The current season of American Idol is underway and participating this year is Bay Area hopeful Anja Kotal. The 20-year old singer-songwriter who’s originally from Slovenia moved to San Jose back in 2012. She’s called the Bay Area home ever since and recently completed a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign for her debut album, NOMAD. If that wasn’t enough she’s also attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music to hone in on her craft. We wanted to learn more about this talented young lady so we reached out to her to ask a few questions. We spoke about when her interest in music first started, what it was like to be on Slovenia’s X-factor (at just 14 years of age!), and what she hopes to get out of American Idol.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in music?
As cliché as it sounds, I’ve loved performing from when I was just a few years old. I’ve always felt an inexplicable connection to music, a way of expression that surpassed everything else. My parents quickly saw that and put me in music school for classical piano at the age of 6. I always dreamt of making my greatest passion my career, but it wasn’t until my family moved to the US and I started attending the VC Conservatory in San Jose, CA that I started to actively work toward that route.
How would you describe your music?
I like to call it “ElectroPop Musical”. Because I’ve worked in classical, jazz, musical theatre, and pop, I like to take cues from each of these areas and combine them in my production: musical-like storytelling with electronic production. Pop is the most accessible music format so it offers a huge area of relevant and important lyrics and themes that can be packaged in a digestible form. It’s my desire as a songwriter and musician to speak about issues facing us in our daily lives but present them in a simplified, easily understandable way.
Who are some of your inspirations?
I believe inspiration comes from everywhere, so I try to listen to as many genres and artists as possible, from Chopin to The Neptunes. For NOMAD specifically, my main guidelines were 80s artists such as Phil Collins, Prince, and Michael Jackson, blended with their modern contemporaries such as The Weekend, The 1975, and Jon Bellion. I love making music that has a novel feel, using uncommon sounds and combinations to create a unique blend.
I’ve read somewhere that you were 14-years-old when you auditioned for Slovenia’s X Factor. What was that like?
Yeah, it was a fantastic experience! There aren’t many opportunities for pop singers in Slovenia so I saw that as my chance to showcase my skills and, frankly, see whether it would be a real-life pursuit for me. It was the first time I sang in front of people who hadn’t met me before and whose only impression of me came from my performance, so it was truly life-changing to see them in tears and giving me a standing ovation. It was that very performance that solidified my choice to put all my work and time into music.
You’ll be on this season’s American Idol. What are you most excited about?
I’m the only singer from the Bay on this season so I’m incredibly honored to be able to represent our area on the national stage.
What are you looking to get out of being on the show?
My debut album NOMAD was largely inspired by growing up in the US, where so much of teenage life takes place in your car, driving. I’m looking forward to more people hearing my music and hopefully relating to its content on a level that they can implement it into their lives and their own experience of growing up. It’s one of the most vulnerable and raw times and nothing would make me more proud to see this album be part of their life soundtrack.
What are your ultimate goals with music?
Ultimately, I would like to work toward a sustainable career in music on a worldwide scale. However, I’m deeply aware that this is a tough industry to succeed in – it requires countless amounts of hard work, persistence, and flexibility.
You’re a Bay Area resident by way of Slovenia. What was the transition like moving here?
At the time, I was 15 and so excited to be moving to the US that I hadn’t realized just how crazy the whole move was! My younger and I brother Klemen had just finished filming the sequel to the Slovenian movie Going Our Way where we starred as supporting roles, and two days later we were on our flight to San Jose. The next day, I already had my first classes at high school. When we initially came here, we didn’t have a house or a car so we stayed in a hotel for the first few months. They were definitely difficult as there was so much to learn and change in our daily lives, but it was through the help of new friends we made that we were able to start being involved in life here. Looking back, I’m glad everything happened so quickly as it forced my whole family to think on our feet and immediately start adapting which is an invaluable skill that we continue to use.
What’s one thing that many people would be surprised to find out about you?
Despite the fact that I love performing and meeting new people, I’m actually a total introvert. I truly enjoy being alone as it helps me to recharge, gather my thoughts, and plan for what’s ahead. Nothing beats a good Stephen King book and a warm bubble bath!
Check out Anja on American Idol Sundays at 8|7c on ABC!
Photos by Jani Ugrin