The Beat ‘n’ Track plays on this month with freshman commercial voice major Mignon Grabois. Though her enrollment at Belmont has just begun, her career in music and songwriting already has a solid foundation including musical theater and exposure through national radio and the CMA’s.
Belmont Vision: How did you get involved in music?
Mignon Grabois: I started doing musical theater when I was 5 years old. That’s when I sang my first song, auditioned for my first play. Then I started singing for the Sam Houston Race Park in Texas when I was about 10 years old. They would have little country competitions, we were called The Showcase Singers. They would set up a stage and we would sing cover songs. I performed in my first country competition, Best Country Singer in Houston, when I was 11 years old, and I got third place. Then the next year I got first place. From there, I started recording cover songs in little studios all around Houston and also won first place in a competition to find the best pop singer in Houston. So competing is where it all started for me.
BV: What about the Radio Disney competition you were involved in?
MG: I didn’t even really know what it was, I just went and tried out. We were told to sing a song from “High School Musical” because the competition was when the movie first came out. I really didn’t know what I was getting into, but I won that competition as well. Cities all around the U.S. had the same competition within their states, so all the videos of each winner from each individual state were sent to Los Angeles. I was that winner, too. From there, I became what Disney calls an incubator artist. The Jonas Brothers started out as that, I think Chris Brown, The Cheetah Girls and Miley Cyrus did as well. So they try and groom you to become this big Disney star and I did that for a while touring around Texas. I opened for The Jonas Brothers and JoJo. That was more pop music, but sometimes I would try to bring one or two country songs into my set, and I decided that I needed to focus more on being a country artist than a pop, Disney artist. That’s just what I am more drawn to.
BV: You have gone back and forth from doing pop and country music. So who are some of your musical influences?
MG: Faith Hill. She is probably No. 1. I love Miranda Lambert nowadays. I have always loved Shania Twain. If I am going more to the pop side, I love Christina Aguilera. Celine Dion is a big one. Nowadays, non-females I love are the Zac Brown Band because, with all the confusion of is country going too pop or too rock, the Zac Brown Band really brings country back to its roots. I’ve always looked up to Martina McBride. I admire Taylor Swift’s path, how she started and how her hard work has gotten her to where she is today, even though I know some people don’t really like her. Keith Urban, I love him too.
BV: You mentioned the debate of country going too pop or rock. You have had experience doing both country and pop, so how would you describe your style?
MG: I’m definitely more country. I think Rascal Flatts is a good way to describe it. They are country, but they have also a pop sound to them, especially with all of his runs in his singing. I don’t like to keep everything plain Jane when I’m singing, so I try to change it up to where it’s more showy. I think ballads really suit me and songs with emotion. I’m not one of those people that will do the upbeat Taylor Swift, boy-broke-my-heart kind of songs. I’m more country soul. I think that comes from acting when I was younger, doing music theater. I just really love to play a part when I’m on stage and tell a story through my singing.
BV: Tell me about your ties with the Country Music Association and getting the chance to perform with one of Belmont’s most famous alumni.
MG: My family moved to Nashville five years ago, and I attended the Nashville School of the Arts for high school. I don’t really know how they found us, but in 2011, people at the CMA found me and my friend Charley Woods. Somehow, they heard us sing somewhere and tried to contact us through our school. There is also an organization called Keep the Music Playing, which is a program sponsored by CMA to keep music in Metro Schools in Nashville. That organization wanted us to represent them on the 45th Annual CMA Awards during their segment on the show, and we got to play with Brad Paisley. It was all very surreal. We had 10 days to rehearse and prepare. We got to go pick out red carpet dresses and walk the red carpet which was a lot of fun. We then got to be backstage with all the artists and we were treated just like they were.
BV: So how do you like Belmont and Nashville so far?
MG: I’m loving Belmont. I have wanted to come here ever since I moved to Nashville. It’s everything that I wanted it to be and more. When we moved here from Houston, we moved here for my music, and it’s awesome that my family supports me enough to make such a big move from Texas to Tennessee for me. My dad still works in Houston so he comes to visit on the weekends. It’s a big sacrifice, but they know this is what I love to do. I have four brothers and they are so happy living here as well. Overall, it was a great decision to come here for all of us. I’m in love with this city. I will never leave this city, ever.
BV: You just played in the Country Showcase, how was that?
MG: It was so exhilarating. That is the word I keep using to describe it. It made me feel so proud of myself and of my band since we are all freshmen. We would practice every single night from the time we auditioned up through the showcase until about midnight every night. I knew the judges were kind of scared that since we are so young, our band wasn’t going to be as tight, so we practiced really hard. It was a little stressful, but that comes with it. The band was really professional, I had an awesome manager, and I just loved every single bit of it. Showtime felt so good. All of the freshman in the audience stormed the front of the stage and I loved that. I was kind of representing the entire freshman class.
BV: Your name is very different. Is there a story behind it?
MG: So Mignon is a family name. I am the fifth one. It started with my great-great grandmother. From her, it was established in my family that your first daughter born, you have to name Mignon, either first or middle name… It means ‘cute’ in French. My grandmother is from Louisiana, so it is probably more of Cajun French. Then my mom, interestingly enough, married a man whose last name is French, so it just kind of worked out really cool.
BV: What are you hoping to accomplish in your next three years here at Belmont?
MG: I’m hoping to play more with this band we established specifically for the showcase. I think we are going to continue to play together because we don’t see a reason why we should all part when we work so well together. We all have so much fun, we have great chemistry. It just didn’t make sense for everyone to just go their separate ways after the showcase. I want to continue to write songs and record. This town is all about being in the right place at the right time… Getting a record deal right off the bat is not how it works. There are a lot of doors slamming in your face, but you also never know when somebody will see you and want to sign you. Overnight successes happen all the time and you just never know what’s going to happen. That being said, I don’t like to plan for things too much. I just like being laid back and taking each day as it comes. It’s an exciting ride.
Video courtesy Mignon Grabois