Samantha Jade staged one of the more unlikely comebacks in pop music history last year when she seemingly came out of nowhere to win X Factor Australia. The thing is — the tiny diva had already been on the grind for over a decade with more career twists and turns than your average telenovela. Her story begins way back in 2003, when the then 16-year-old relocated from the sleepy coastal city of Perth to the bright lights of Los Angeles to pursue a music career. A year later, she had signed a deal with Jive Records and was being hailed as the next Britney Spears.
By 2006, the teenager seemed destined for greatness. She released the theme song to box office hit Step Up and hit the studio with heavyweights like Max Martin, Timbaland, Darkchild and Stargate. But her debut album never saw the inside of a record store. The powerhouse vocalist hit rock bottom when she returned home to work in her father’s factory. She battled crippling depression but never quite gave up on the dream. Samantha spoke candidly to us about her stint as Jive’s ‘it’ girl, working with the game’s hottest producers and her second chance at fame.
“I thought everything would kind of work out,” the Aussie songstress says about her early days as Jive’s Next Big Thing. “The song ["Step Up"] did okay, the movie did really well but the song was not as big as we all kind of hoped. I had another little go [2007's "Turn Around"] but after that it went nowhere.”
“I was just working and none of the songs were being heard,” she remembers. “That was what was really hard. You’re writing music and you’re recording and doing all this stuff and no one is hearing it and it’s really hard to find the courage to keep working when no one is admiring it.”
Samantha is being too hard on herself. She definitely had a cult following and people were checking for her — particularly given the people she was sharing a studio with.”That was all organized by the record company,” she says about her sessions with Max Martin and Darkchild (among others).
“I was signed to Jive. They had people like P!nk and Britney Spears on the label, so they had song deals with those producers. When Britney left I got to go [work with them] for a few days, which was amazing. I mean the behind-the-scenes experience I had was incredible and prepared me for now.”
But what was it like to be in the magic hands of Swedish hitmaker Max Martin? “We worked together in Sweden and I was just pinching myself because I was like ‘Max Martin! He’s written all of the songs I’ve ever owned!’ You know, I have every song he’s ever written on my iPod. Yeah, he’s amazing. He was incredible. I think I was a little bit young at the time. I was only 17 and I kind of worked with him and I don’t think I knew who I was as much as I do now. I think it was a little harder for me to give him a direction, so they took me in kind of a Britney direction.”
“I wasn’t allowed to write anything because I was a lot younger and obviously it’s Max Martin — he chooses who he wants to write with and I totally get that. I understand that completely, so I hope to work with him again because I think this time around I’ll be able to actually say ‘look, this is what I like. This is what I’m good at. Let’s meet in the middle!’ But he was lovely, lovely.”
It’s hard to ask someone about the darkest period of their life but what separates Perth’s pop princess from the crowd is the fact that she collected herself and had the heart to try all over again. As it turns out, she’s surprisingly frank about the nadir of her career.
“After I got dropped that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with because my family got sent home, so I was there [In LA] by myself because the money just stopped coming in. I had no money left and I was kind of just hoping that something would happen, turn around, and it didn’t. It didn’t for a long, long time and I decided to give up on music and go home because it was just too hard mentally, I couldn’t deal with it. I think I had depression,” she admits.
“I was never diagnosed with it because I didn’t go to see a doctor but I was sleeping until four in the afternoon and then I was getting up and going back to bed at nine o’ clock at night so it was really bad because I just worked so hard and I only had that in my mind and I was supporting my family as well and I felt like I not only let myself down but everybody else too.”
“So I decided to give up on music and went to work at my dad’s factory, which is totally different from what I’m used to.” What exactly did she do there? “I was just counting stock. I worked there a year and a half — off and on.”
“I never looked down on it because I think everyone’s working to make a living and that’s amazing, so I was just doing that too but it was my passion that I was missing, nothing else, it was just the singing, I wasn’t singing at all,” she adds.
“You can’t sing in a factory, you know? So sometimes I would sing and it would annoy everybody but it’s not the same thing so it was really tough. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t me. Without music I’m not myself and so I saw the auditions for X Factor and I was like ‘I’m gonna go for it’ because I love the show and I feel like X Factor builds stars, you know like Leona Lewis, like One Direction, like Cher Lloyd, like people I aspire to be.”
X Factor turned out to be the best move Samantha ever made. After starting slowly, she eventually became a firm favorite. “It was the first time I felt like me in a long, long time. Then, I just got better and better but that first week being in the bottom two really knocked me back and it was really hard to get back up.”
She turned it around though with a showstopping performance of Kanye West‘s “Heartless”.
“I felt that song so deeply because I was singing to a lot of people that have disappointed me in life, especially in the music industry, and especially people who were there when I was doing something and then as soon as I was doing nothing they were gone. I’ve been able to have a meeting with people that are like ‘you’re going to be massive’ and then as soon as I got dropped they didn’t even return my phone calls and changed their email addresses. I was singing to those people.”
Viewers felt a connection because Jade’s version immediately raced to number one on Aussie iTunes. “The next day when they were telling me it was going up the charts. They told me on stage that it went to number one. I had to run off stage. I just went in a room by myself and I bawled my eyes out for 10 minutes straight because I was like, I didn’t know how to take it because that’s a dream of mine, that’s the dream.”
After that triumphant performance, victory was inevitable. Samantha won the competition and raced straight to number one with winner’s single “What You’ve Done For Me”. I can’t help but ask if the song’s success (it went triple platinum and revived international interest in her music) was a massive raised middle finger to doubters.
“I was like you know what, I hope everybody who said I was bad and said I would never make it, I hope they see now what I really am so yeah, I did have that moment.”
And that’s not the end. Samantha recently released a nuclear-powered dance single called “Firestarter”, which raced straight into the Australian top 10 and is being picked up for distribution around the globe.
“I was in the studio [with producers DNA] and hadn’t really found a song yet. So instead of buckling under pressure we really just tried to have fun and let loose. I think that really comes out on the track.”
And her debut album? “The album is a mix of a lot of different things. It has uptempo party anthems and also beautiful, heart-wrenching ballads. I’ve been working with a lot of people. Writing with a lot of Aussies, Americans and Swedish writers.”
We really hope one of those Swedes is a guy called Max.