Five years ago, country music singer/songwriter Sarah Ross appeared on season twelve of American Idol. A season that each week brought multiple Real Housewives-esque battles between one-season diva judges, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. However, one thing that both icons could agree with was that Sarah Ross had major singing chops and was a talent that needed a golden ticket to Hollywood. This prompted Mariah Carey to give the ultimate diva-praise by declaring Ross had a “beautiful singing voice.” Heck, the young New Jersey-born singer even performed a coveted second audition song and choose to rap a Nicki Minaj song back to Minaj herself. Not too shabby for a girl who was, at the time, unsure if she wanted to become a professional singer.
Even though Ross’ Idol journey did not end with being crowned the winner, the experience on the show led to a record contract, a move to Nashville and now finally the release of her bold, brash and woman-empowerment latest album, Nervous Breakdown.
AXS spoke with this Jersey girl from her transplanted city of Nashville to talk about her much anticipated new release, as well as pushing the boundaries of country music, and being dubbed the human “iPod shuffle” by another modern-day country legend.
AXS: Your bio opens with, “If you looked up the word ‘surprise’ in the dictionary you’d find a picture of Sarah Ross.” What would we be surprised with Sarah Ross?
Sarah Ross: When I first moved to Nashville and first signed with my record label Average Joe’s I kind of went the Colt Ford route (country rapper) mixing singing and rapping. That's what I did on American Idol, and Keith Urban called me an "iPod shuffle." I just love so many genres of music, and it's very hard for me to stick to one kind of genre when I am creating music. I'm kind of all over the place (laughs). I'm not your typical country artist.
AXS: Don’t you feel that country music boundaries have expanded over the last several years and an artist can be their true self?
SR: Oh, one hundred percent! I always think country music will have its same roots, but it's constantly changing and shapeshifting. Just two years ago you would not have heard some of the music that's played on country music radio today, but it's continuing to change and evolve. Our millennial generation is always changing and pushing boundaries.
AXS: Speaking of American Idol, when you appeared a few years back not only did Mariah Carey give you high praise, you also pulled out a second tune and rapped “Super Bass” back to Nicki Minaj at your audition. What have you learned as a singer and the business in the last 5 years since appearing on the show?
SR: I always tell people when I had that moment on Idol, where these amazing women are giving me such high praise that I really needed a diaper (laughs). Appearing on the show and hearing the great feedback really gave me the confidence to continue my own music, create my own music and keep going in the business. It’s what brought me to Nashville. I literally had people from around the world reach out to me with support after Idol, so that has always kept me going and singing.
AXS: Now, your new EP Nervous Breakdown is about to drop and has been described as an extraordinary honest album of which you let the darker side of your imagination into the light. How did you weave in those themes on this album?
SR: This record really lets me show what kind of music I was into. I love powerful women singer/songwriters like Miranda Lambert, Gretchen Wilson, and Kacey Musgraves. Women that push boundaries. I want to be that new girl that pushes those boundaries and is able to do that with my music. This record lets me get my emotions together, as I went through different phases in my life this past year. I think it really speaks on this whole record.
AXS: The EP opens with an empowering title track, "Nervous Breakdown" that was co-written by a few of Nashville's heavy-hitting songwriters Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves, Trevor Rosen, Brandy Clark.
SR: When they first played the song for me, I knew it was special. Two days later I had a meeting with some of the amazing women songwriters from Chicks With Hits, and they wanted to play me the same song. Right there I knew that song had to be mine. Recording a song like this, written by these powerhouse writers feels really bad-ass, I'm not gonna lie.
Sarah Ross’new EP, Nervous Breakdown is out now and will soon hit the road in support of the record.