LINA TALKS TOURING WITH LITTLE MIX & NEW SINGLE “I WORE IT BETTER” 169

After wowing a TV audience of millions as a contestant on The Voice Israel in 2013, which she went on to win, American Israeli-Palestinian singer-songwriter Lina has gone on to have millions of YouTube views and has a growing army of fans around the world, with a few celebs including Alicia Keys, being among them. Having just released her new single, the star is now on tour in the UK supporting chart-toppers Little Mix, and ThisIsTheLatest caught up with her to chat tour highlights, social media and the power of dreaming big.

TITL: Hi Lina. First of all, I’d like you to introduce yourself in a few words please. What would you say your unique selling point is?

Lina: I love music – I can’t live without it. I’m a very hard working dreamer and that’s it. I’m a US born, Palestinian blood and Israeli citizen who is a singer-songwriter.

TITL: You first came to public attention after winning The Voice Israel. How has life changed for you since that moment?

L: Completely. When I started on The Voice, I was still in my first semester of university, studying biology as I wanted to be a doctor. After The Voice, I quit to focus on my music and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I toured Israel and for the last few years, I’ve been focussing on the UK market. I’ve been signed by my amazing manager who owns a label and I’ve since gone on to support Queen and Adam Lambert, Will Smith and now Little Mix, so it’s been amazing.

TITL: Do you think you’ll ever go back and finish your degree or is it music 100% for you now?

L: Hell no. It’s music all the way for me now, definitely. There’s no way I’d go back to university.

TITL: You’ve already earned yourself a number of A-list fans including Alicia Keys and Will Smith, but which band or artists’ support/admiration would you most like to receive and why?

L: The list is SO LONG. Let’s say right now I would love to get the support of Ed Sheeran. He’s such a phenomenal song-writer and performer and artist. I would love to be noticed by….this is such a tough question! I wish Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were still alive and Eminem. Every time I say Eminem, people are like “Really?” I know a lot of his songs by heart and whenever I’m angry or needing some motivation, I just play his albums so yeah…those four for now.

TITL: I have to say I was not expecting you to say Eminem either…

L: Like, why? Am I too cute? (laughs)

TITL: You’re currently supporting chart-toppers Little Mix on their arena tour. How did that invitation come about?

L: My management is familiar with their management and they sent them some of my performances and songs; things that I’d written or co-written and they liked it. They thought I was very suitable to support Little Mix so yeah, that was it…

TITL: How are you finding the tour so far? Any favourite moments or highlights?

L: Every show is amazing. I just told Leigh-Anne from Little Mix that their crowd is fantastic. They are so supportive and so loving. On and off stage; all over social media – they’ve been the best. I think every time I listen to the crowd singing along, it’s phenomenal. Those moments are my highlights every night.

TITL: For those who have never seen or listened to you before, what can they expect from your set?

L: You can expect to see many sides to my personality. I start the show with a ballad on the piano – my custom made pink Lina piano which I’m still very excited about – and then I perform “Can’t Keep Falling” which was number 1 on iTunes Israel and number 4 on the Music Week Chart. There’s a bit of dancing and I do a special version of “Symphony” by Clean Bandit, with an ethnic spin. I think what comes next is the favourite part of my set for the Mixers – I do a cover of “Hair” by Little Mix but as a very, very emotional ballad. I then close out my set with my new single “I Wore It Better” at the end of which, I take my red sweater off and throw it to the crowd. On the last couple of shows, people have been coming towards the stage just specially for that moment – to try and catch my sweater. If you come to one of the shows, you’re going to have so much fun; I promise!

TITL: Which of your songs would you say is the most well received on this tour?

L: People really seem to be liking the new single, yeah, but even when I start the show with my ballad on the piano, which is called “Forget”, the crowd just goes crazy, and I never expected that because, you know, they’re Little Mix fans and I think I thought they’d like more of the up-beat pop songs.

TITL: Has being on this run of shows with the girls got you thinking about maybe doing your own headline tour here in the UK in the near future?

L: Of course yes, that’s the dream. I hope that it will happen soon. The album drops at the beginning of 2018 and is called Walking On A Tightrope so hopefully some tour plans can be made in support of that.

TITL: Can you actually walk on a tightrope?

L: Not yet! (laughs) But I will try to do it on my own tour.

TITL: You mentioned earlier that you’ve toured with Queen and Adam Lambert, but you’ve also performed at number of festivals all over the world, so if you could put together your dream show line-up, with four bands or artists who can be living or dead, would you most like to stage a stage with?

L: Freddie Mercury for sure. I would learn so much from him. Watching Queen on stage and being with them backstage was like a dream come true and I learned so, so much, but I think that if Freddie was there, it would have been insane. I think he’s the best performer the world has ever seen. Him and Michael Jackson…

TITL: Can you imagine a mash-up of those two?!

L: Oh my gosh! (laughs) Let’s see, who else? Beyonce, of course – she’s like my queen for ever and ever. Taylor Swift who is the queen of pop and Eminem. That’s it. I got all the music genres in there I think!

TITL: Just imagine the collaboration you could come up with on stage…

L: I can surprise everyone. I can rap, I can be classical, I can be pop, I can be rock…that’s why I love the stage so much. You can be whoever you want.

TITL: Taking into account the millions of YouTube views your performances on The Voice alone received, to what extent has social media impacted your career and how much of a vital tool do you believe it to be for bands and artists in this day and age?

L: Social media has a lot to do with my career, and my life too. I’ve grown up with social media and can’t even remember a time before it, or what life looked or felt like before it was around. I think that I wouldn’t get or have the recognition I do in the international market if it wasn’t for Alicia Keys sharing one of my videos. That helped a lot and people getting to know me and my music through the tour with Queen and Adam Lambert had a big impact as well. A lot of people get to know me; who I am, what I like, the music I make…all through social media. I try to do my best to show the real me to everyone. I share both the personal and professional sides of me and I try to connect and communicate with everyone on social media. I just think it’s very important and has a great impact, not just on my own career but everyone’s.

TITL: Do you think we as a general society, need we be just every-day people or artists such as yourself, are too reliant on social media? Do you think you’d be able to promote yourself and your music in the way that The Beatles and others had to back in the day and still be as successful?

L: I don’t think that’d be possible today. The biggest artists in the world right now can’t beat The Beatles’ record sales or popularity in that way. But that’s how life is right now. When The Beatles rose to fame in the 1960’s and started selling their millions of records, if you look back to 20 years before that, the way in which music was created and promoted was again totally different. I can’t even explain it properly. It’s as if every era has created or developed its own way of making bands and artists popular, need it be through a focus on touring or regularly releasing music.

Artists do what they have to do – that’s how it’s always been and how I believe it’ll always be. I wish I could have a career like artists did in the old days – when music was more focussed on the voice, on the performance and what you delivered as an artist. Today you have to have the full package; you have to look good all the time as you have no idea who is going to take photos of you, you have to be nice to everyone, you have to deliver on both social media and the stage, both personally and professionally. It’s tough, but I’ll do it gladly because every time I go on stage, I think “Yeah, it’s all worth it.”

TITL: What does the rest of the year have in store for you? What happens after the Little Mix tour is over?

L: We are in contact with another very big artist and I might join them on their tour. Aside from that, I’d like to do a tour of my own and of course, I have my album coming out next year too.

TITL: Away from music and away from the media attention, what do you like to do when you’re just being you?

L: The first thing I love to do is sleep. I love to sleep and then Netflix and chill and have a great time with my family and friends; I don’t care where.

TITL: What have you been watching on Netflix lately?

L: Reign and The Tudors. I love anything connected to royal history. Even now on tour, I just ask my tour manager Serena, every time we’re near somewhere that has a castle, like in Scotland, if we can stay in one.

TITL: Finally then, where would you like to see yourself 5-10 years from now and what’s your ultimate ambition as an artist? What would you most like to be remembered for in terms of your music?

L: When they ask me what I want to be remembered for in the Middle East, I usually say that I want my music to be so good that no-one ever bothers to ask me about my political views, but here, no-one cares about political views from the Middle East and so I would say I want to be remembered for making good music that people loved to come and see performed live. That’s a very big deal for me; the idea and the fact that there are people out there who spend their hard-earned money to come and see me. That’s exciting and heart-warming for me, but I think sometimes people take that – meaning the support they get from fans – for granted. I want to touch the hearts of as many people as possible with my music. In 5 to 10 years, I want to see myself touring the whole world as much as possible.

TITL: You’re ambitious; I like that.

L: Yeah, I told you I’m a hard working dreamer. I always tell people “You can dream for free…so dream as big as possible.” Dream big – and if it doesn’t work out, dream less big, but NEVER stop dreaming.

You can catch Lina on tour with Little Mix now. A list of remaining dates and venues, as well as ticket information can be found here. For more information on Lina, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Instagram.

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DANIELLE PINNOCK CHATS ‘YOUNG SHELDON’ & THE BODY POSITIVITY MOVEMENT 51

With The Big Bang Theory having proven to be a global hit since its very first episode, it should come as no surprise to learn that its spin-off, a look at the childhood and early years of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper, aptly titled Young Sheldon, has also become a phenomenon. With the show about to air its debut season finale, and with season 2 already greenlit, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Danielle Pinnock, who plays Ms. Ingram in the show, to find out about her very first audition, her role as a body activist and how she feels about the reaction to and her being part of the smash-hit series that is Young Sheldon.

TITL: At what age did you first realize you wanted to pursue acting as a career? Was there one particular show/actor you watched that made you think ‘I’d like to do that’?

Danielle Pinnock: When I was 19 I was in a production at Temple University called In Conflict. It was a documentary play about war veterans returning home from serving overseas. The show was so incredible. We were even pulled out of school for a year to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Off-Broadway in New York.  All of the vets we portrayed were real people, based on interviews done by journalist Yvonne Latty. The veteran I played, Sgt. Lisa Haynes, was the only one we were unable to get a response from during run of the show. I heard that during her initial interview, her PTSD was so severe once returning home that she may have “fallen off the map.” I didn’t want to accept this, so I took it upon myself to find Sgt. Haynes. I called every VA hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was from, and was able to locate her and her family. During the run of the show,  I flew down to Tulsa and met Sgt. Haynes and her family. When I returned back to New York, I was determined to have Sgt. Haynes see the final Off-Broadway performance. So in the final two weeks of the run I managed to raise $10,000 to get Sgt. Haynes and her family members up to New York to see In Conflict’s last show. It was THAT show that made me want to act for the rest of my life.

TITL: Can you recall your very first audition? 

DP: Yes! Ha! My very first audition was for the middle school production of Aladdin. I played Halima, Jafar’s evil sister. It was like pulling teeth to get me to audition for this role. I never wanted to be an actor growing up, and was super shy as a child. My audition song was “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill.

TITL: Which auditions, looking back on them, do you feel went really well or that you struggled with? 

DP: The reason I ended up in Los Angeles is because I auditioned for a production at the Geffen Playhouse called Barbecue by Robert O’Hara. At the time of the auditions, I was still living in Chicago and actually flew up to L.A. to be seen for the project. It was a risky decision and I would not recommend actors doing that, but I knew I had to be on point! I also knew if I was going to move to Los Angeles, I needed a job! Barbecue was one of my best auditions in L.A. Recently, I ran into Colman Domingo and he said: Danielle, you just walked in with your blue dress and commanded our attention. Working with Colman and the cast members was a dream realized. It was an honor to be included in that production.

My most memorable audition that I struggled with also happened in Los Angeles. I was going in for the role of a nurse on a sitcom. A lot of auditions in L.A. happen in “bungalows” which are really just trailers on the studio lots. I only bring this up, because the walls in most audition rooms are extremely thin so you can hear another actors’ entire audition. There was a young woman who went in before me, and her audition was so fantastic that the casting director actually booked her for the project IN THE ROOM! The entire waiting room, full of actors, heard the casting director call this woman’s agent to say the actor had booked it. However, in the waiting room, chaos ensued. People began to leave the audition and I had no clue what to do because I was NEXT! As soon as the actor left the audition room all I heard was: “Danielle Pinnock come on in.”  It was my worst audition to date. I forgot all of the lines and was just unmotivated to even give my all because I knew there was no chance of me getting booked on that project.

TITL: How did you hear about the role of Ms. Ingram for Young Sheldon? What was/is it about the character that made you want to audition for the role?

DP: Funny enough, this was a same-day audition. My manager called me on a Thursday morning and I had three-hours to prepare the sides for an Untitled project. I initially went in for the music-teacher and then Nikki Valko, the casting director, asked me to read for a brand new character they created that week “Ms. Ingram.” It was refreshing to see that casting was considering me, a plus-sized African American woman to play the mathematics teacher. Ms. Ingram is one of my favorite characters to play because she is so quirky, hilarious and extremely no-nonsense.

TITL: The show has proven to be a HUGE success in the US and is also popular here in the UK. Did you or your fellow cast members ever expect the show to get the response and reaction it has? 

DP: It’s surreal! This show is a hit internationally and I’ve never, in my entire career, been a part of such a phenomenon. Chuck Lorre is a genius and absolutely has the Midas touch when it comes to creating successful television! Working with the creators Chuck Lorre and Steve Molaro has been a dream come true. My mom and I were in the grocery store and someone stopped us and said “That’s Ms. Ingram, Oh My God!” In the pilot, my character Ms. Ingram talks about attending Oral Roberts University and the school sent me a gift! I went to graduate school at Birmingham School of Acting UK, now known as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, so it’s really cool for my friends, family and professors to see it overseas as well!

Aside from it’s obvious TBBT connection, what do you think it is about Young Sheldon that has attracted so many people to watch, and keep watching, it?

DP: The show is hilarious and the main cast give masterful performances. Iain Armitage who plays Sheldon Cooper is a brilliant young performer and is such a joy to work alongside. His portrayal of Sheldon Cooper is honest and relatable.

TITL: You’ve also appeared in Scandal and This Is Us. How important to you is it that you’re able to take on a variety of roles that really put your abilities to the test, and with that in mind, what’s your dream role? Which show would you most like to appear in and why?

DP: Working on those two shows was incredible. I was able to work on Scandal with the genius Kerry Washington; the legendary Viola Davis was the cherry on an already delicious sundae! I’ve had the opportunity to play some fantastic roles both in theatre and on-screen. To be honest, I don’t know what my dream role would be. There are so many great shows out right now. My favorites at the moment: Good Girls, Atlanta, How To Get Away With Murder and SMILF. 

TITL: The entertainment industry is cut throat and competitive, so what advice would you give to anyone looking to make their mark on it? Is there any one piece of advice you were once given that you still look back on?

DP: A colleague of mine once said: “In this industry, you must learn to be plural.” In this industry, especially nowadays, you have to be multi-faceted. This is why there is an uprising of artists creating their own content now.

TITL: Away from TV, you’re an accomplished writer/playwright, and are passionate about creating productions that address life, living and the many issues that come with it. Does your work in that field ever cross over into your acting work and vice-versa?

DP: Absolutely. I’m actually developing an improvised Instagram series with my friend, LaNisa Frederick called Hashtag Booked. Hashtag Booked is a hilarious, raw, and shocking portrayal of what happens during the short period of time in the audition waiting room.  These “characters” are based on real-life experiences.

TITL: How are you finding your role as a vocal activist for body positivity impacting both yourself and those around you? How did you first get involved and would you like to see more individuals, especially those in the public eye, using their status to speak out about important matters as you are?

DP: The first play I ever wrote was a solo show called Body/Courage. Body/Courage was created from over 300 interviews I conducted worldwide, and it was an exploration on body acceptance. This project changed my life. The show is about my journey to find my own beauty through the voices of others. The cool thing about the show is that it introduced a constellation of characters grappling with diverse body issues including weight, illness, disability, skin color, aging, and gender transition. It was this show that got me involved in the body positivity movement. Body/Courage, allowed me to find a courage in myself that I didn’t know I possessed. The body positivity movement already has some fierce voices and it can always use more so I would encourage others to speak out.

TITL: Are there any other plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?

DP: This summer, I’ll be releasing an interview-style podcast called SHOOK discussing true stories of mental health in the industry. I’ve also been asked to be a guest contributor for Shondaland, so check out my essay I’ll be writing for them in the next few weeks.

TITL: Finally then, given that the industry is ever changing, sometimes at a pace even fans can’t keep up with, where do you think the business will go and be 5-10 years from now? What would you like to see happen and do you think that such things will? 

DP: My hope for the industry in 5-10 years is that we can begin to bring more stories by women of color to the forefront. I want to see more women of color on set, I want to see more women of color in the writers room, I want to see more women of color as producers and directors. I want to see women of color win in this industry now and in the future.

Young Sheldon is currently airing on E4 in the UK on Wednesdays at 8.30PM. You can keep up to date with Danielle Pinnock via her Twitter. Header photo credit: Joe Mazza.

REVIEW: THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS – AMERICA 36

Five years in the making, Thirty Seconds To Mars’ new album ‘America’, which Jared promoted this week by hitch-hiking his way across his home country as part of an event called #MarsAcrossAmerica, is most certainly a considerable shift away from what members of the Echelon have heard from the trio (though current duo) over the years. But is this said shift good or bad?

Beginning with “Walk On Water” which introduced both old and new fans alike to the bands’ new rather electro-edged sound, ‘America’ starts off well, especially given that the rather radio friendly “Dangerous Night” follows on from it.

“Rescue Me” ups the tempo somewhat, and with its toe-tapping, body swaying rhythm, combined with Jared’s rough edged vocal, it’s just over three and a half minutes of enjoyable considerably upbeat rock, and the simplistic chorus in particular will work well when – or if – its performed on their current Monolith tour.

Prior to the release of the album, the band gave a sneak peak of one of the album’s collaborations, with A$AP Rocky. Having watched said sneak peak, this reviewer personally felt his involvement was random and pointless. Fortunately however, and for reasons unknown, he doesn’t feature on my (likely all UK albums) version and with the song performed for the most part in a breathy, almost dream-like manner, it would most likely have been completely ruined with Rocky’s inclusion.

The “Monolith” instrumental, AKA track 5, doesn’t really serve any purpose, however it does lead into the album’s one collaboration that REALLY does work – that of Jared and Halsey on “Love Is Madness” – one of the darker tracks, but not the darkest, on the album. She compliments Jared perfectly, enhancing the song and its sultry mood/feel to the point where it easily stands out as a highlight of the collection.

“Great Wide Open” is an inspiring track, and one that’s perfect to listen to when you’re out discovering yourself or exploring this world we live in, or most likely, doing both at the same time. It’s the type of song you can see playing behind a montage of a person’s life, as their friends and family pay tribute to or celebrate them in some form or another, and with that in mind, it’s one of the album’s strongest, and most emotive, pieces.

Mixing simple electronic hooks, plenty of synth and a chorus which, it could be argued, is rather understated, “Hail To The Victor” almost flashes back to the ‘Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams’ era of the band, perhaps included to draw that chapter to an undeniable close. The darkest, deepest number on the album comes in the form of “Dawn Will Rise.” With lyrics including “Come and hit me, strike me while I’m down” and “Fortunes fade in time, I must change or die.”, it’s certainly not a track to listen to if you are in a good mood, as its sombre, almost depressing tone, matched by Jared’s almost defeated vocal performance, will soon shatter said mood to pieces.

If there’s any real surprise on the album, it’s Shannon’s Leto’s vocal on “Remedy.” It’s raw and stripped back in comparison to any track that has come before and comes after it. There’s an organic feel to the song, and Shannon’s performance, although different, is so in a phenomenally good way, and he’s no doubt going to find himself requested to play it live.

The chorus of “Oh Oh Oh”, on “Live Like A Dream”, in a nice touch from the band, was recorded at one of their Camp Mars events, and serves as an audible reminder for those who were there of the project they were involved in (though it’s unlikely they knew what it was for at the time) and the fun they had, while for other members of the Echelon, it’s a nice throwback to the ‘This Is War’ era when many of them featured on that album, having participated in ‘summits’ around the world.

“Rider” has so far proved to be quite a strong, albeit new, inclusion to the band’s tour setlist, and with its rising crescendo as the piece nears its end, it’s quite stirring and powerful. Meanwhile, on the deluxe edition of the album, the acoustic, choir-inclusive version of “Walk On Water” might lack the energy of the original, but with the electronics removed, it brings Jared’s genuine vocal ability to the forefront again, and such has been considerably lacking up to this point.

With remixes growing in popularity, it’s not that surprising to find the band have included 2, the first being a R3hab remix of “Walk On Water.” For those who like a more dance-like and continued electro-feel to their songs, it’s not a bad version by any means, but it’s not the best remix ever made either, and the Cheat Codes remix of “Dangerous Night” doesn’t fare that much better.

Despite the new sound and styles with which the band have experimented on this collection, ‘America’ is still at its heart, very much a Thirty Seconds To Mars album, and if the social media reaction is anything to go by, it’s proving a hit with their huge following. Yes there are tracks on the album that don’t quite work as well as they should, like the remixes, but for the majority, lyrically and instrumentally, it’s a considerably solid piece of work that fans hopefully won’t have to wait another five years for in order to hear its follow-up.