Most of the world has never heard of 25-year-old Oklahoma singer/songwriter Audra Mae. But thanks to a little song called “Who I Was Born to Be,” she’s worked her way into at least 3 million homes almost overnight.
“Born” is the only original song on the smash debut album from “Britain’s Got Talent” runner-up [artist id="3180740"]Susan Boyle[/artist], I Dreamed a Dream, and the enormity of having a track on a release that sold more copies in its first week in the U.S. than any other this year is just starting to sink in for the grandniece of famed Hollywood icon Judy Garland.
“Honestly, I haven’t wrapped my brain around the whole thing yet,” Mae said on Wednesday (December 2), just hours after sales figures for the first week of Dream were released. “I knew the song would be on there, but I had no idea what would happen [with the album] and that it would be like this. It’s just a crazy twist of fate. I was just stoked that she liked it.”
Mae, the oldest of six kids from a musical family — which includes an uncle who helped pen a song that was on the reissue of Michael Jackson’s Thriller — left home at 19 to seek her musical fortune in Los Angeles. She’s been slogging away ever since, writing more than 100 songs, playing endless showcases and eventually scoring a publishing deal. She hooked up with the little-known Swedish production/songwriter trio Play Production about a year ago, and this summer they sent her the chords and melody for a song they said was intended for Boyle’s album.
Though she’s landed songs on albums by Canadian and Japanese artists and the Dutch “X Factor” winner, this seemed like the break Mae had been looking for all along. “I knew it needed to be a song that made sense for her to sing, so I went online and researched her and her life and found out how she got to be where she is, and it came from that,” Mae said of the gentle piano ballad with the inspirational chorus “And though I may not know the answers/ I can finally say I’m free/ And if the questions lead me here/ Then I am who I was born to be.”
“I knew it needed to be something that she could be proud to sing,” Mae explained. “Almost like a mantra — and I’m thrilled that she liked it enough to put it on the album. The cool thing is that she symbolizes real talent above anything else, above a show with pyrotechnics, a hot body … she’s f—ing talented and it’s really awesome to be a part of that.”
Mae hasn’t met Boyle, but she’s clearly humbled and grateful for the one-in-a-million chance she’s gotten. And, after watching the struggles of some friends and fellow hungry songwriters who’ve been at it for a quarter century or more with little to show for their toil, she said she feels like her six years of grunt work is actually just a blink of an eye in the songwriting world.
Plus, the timing couldn’t possibly be better. Mae, who is signed to the punk label SideOneDummy, recently released her five-song debut EP, Haunt, which features moving acoustic covers of the Decemberists’ “Eli, the Barrow Boy” and Marilyn Monroe’s version of “One Silver Dollar,” in addition to the evocative K.D. Lang-like country-folk originals “The River,” “The Fable” and “Sullivan’s Letter,” which is based on a famous letter from Civil War major Sullivan Ballou.
She’s also working on her debut album, due in March, and she’s sure the Boyle fame — as well as continuing interest in her haunting a cappella cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” that appeared on a 2008 episode of the FX biker drama “Sons of Anarchy” — will help get her career kick-started. “I think it’s not going to hurt it,” she laughed. “I have no way of knowing what will transpire, so the fun for me is watching it unfold. Logically, it will attract more attention to my album and I hope it keeps people interested.”