In a world where we are bombarded with so many homogenous messages about pop culture, fame, beauty and success, it’s a welcome change to find people who are operating outside the “norms”. While there are a great number of hugely recognizable artists and musicians using their platforms for something positive, it’s also important to recognize the up-and-coming artists who are doing the same. You don’t need to be freaking Bono to make a difference in the world, remember that!
So when we came across artist Shayne Leighton and heard about what she is doing, we had to interview this powerhouse diva! Below is a conversation about her musical background, her current projects (she is a triple threat: acting, singing and writing) and the why the issue of female empowerment is near and dear to her heart.
Tell us a brief history about Shayne Leighton – where do you come from and what is your musical background?
In a nutshell, I was pretty much a Gleek before it was a TV show. By that I mean, I was a total Broadway nerd (and there’s nothing wrong with that). I went to three different performing art schools in South Florida, and majored in theater. I used to be completely obsessed with the musical Wicked, and I thought all I wanted to do with my life was perform on Broadway in green paint and a black dress.
And then I found Rock and Roll. And it was like a new (and not-so-new) religion. By “not-so-new”, I mean I grew up on rock and roll before I was belting out show tunes. I grew up surrounded by every single Beatles album ever made, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, etc. So I had rock and roll, I found Broadway, and then I found rock and roll again.
As well as a musician, you are a best-selling author and actor. Can you tell us about some of your recent projects in these areas?
I began my career in entertainment with acting. I have been acting in TV and film since I was five years old. I just love all aspects of storytelling, which is probably what inspired the writing.
When I was sixteen, I penned my first feature-length screenplay that was later produced and distributed to major movie theater chains across South Florida, such as Regal, AMC, and Cinemark. After the completion of this project, I was cast in a supporting role in the epic fantasy film, ‘Legend of the Red Reaper’, produced by and starring Tara Cardinal, another woman-warrior of the arts.
I began my paranormal novel series, ‘Of Light and Darkness’, when I was about eighteen. The first two installments are published via Decadent Publishing in both paperback and eBook and are bestselling titles on Amazon. I’ve also recently released a companion novella, and the third installment will be released soon. The first book, ‘The Vampire’s Daughter’, has been optioned for a film. I’ve definitely built an audience of vampire and fantasy lovers, which is wonderful! They are a fantastic group of people!
You are part of an exciting musical collaboration called REMEMBER which is geared toward an anti-bullying message. Tell us about the project?
REMEMBER is a collaborative music project (single and music video) intended to deliver a uniting message of positivity, acceptance, and love. ‘Remember’ is similar in kind to ‘We Are The World’. It is something that I am really excited about. The song was written by Brenda O’brien (Two Kings ft. Pam Tillis and Kris Thomas), Steve Argy, and myself.
You are featured in the project alongside some awesome names, can you drop a few of those for us?
The song and video also features Sarah Simmons, Kris Thomas, and Karina Iglesias from The Voice, The Stax Academy of Memphis, Grammy-nominated Wendy Moten and Justin Merrick, and several up-and-coming artists, including myself. Quinton Aaron, star of the Academy-Award-Winning movie The Blind Side, has sort of become a spokes person for the entire project as well. We will all join together to premiere the song and video on October 7th for a big release event with Jaylen Arnold of Jaylen’s Challenge, CNN News, and other anti-bullying advocates.
Why did you want to be involved in such a project?
I want to stand for those who aren’t necessarily considered the most ‘popular’, and those who may be ostracized because they are different. Different is good. Unique is good. There needs to be more love and kindness in the world, and I think the REMEMBER project is definitely going to help remind people of that. I just wanted to be a small part of such a powerful and universal message.
Why is the anti-bullying message so important to you?
I can empathize with youth who are bullied. I, myself, was a victim of bullying in school and I want to do my part to help kids no longer see themselves as victims. I want them to find their own strength and voice, like I did. I turned my weaknesses into my strengths, and it would be so gratifying to know that I, with a team of some really wonderful people, could at least inspire one person. If we can save even just a few lives, we will have succeeded. And we get to do it through music, which is so fun.
Part of your personal message through your music is power, positivity, and celebrating your own uniqueness. Why are you so passionate about these topics?
I think so many people try to do the “In” thing and copy what is popular, because they are afraid of embracing who they really are. For once, it would be nice to see a recording artist on stage who is not half-naked. For my music, I want there to be a little more substance than that. I’d love to be considered a role model. A good one. I want young girls to look in the mirror and like what they see. I want them to appreciate and celebrate their differences.
Being a woman in the music industry is a hard job! It seems every female artist has to wear less and less clothes and sell themselves more and more to get attention. How do you stay true to yourself, your message and your music despite industry pressure?
It’s so important to pay attention to who’s watching. For instance, I do this one particular book signing every year in my hometown. The majority of the attending audience is girls between the ages of 10 and 16. A handful of those girls attend every one of my sessions and hang on my every word, which is so beyond flattering, I don’t even understand it. These girls are inundated with the same things in pop culture over and over again. I really think it’s time for something more refreshing. Our girls need it. It means so much to me that those I’m working with understand what I’m trying to maintain. You can have a successful artist who doesn’t perform 90% of her concert in a bra and thong. I think the music speaks for itself. It’s still really early in my career, so I have time to keep shaping the artist I want to become, but I will always stay true to who I am and be faithful to those girls who I know are watching.
There are plenty of artists and celebs who don’t care about their role model status or about the message they subconsciously send to fans. What are your thoughts on being a role model or a potential source of inspiration to someone?
If I can ever be a source of inspiration or a role model to anyone, I would consider that a huge honor. It is something that I take very seriously and care about very much. My long-term plan is that my music will always have an empowering message. I will always keep it in the back of my mind that somewhere, a young girl may be watching who wants to do what I’m lucky enough to do. If I can inspire her, then I have succeeded.
You recently released a single ‘Invincible’, which is a cover of the Pat Benatar original. Why did you choose this song and what was it about ‘Invincible’ that spoke to you as a woman?
One of the main reasons why Spectra Music executives and I chose to cover Pat Benatar’s INVINCIBLE as my debut single, is because the song has a very powerful and positive message that applies to the message that I’m trying to convey as a female artist. It’s a forceful song in a good way. I feel that it’s almost celebratory of the fact that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I have had many ups and downs in life and in my career, so Invincible speaks to me personally. The Remember project came after our decision to do Invincible, so the fact that it all ties together is just kind of a happy accident.
What advice do you have to other women and girls who are dreaming of a career in music?
It’s a hard fight. It’s competitive. It’s not a race. Definitely a marathon – so you need a lot of patience. But if you truly love music as a form of expression, it is worth every difficult moment. My best advice would be to not follow the trends of the music industry. Present yourself like you are already someone who is known. Stay true to your unique qualities. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. And most importantly, if it is truly something you want, never give up on trying.
What makes you a powerful woman?
I think my resilience makes me powerful. I’m powerful because each time I get knocked down, I stand up again. I think my undying optimism (though it is sometimes a curse) makes me powerful because it blinds me against negative thoughts that can be detrimental. My perseverance, my will to do good things and to make a difference makes me powerful.
Finally, where can we see you next?
You can find me performing live with Quinton Aaron and friends on October 7th, 2014 for the ‘Remember: Unite to End Bullying’ event, and eventually on tour to promote my debut EP with Spectra Music Group.
To connect with Shayne Leighton and stay up-to-date with what she is doing, click on these links: