KRISTINE ELEZAJ TALKS “OVER & OVER” & LOOKING TO THE FUTURE 0 130

Having first been noticed while performing at the Sugar Bar in New York, Kristine Elezaj has grown considerably both personally and professionally over the last couple of years, with such growth being displayed most evidently through her music. The video for her new track “Over & Over” has already amassed hundreds of thousands of views, and she chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about artistic inspiration, her dreams of playing MSG and her excitement about the future.

TITL: For those who have yet to discover you and your music, who is Kristine Elazaj in a few words?

Kristine Elezaj: I’m a passionate and curious person who has never stopped dreaming. I never stopped wanting to soak in everything life has to show me and put it into my art.

TITL: Which artists have you been most inspired by throughout your life and how do those inspirations filter through to the music you make?

KE: When you love music, you are inspired by every artist in some way. Growing up and with my dance background, Janet Jackson was always one of my idols. I love to be able to create music but also have the ability to bring it to life through dance. Through movement, I’m able to add another layer to the story, and that is very inspiring to me.

TITL: You first started out at the Sugar Bar in NYC, where you were discovered by hit song-writing duo Ashford and Simpson as you performed Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Looking back on that time from where you are now, did you ever imagine a single performance like that could change your life so drastically?

KE: At the time, I didn’t know when I started that performance that night that Nick and Valerie were actually in the audience. Not knowing that they were there helped my performance because my stage fright might have kicked in. I would have felt the weight of the performance even more. Looking back on it and just some other things that have happened, it’s really important to live in the present moment and to realize how precious each moment is. You never know what’s around the corner for you. It was a small intimate venue, performing that evening, started one of the greatest ripple effects of my life and I’m forever grateful.

TITL: You then came to more public attention in 2016 when you placed within the top 20 of Macy’s iHeart Radio Rising Star contest. How much of a boost in confidence, and also in your audience/fan base, did your involvement in that contest give you?

KE: The Macy’s iHeart contest was a huge boost in confidence for me! I was coming out of a place where my career had tested my soul. It was reassuring to know that I was still on the right path and have people appreciate the art I was making. It wasn’t about winning; just being noticed was a win enough. I had another chance to be on a platform to do what I love and hopefully inspire others a little. Even more special, it inspired me all over again!

TITL: You’ve been referred to by Billboard as a cross between Britney and Rihanna. Would you say that’s a fair comment, or would you like to be seen more as an artist in your own right?

KE: Of course you want to be seen as an artist in your own right. I have my own life experiences and point of views that I want to give to the world, and I didn’t take that article in a bad light. They are two of the most successful female artists and I saw it as a compliment to be thought of as being able to be at the same level.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing?

KE: It might sound simple but for me, just really living my life, and trying to be as much in the moment is the biggest inspiration for writing. Even if I’m going through a hard time, it’s a blessing to be able to try to witness all of my emotions and feel them completely. I’ve loved that my sessions have become a safe place for me and my team. All of them start out as just conversations with a core group that I trust. It has been the best environment for creating music because it’s pure raw emotion.

TITL: The video for your new single “Over and Over” has already had close to half million views since its release. What do you think it is about the visuals in particular that have drawn people in to watch it?

KE: I’m so excited about this video; it’s been the first one in my career to be growing in the way that it has. I think it has a lot to do with the energy and space that I’m in. I have such a great relationship with my team, I’m able to just be myself and create authentically. I have a team that supports my visions and that’s so inspiring for me! I believe my fans can sense that with my music this time around. I’m not trying to create a character, I’m just being myself, showing people what I think is beautiful. In the pop culture world, especially today, I think that is hugely important and is what’s making the difference for me.

TITL: The director of the video, Jose Omar Hernandez, is perhaps best known for his work with Justin Bieber on the likes of “Purpose”, so how did the two of you come together? How did you find collaborating with him to shoot the clip?

KE: I’ve known Jose for years, actually back to the start of my career. Jose wasn’t even directing then. He’s an incredible dancer and has worked with all of the top artists. He’s been a part of many live stage and music video performances. I later found out that he had a passion for directing and was shooting things on the side. Jose’s background and knowledge of dance plays a major role in how he shoots and edits his videos. His style of shooting inspired me to want to work with him. We first collaborated on my song, “Echo” and creatively fed off of each other. From then on, I knew I wanted to grow with him when it came down to all my visual content. Since then, we’ve done four videos together. Every time it gives me the same feeling I had when I was a little girl just having fun with the arts. I’m so grateful for him as a collaborator and more importantly as a dear friend.

TITL: Do you have any upcoming performances you can tell me about and are there any plans for you to head across the water to Europe?

KE: There are not hard dates set right now for performances but that is definitely on the agenda for the near future! My focus has been to engage more with my fans outside of the states. Some of my most loyal fans who have been with me since the beginning are overseas. I’d like to go out there and give back all the love they have shown me over the years. There are some remixes in the works as we speak which I’m really excited about.

TITL: Which one venue, anywhere in the world, would you most like to play and why?

KE: I think every artist dreams of performing at Madison Square Garden. I’m a native New Yorker so that would be incredible. I’m not greedy though. Just being able to perform anywhere someone cares enough to go see you is a blessing, especially considering how hard this business is.

TITL: With the year inching ever nearer to a close, what have been your biggest highlight so far, and what are you still hoping to achieve in the remaining 3 months?

KE: I’ve learned a lot this year. The biggest highlight for me has been how amazing my team is. I just feel that for the first, time I’m in a really good and safe place. I’m watching that result in how my work is being received. I’m excited to see how that energy keeps me growing artistically. In the next three months, I’m looking to have more new music finished and release new singles as well as show dates to share.

TITL: Looking further ahead, what are your artistic and personal goals? What one or two things would you have to achieve for you to look in the mirror and say ‘I’ve made it?’ or do you already feel that way?

KE: The biggest thing for me as an artist is being able to voice my opinion without being scared when it comes to my career. I feel like I have that now. It sounds easy but that is a big hurtle. Now that those doors are open, I’m excited to see where that takes me and how far I can really push myself now. Whatever comes from that space comes and that’s what I’m most excited about because I’m at peace.

Check out the video for “Over & Over” below and for more information on Kristine Elezaj, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

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SOPHIE ANN UNVEILS HER UPBEAT & CATCHY NEW SINGLE “READ MY MIND” 0 69

Following on from the release of her self-love anthem “Flawless” towards the end of last year, Sophie Ann is continuing to speak out, write and sing about mental health issues – issues that affect millions not just here in the UK, but around the world – in an open and honest way in an effort to remind those who hear her music that they are not and never alone in what they are going through.

Her latest track “Read My Mind” is an upbeat, pop-funk banger that looks at the anxiety that often goes with and can come with getting in your own head. In her own words, Sophie says:

“Read My Mind is about when you have a crush on someone and create their personality and your entire future relationship in your head, and when you daydream about someone you don’t even know. I was in this headspace before I went into the writing session where we wrote Read My Mind, and I thought it was such a funny concept. It’s something that’s embarrassing to admit, but we all do it.”

Check out “Read My Mind” below and to keep up to date with Sophie Ann, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

JAMES CHEN CHATS “TWD”, “FBI” AND LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019 0 89

With appearances in hit shows including Madam Secretary and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit under his belt and currently starring in The Walking Dead and new CBS series FBI, James Chen is becoming a more and more familiar name to TV fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Having trained at the Yale School of Drama and built up an impressive resume of work, acting and performing have been long established passions for this talented actor, with such passion evident in every role he takes on. With the holidays just around the corner, James spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about his early career, favourite projects and what he has lined up for the new year.

TITL: You’ve been acting on both stage and screen for a number of years now, having undergone training at the Yale School of Drama, but prior to that, growing up, did you ever have any other career ambitions or have you always been determined to find your way in the performing industry? 

James Chen: I definitely wasn’t aware of the performing arts universe growing up. I loved movies and had my absolute favorite TV shows, but the idea that it was a skill you could pursue and a job you could have wasn’t even on my radar. When I was younger, I definitely had a big imagination and loved drawing and creating, starting from when I was a kid the progression went something like palaeontologist, to doctor, to scientist. In undergrad, I was actually pursuing this biochemistry masters program to become a research scientist… and found out quickly that wasn’t at all what I wanted to do. After some years of exploring and performing, acting really became a clear love. 

TITL: You’re perhaps best known for your role of Kal in the phenomenally successful series that is The Walking Dead. Did you ever anticipate the reaction the show has had over the years and what impact has its success had on you both personally and professionally? 

JC: I didn’t, because when I started working on the show I hadn’t read Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels nor was I watching the show on TV at the time. So it was only slowly over the next couple years shooting on set, catching up watching previous seasons,interacting with fans, that I truly got a sense of how ride-or-die The Walking Dead fandom is! I think as actors, we’re always just putting in our 20 years to have our ‘overnight success’, so I think overall my job hasn’t changed much in that I’m still ploughing away and hustling at the industry at every opportunity. People definitely know me from the show more, so that’s been nice in that it’s a kind of short-hand for people to place you in the industry. Personally the show has been really fulfilling. To get to know and work with fantastic people in front of and behind the camera. That family dynamic has been very fulfilling. Love all those guys. 

TITL: What was/is it about the character of Kal that made you want to audition for the part? How is he different from any other character you’ve played before, and how do you feel he fits in with the dynamic of those around him? 

JC: At the time the audition, it was shrouded in secrecy and mystery, so no one knew who exactly they were auditioning for. I only knew that he was extremely loyal to his community. It turns out that audition was initially for the role of Jesus, but honestly can’t imagine anyone other than Tom Payne playing that role. When I booked the role of Kal, it was under a fake name, and so it wasn’t until I arrived at the fitting, that I knew exactly who I was playing and was able to do some research into him. I think as a character he’s really exciting – great fighter, fierce protector, first line of defense, deadly killer with a spear and knife, lives and mans a real life fort! I think what makes Kal different from other characters is the nature of the world he lives in, how much death and killing he’s seen and done. That’s just an everyday part of his reality. I think what make the Hilltop work so well is the teamwork that everyone there falls into. It’s run really efficiently, and everyone has their role. Kal’s is definitely more of a veteran soldier at the Hilltop and I would say those are his closest kin and co-workers at the Hilltop and among other communities as well. 

TITL: You’re also currently on screen in the latest series from Dick Wolf, FBI. Given the success of Wolf’s previous works, including L&O: SVU, which you’ve appeared in, just how badly did you want to be a part of this one? Can you recall your audition? 

JC: So much! I am not joking with you when I say Law & Order: SVU was one my favorite shows growing up.  I loved everything about it, the characters, the action, the drama of each case. So my time actually getting to work on that show and with Mariska and Chris and B.D. and the entire crew was incredibly rewarding. Getting a chance to return to the Dick Wolf universe is always an exciting and fun because of all those great memories. And it was also exciting to be there from the very first episode to create a new FBI world with everyone. I love working with all of those guys. My audition was pretty straight-forward… I was given audition material to prepare – it was when Ian is evaluating the burnt cell phone evidence from the bombing in the pilot episode. It was really fun to explore Ian’s expertise, wielding that technical jargon, but also his razor sharp mind and bit and the fun you can feel he’s having doing it all. 

TITL: For those who haven’t seen the show, how would you sum it up and what part does your character Ian play in it all?

JC: FBI follows the case work of agents in the field and at the joint operations command as they race to solve the most high-stakes, national security threats of our time. Assessing crime scenes, tracking down key witnesses and evidence, gathering intel on our suspects and using the latest technology to combine it with evidential analysis, we try to connect all the dots to arrest those behind these threats. Ian Lim is part of FBI’s CART -Computer Analysis and Response Team – and handles any electronic tech involved in any case’s physical evidence, surveillance, etc. to keep the team on pace with tracking a suspect or bring us that much closer to making an arrest. Ian is a genius and he’ll be sure to tell you all about it.  

TITL: Of all the shows you’ve starred in over the years, could you pick your favourite? Do you have any particularly fond memories of times spent on certain sets?

JC: I think I’ve immensely enjoyed my time on each project for different reasons. But I recently had a great experience on Madam Secretary playing an eccentric billionaire whose hobby was racing cars. A day spent on the race track in a jump suit jumping in and out of a race car with such a fun character was incredible. As was my first day working on The Walking Dead… when we saw Hilltop for the first time, climbing up those practical walls and ramparts, grabbing and brandishing those very real spears, and heaving open those massive doors…that was surreal. 

TITL: If you could appear in another TV show, past or present, which would it be and why? 

JC: Wow… too many to choose from! Breaking Bad has been one of my favorites for a long time, with absolutely amazing writing, characters, and acting. To be a part of that world and have scenes with Walter White would be incredible. On another Vince Gilligan theme… I grew up loving The X-Files and would love to be part of a paranormal plot line with Detectives Fox Mulder and Dana Scully…I’ll have to look them up in the database next time I’m on the FBI set!

TITL: You’re also a rather regular feature on the big screen with credits in films such as “The Amazing Spiderman” and “Front Cover.” Do you find working on films any different from working on TV shows, and do you have a preference for one or the other?  

JC: Sure… TV moves quite quickly and the storytelling format is about 50 minutes. Film can be 90 minutes to over 2 hours and – depending on the film – the pacing and development can be that much more drawn out. I think traditionally film affords the opportunity to take the time and really go into character depth, which is what I’m really interested in. But this golden age of television has been blurring those lines and getting to explore a character over several seasons is really exciting. I think it would really have to depend on the project. 

TITL: What can you tell me about your new film “Fluidity”? 

JC: Fluidity is about the intersecting lives of 10 millennial as they struggle to navigate their identity and sexuality in this fast-paced, high-tech world. At those speeds and levels of convenience, love, relationships, desire, sex… can all start to lose clarity and blur. This is a story about how we’re all surviving in that wild jungle.

TITL: This might be a hard question, but what’s been the highlight of your professional career so far?

JC: This summer I was simultaneously recurring on 3 different shows:  Netflix/Marvel’s Iron Fist, CBS’s FBI, and AMC’s The Walking Dead. That was a place I never thought I’d get to, and I’m encouraged by the ever-increasing awareness to inclusion and diversity of the industry that things will only continue to get better.

TITL: Are there any other upcoming projects you can tell me about or are you just focusing on TWD and FBI for now? How’s your schedule for 2019 looking?

JC: I’ve had some great opportunities to stretch the comedic muscles and play with some absolute rock stars. I’ll be opposite Tracy Morgan on his show “The Last O.G.” as well as slayer queens themselves, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, on “Broad City” — both airing spring 2019. I’ve also been writing more recently and hope to have a couple passion projects developed later next spring as well.  

TITL: Given how tiring shoots for shows such as TWD can be, how do you unwind after a hectic filming period? Is there a sport you like to play or vacation spot you most like to visit? 

JC: Ooh I love this question! I’ve began a journey in MMA earlier this year, and I find that an amazing art-science-meditation-fascination hybrid for me. I’ve been trying to get back to Beijing or Shanghai for the longest time, but the schedule has yet to present an opening. I’ll just have to shoot a project there!

TITL: Finally then, given how cut-throat the performing and acting business can be, what advice would you give to aspiring actors/actresses? What one comment or piece of advice do you often find yourself reflecting on at difficult or stressful times that helps keep you motivated? 

JC: Focus on what you love about acting, remembering why you ever wanted to do it in the first place as opposed to anything else. That will connect you to the source of your passion and keep you true to your mission amongst all the distractions.  

FBI airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on CBS and will return in the New Year. The Walking Dead returns to AMC on February 10th. You can keep up to date with James on Twitter and Instagram. Header photo credit: Ryan West.