She’s a vocal powerhouse who first caught the attention of audiences everywhere on season 10 of the hit show, “American Idol.” Despite being eliminated in a move that shocked both judges and fans, Pia Toscano’s career continues to rise even six years later. And if you ask the singer, she’ll tell you it was the best thing that could have happened.
“It was the moment that changed my life,” she says. “It opened up a world of opportunities, and while there have been bumps along the way, I’m grateful for them because I have a deeper love for what I do and a hunger to grow.”
From the age of 4, the little girl growing up in Howard Beach knew becoming a singer was her destiny. Vocalists like Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey were the inspirations behind Toscano’s passion. “Whenever I listened to them, I would say, ‘I need to become a singer like that,’” she says. “Seeing those incredible, empowering women on stage, I knew I was meant to do this.”
In the years since her “Idol” run, Toscano has made a name for herself—whether it’s recording her own music or performing alongside Jennifer Lopez in her Las Vegas residency—and her drive and determination know no boundaries. BELLA NYC sat down with the singer to talk about her career, overcoming fears and insecurities, and how her husband—professional dancer Jimmy R.O. Smith—has helped her flourish as an artist.
When did you start performing?
I started singing and taking dance lessons very young—but what I loved more than dancing was being on stage. I was a bit of a ham, but at some point I began to go through a shy period. So instead of the school choir, I joined the band and started playing the flute. My band teacher overheard me singing the National Anthem and asked if I would open up the assembly the next day. I was a nervous wreck, but I did it. From that point on, I sang at every assembly. Those performances are what helped me gain confidence. The support and encouragement from my teachers led me to audition for Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and that’s where I discovered my voice and my love for writing and performing.
“American Idol” set the stage for your career, but it was a bit of a journey to get there. Can you tell us more about that?
I started auditioning for the show when I was 16, but didn’t make it until I was 21 years old. The night I was eliminated, when I was standing on stage, I thought I was going to pass out. I just said to myself, “Is this the end of the road?” I worked so hard to get there and believed I would get further than I did. In that moment, I wondered if anyone would take me seriously after this—would they want to work with me? Because it was such a shock not only to me but everyone else, what it did was make people pay a little more attention. It was a scary moment but I wouldn’t change it for the world; it’s part of my story.
As a New Yorker and a performer, what’s it like to share the stage with Jennifer Lopez?
It’s been great! Since “Idol,” we’ve connected; she’s a Bronx girl, I’m a Queens girl, and we just get each other. She’s very nurturing and down to Earth and is one of my biggest cheerleaders. I look at Jennifer like a big sister who has helped me raise the bar. When I see her and tour with her in the Vegas residency, I’m inspired to push harder and do bigger things. Her career encompasses much more than singing and dancing, and I aspire to follow in her footsteps.
What do you miss most about living in NYC?
My family! I love the energy of the city, and my favorite places to go when I’m back home are La Villa, Vetro, New Park Pizza, and Old Country Bagels. In the city, I love to go to Tao, Serafina, The Dream Hotel, Bodega Negra, and—of course—Broadway shows.
Inspiration for your music has come through personal experiences; as someone who went through a period of shyness, was it difficult to open up?
Yes. I went through a difficult time accepting myself and opening up to people because I was scared of not being liked, letting people down, and being made fun of, and I didn’t want to show that side of myself. I put up a huge guard and even though I was fighting to have my voice heard, there was that side of me that didn’t want to let others see the real me.
It wasn’t until I recorded “Belong,” the title track for my EP, that I began to accept that there is no such thing as perfection. I realized that I won’t always get things right all the time and it’s OK. I’m not always going to look great, my weight may fluctuate, and there are things others might not like about me, but I am strong enough now to realize this is how God made me. I’m Italian, with strong features, and I’m proud of that. “Belong” is about me looking in the mirror and telling myself, “You’re OK,” flaws and all.
Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?
To believe in yourself and be your biggest fan, because I wasn’t for a long time.
How has your husband’s support helped you flourish as an artist?
I was scared to take the next step when I met Jimmy. I would make excuses and say, “Well I’m not this” and he would say, “If you want to be like that, you have to walk like that.” Be humble, of course, but you need to believe that you are that successful. He is my biggest champion and supporter.
What’s ahead for you as an artist?
This past summer, I partnered with Pepsi to do a mini-residency at Caesars Palace, and I would love to have my own show one day. My goal is to become an international recording artist and tour all over the world.
Tell us about your collaboration with the clothing brand, JLuxLabel.
I was already a fan of the brand and would reach out asking if I could wear pieces for different events and they’d always be gracious in sending me things. What I love about the collaboration is not only do I get to wear all of their amazing clothing, it’s also very much my style. It’s young, it’s hip, it’s fun—exactly who I am style-wise. Plus, the clothes cater to everybody; they’re made for women. It’s an empowering brand and the girls who created the company are outstanding women. You can shop my look under the #FallinforPia collection.
What have you learned so far on your journey, and what advice do you have for new artists?
It’s not going to happen overnight—and if it does, you probably won’t appreciate it. Work hard, take constructive criticism, and don’t let it beat you up— let it make you better. Take advice and mentorship if they’re being offered to you and never let anyone tell you no. The notion of thinking I can’t do something was never an option. You will never hear that word come out of my mouth; I was born to do this.
Finish this sentence: I am passionate about…
…learning, growing, and becoming a better person in all aspects of my life.
IG, Twitter, Facebook: @PiaToscano