When people say they've been waiting their whole life for a particular moment, Pia Toscano knows exactly what they mean. The 22-year-old, ninth-place finisher on season 10 of "American Idol" has been grinding away at her musical dream since she was 13, and after all those years of rejection and false starts, she's finally feeling like things are going her way.
"I can't believe it, I really can't believe it," she told MTV News of her rebound from a disappointing finish on her fifth try at "Idol." She's now signed to a major-label deal with Interscope Records and has booked studio time with some of the most sought-after producers in the business.
Though her country/pop-leaning first single, breakup tune "This Time," seems like it encroaches a bit on the territory of teen "Idol" runner-up Lauren Alaina and maybe even winner Scotty McCreery, Toscano promises that's not the direction she's headed.
"That song sounds kind of country, but [the album's] not just one thing, not pop or R&B," she said while making her way through the airport on the way to an Idols Live! tour date. "It will be pop with an R&B influence, with an edge. It will be soulful and powerful."
Had she not been bumped from the competition so shockingly early, Toscano said viewers would have realized that she had much more in her bag of tricks than the power ballads she sang on the show. "It's funny, you're labeled as one thing on the show ... and 'American Idol' opened up tons of doors for me and allowed me the opportunity to be signed to Interscope, but before I got on there, I was writing my own stuff and not doing a lot of ballads," she said, explaining that those diva numbers were what best suited her vocally on the show.
And not only does she not blame the audience for seeming to get it wrong by booting her, Toscano said her early exit may have been a blessing in disguise. "If I had made it a week further, I may not have gotten signed by Interscope," she said. "I got [to] working immediately, doing demos for [Interscope boss] Jimmy [Iovine] and I had to work for him to pick me up and sign me."
Contrary to some early erroneous reports, Toscano said she was not signed to Interscope immediately, but had to get in the studio and prove herself. Once Iovine signed off, Toscano said the dream really began to take shape as she got to work with songwriter Ester Dean, who wrote "This Time," after giving the world such hits as Rihanna's "Rude Boy" and "S&M" and Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass."
But more important, Toscano has logged studio time with two producers she's dreamed of working with for years. One of the biggest is Rodney Jerkins (Michael Jackson, Brandy, Beyoncé), who has recorded three songs with Toscano so far, with more possibly in the offing. "I love working with him and we had an immediate connection and great chemistry," she said of the production star, who served as an "Idol" mentor this season. "He's got power and we're the perfect fit for each other ... he knows how to produce a good vocal that's strong, edgy, fun and soulful."
The production team Rock Mafia (Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez) — also "Idol" mentors — have recorded a few songs with Toscano, including "Counterfeit," a tune she described as a "haunting, edgy ballad" that may also feature some production from Tricky Stewart (Britney Spears, Mariah Carey).
Before she was discovered on "Idol," Toscano said she made the rounds at a number of labels and often told her prospective bosses that along with Jerkins, one of the people she really wanted to work with was Underdogs co-founder Harvey Mason Jr. (Chris Brown, Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks). "He's one of my good friends. ... When I went to the labels, I said I wanted to work with Harvey Mason Jr. and Rodney Jerkins, and I'm just pinching myself right now. It's a dream, it's crazy."
She has also collaborated with Spears songwriter Heather Brite on a "beautiful" song called "Less to Know." Toscano wrote a number of songs before her run on "Idol" and though so far she's letting the pros do the heavy lifting on the yet-untitled disc — which she said is due out in the fall — she's open to collaboration and would love to work with someone like OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder.
For now, though, she's focused on the "Idol" summer tour and hitting the studio when she can. "We're 10 shows in ... and it's grueling, but it's a lot of fun," she said of the nearly-every-night schedule of the tour, during which she sings Rihanna's "California King Bed" with Stefano Langone, as well as "This Time" and a few numbers with the other girls. "It's kind of the dream. Last year I was trying out and now I'm performing in buildings where I've seen some of my favorite artists."
The New York City native is especially looking forward to a pair of late August dates at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, the same building where Toscano has fond memories of seeing such heroes as Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige.
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