Interview: Us The Duo talks risk-taking 'America's Got Talent' audition and staying connected to fans
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Husband and wife indie-folk singer-songwriters Us The Duo have followed their hearts (which are adorably devoted to each other) along every step of the long and winding indie music road which led them to their dynamic “America’s Got Talent” audition. Michael and Carissa Alvarado (aka Us The Duo) have an easy artistic camaraderie and vibrant onstage chemistry which was immediately apparent as they faced judges Mel B, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Simon Cowell to perform for them (and the entire AGT studio and nationwide viewing audience) and anxiously await their fate.

Though they have played on stages all over the world, amassed over 100 million streams of their music and even toured with Pentatonix, the stakes were higher than they’ve ever been with this performance. This time, the cute and charismatic couple hoped an AGT victory would ultimately help them secure a solid future for an expanding family as they pursued their desire to have their first child.

The first-ever artists to be signed to a major label (Republic Records) from now-defunct social media hub Vine, took a huge risk by singing their wedding song in their AGT audition. They wrote the original, up-tempo tune called “No Matter Where You Are” as wedding vows and the song was notably featured in the Golden Globe-nominated 2014 animated film “The Book of Life.” Like many indie artists, Us The Duo eventually struck out on their own sans label. While following an independent path can bring many rewards, it can also carry some uncertainties.

“We went through the label route and came out of it and any independent musician’s success is based on how active you are, whether it’s on social media or on the road and all these things,”
 Michael told AXS via phone in a recent exclusive Us The Duo interview. “When the baby comes, I’ve never experienced it before, but, I imagine we’re going to have to become inactive for quite some time just to focus on that process; raising a child and getting everything in order. That idea scared us.”

“We were looking for a way to get a little bit more opportunity, so we could create a better life for our future child,” he explained. “So we wouldn’t have to stress and worry and ride those ups and downs of an independent artist. AGT seemed as if it would be the perfect opportunity to grow that. We’ve played on a lot of stages. But, no stage has ever been as big and as widely watched as ‘America’s Got Talent.’ So far, it’s been nothing but amazing. The staff, the producers, the contestants--it’s just a good positive energy all the way around and there’s so much talent we’re happy to be surrounded by.”

The AGT audience enthusiastically embraced UTD and was up on its feet dancing to the catchy, romantic tune. Surprisingly, however, the judges’ opinions were divided. Howie didn’t connect with the song and dubbed it "too coffee house” while Simon felt the chorus was good. Overall, they earned three yeses to pass them through to the next round. Now blazing their own musical path, the Billboard-charting indie duo was thrilled to move one step closer to realizing their dream.

“We were so happy the audience was up on their feet and dancing to our music. Anything like that is positive for us and we’re so excited,” Carissa told AXS. “We’re actually happy with the remarks from the judges. I know Howie and Mel were kind of on the fence and Howie gave us a ‘no.’ But, we think that ‘no’ was good for us because it gives us something to work toward., to push ourselves even more and to challenge ourselves. I’m happy Simon was on our side because he knows a lot about music and we trust his opinions there. So, for him to support us and believe in us means the world.”

Michael and Carissa could arguably be compared to a modern-day, digital age Sonny and Cher. Their love story reads like a fairy tale. The talented singers met on a video shoot and maintained a long-distance relationship via FaceTime for eight months while Michael raised money as a cruise ship pianist till he finally had enough to move to Los Angeles and promptly propose to Carissa.

Finding stability, much less building a successful career is extremely hard in the highly-competitive, ever-changing music industry. The pair feels lucky to have found each other and are grateful to lean on each other during rough or challenging times.

“We’re just lucky to have each other because there are a lot of downs. It’s not always easy and being in a relationship adds to that,” Carissa said. “We just try to make sure whenever one of us are down, the other one is there to lift them up and remind them we get to do what we love, we’re in love, and that it’s really fun. We have a really fun life, and we’re really blessed to be able to do what we do every day. I think it’s also just a balance and making sure we have time for ourselves before our music because our first priority is our love and our marriage.”

Michael shared how he relied on his wife to calm him down when he battled an atypical case of nerves right before taking the “America’s Got Talent” stage.

“For some reason, the first audition taping of ‘America’s Got Talent’ made me nervous to a level I’ve never experienced before. I was almost like shaking. I could barely hold my guitar,” he said. “Carissa has had a lot more experience in front of the camera. She did Nickelodeon and things before she met me. She looked at me and said, ‘Michael, don’t be nervous. I’ll carry the load in talking. You just play the song. I know you know the song. You wrote the song. Do what you know how to do.’

We walked out on that stage and I calmed down because I could look over at her and know she was ready to handle whatever the judges would have to say to her. She did all the talking before we played the song, which allowed me to focus on the music. Without her, I don’t know if I honestly could have made it through that.”

One of the most striking things about the talented multi-instrumentalists is their rich, shimmering harmonies as well as the reciprocal love that visibly and sonically flows between them. They also have fun performing and their effusive joy and fierce musical passion is infectious.

The shared love between UTD and their #UsTheFamily fan base is so deep that the couple produced a stunning visual album called Public Record which contained songs they wrote based on stories the fans shared with them in messages about their lives. The project had a profound impact on them as people and as artists and created an even tighter bond with their fans.

Though the album was released in 2016, UTD continues to receive compelling stories and they remain dedicated to keeping the lines of communication open with fans, spending hours on Facebook and emails reading and replying to messages. Sharing goes both ways, as well. The happy couple announced their pregnancy via a song and did a gender reveal on Facebook. The proud parents-to-be are expecting a baby girl in October and Carissa is ecstatic about being a mom.

She happily gushed, “I’ve always known I wanted to be a mom and I’ve always wanted children. So, I’m just excited for this next journey. Michael and I love adventure. We love new experiences. So, I feel like we’re going to jump into this and have so much fun with it. It’s just so cool we made a baby and we literally have a human growing that’s ours. To be able to have that is just very special.

I’m excited to teach our baby how to be a loving person and love everyone and to love music as well. I can’t wait to hear that with her. She’s moving a lot and she dances when she hears music already in my tummy. So that’s exciting that she’s already enjoying it.”

Us The Duo’s latest EP is aptly-titled Together and dropped last Friday (July 13) across multiple digital platforms ahead of their upcoming AGT performance for the Judges’ Cuts round and a summer tour to support the EP, which includes a stop on July 19 at Wonder Ballroom in Portland, OR (Tickets).

The five-track collection of acoustic tracks was fronted by its feel-good lead title track, which is a buoyant song about getting through anything “together” with that special someone. By contrast, “Get Gone” is a slow-burning brood about ending a toxic relationship. “Broke” takes a light-hearted look at skipping out on bill collectors. “Homesick Lullabye” is about missing the one you love and “Finally Know What Love Is” is a soulful ballad which melodically revels in romantically-induced bliss.

When asked what they are most looking forward to about going back on tour Michael quipped, “I’m looking forward to watching Carissa sing at six months pregnant,” to which Carissa replied, “That’ll definitely be a new obstacle for the tour, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun tour and I can tell our daughter someday, ‘You went on tour when you were in Mommy’s belly. That’s so cool.’

She added, “We’re looking forward to seeing our fans, seeing some new faces, some familiar faces we keep in contact with and we like that we’re going to be able to hug them and interact with them face-to-face. So, we can’t wait for that.”

Meanwhile, #UsTheFamily couldn’t be more thrilled about UTD’s triumphant AGT audition and positive comments continue to stream across the duo’s social media pages. Michael and Carissa will hit the AGT stage again tonight (July 17) for the Judges’ Cuts round. Michael talked a little about their impending performance strategy saying, “I’ve thought a lot what Howie said. Our song was ‘too coffee shop,’ kind of alluding he may want to hear something a little more familiar. While Simon said, ‘That chorus is great’ and Heidi said, ‘You might have a hit on your hands.’

So, we have to make that decision. Do we do a popular song that everyone knows? Or, do we do another song we wrote? With any original, it’s a risk … I think we’re going to try to go with an original because it’s what we know. It’s what we feel good about and Simon encouraged it. Let’s take these concerts we’ve been playing for so many years to the AGT stage and hopefully it will work.”

When asked what message Us The Duo would like to send to out to their fans or to anyone just getting to know them via their “America’s Got Talent” journey, Carissa called out their longtime followers saying, “We just want to thank everyone for sticking around with us and believing in us from the beginning. Vine was kind of our catapult and everyone has stuck with us and followed us elsewhere on Facebook and every other social platform. So, we just want to say thank you to #UsTheFamily and we love them so much and we can’t wait to continue to grow together and continue sharing our lives with them and hearing more about their stories along the way.”

Michael sent a shout out to any AGT viewers or new fans who are following them. “To all the new people tuning into AGT, thank you for tuning in and we hope you’ll follow us on our journey,” he said.  “Our promise is we’ll always share what we’re up to. We put our wedding online. We put our baby announcement online. So, if you’re interested in Us The Duo and our music, we hope you’ll stick around and see what other life events will come from us for years to come.”

Tune into “America’s Got Talent” tonight (July 17) at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC to watch Us The Duo perform in the Judges’ Cuts round. Follow @UsTheDuo on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Stay tuned to AXS for Us The Duo updates.