For anybody who is going through it just be strong. It may be long, but it won’t be forever and just hold onto that love. Love can make you do incredible things and give you strength you never knew you had. That being said, I always tell anybody who is going through something or with somebody who is going through something if you need to reach out reach out. I’ve been on both sides and if there is anything I can do or say to make that journey a little easier I’m there because Lord knows I wouldn’t be here without the support of the people who helped and took care of me. If you’re going through this you’re not alone.
upfrontNY: You have also gone on tour with Tito Jackson and Carlos Santana, what have you learned from working with such icons?
Alex Nester: My first gig on the road was with Tito for a hundred thousand people for New Year’s Eve in Atlanta and it was insane. Every time singing with Carlos I was so inspired. I’m just so inspired how music can touch people. It sounds so cliché, but it’s so true. Being able to sing and get my voice to so many people, it’s such an incredible tool and a blessing. I learned to be grateful or rather it reinforced what I already knew to be grateful. I get to go out and whether I sing for three people or three thousand people I get to sing for a living, I get to make music. It touches people and it makes people happy and it gives them strength; it gives them a source of positivity. That is such a blessing. I think in the music business we get really caught up in trying to be successful in trying to get to the next stage. It’s this constant strive for “success”, but success is every time I get to open my mouth and sing. I’m doing what I love. I am very thankful for that. That and better time management because I’m always running late. Carlos is always a half an hour early and I’m always a half an hour late.
upfrontNY: American Idol is coming back, will you be watching?
Alex Nester: If I have a T.V. and I’m home because I rarely watch T.V. when I’m on the road. I may tune in especially if I hear a friend is on it, but I don’t want to get too wrapped up in it because those shows can take over your life. My DVR is so filled, binge watching has completely change the game . It will be interesting to see what they do when they revamp it because they are not going to come back the same. It will be interesting to see how they reinvent themselves.
upfrontNY: Is there anything you’d like to let our readers know?
Alex Nester: New music video is out for “I Am More” and the single is available on iTunes. I am back in the studio working on a new album and I am extremely excited. I feel that a lot of my stuff in the past was very heavy. I feel like I need to let some things go and be thankful and happy and enjoy what I am doing. I am focusing on making music that makes people smile and that makes me smile. I’m excited to go into new directions. I’ll also be out on the east coast around the end of September through October 2nd so check out my website alexnester.com.