Allison Iraheta is having one of those years some teenagers can only dream about. First, she made the top 10 on “American Idol.” Then Simon Fuller, Chief Executive Officer and founder of 19 Entertainment, called her into his office and made her cry. “He told me I was going to have a record deal and I burst out in tears,” she explains. Her debut album, “Just Like You,” was released on 19 Recordings/Jive Records on December 1, 2009 and her first single, “Friday I’ll Be Over U” is out at radio now.
The album release has answered a question that has been on the lips of millions of viewers who watched and voted for Allison on “Idol” – what kind of an album would she make? The answer is, a contemporary pop/rock tour de force that teams the talented girl with the bright magenta hair with some of the top songwriters and producers in the business.
That list includes Swedish super-producer Max Martin, whose credits include fashioning hits for Kelly Clarkson, P!nk, Katy Perry, and many others. Another major producer on the album is Howard Benson, who has produced hits for Chris Cornell, Daughtry, and My Chemical Romance. Then there’s “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi, who has worked with Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, and Santana, among many other top artists.
There’s another name in the credits worth mentioning: Allison Iraheta. She’s the co-writer of “You Don’t Know Me” along with Mitch Allan, David Bassett, and David Hodges (formerly of Evanescence). That’s the same Allison who was born April 27, 1992, in Glendale, Calif. She was 10 years old when she viewed the first season of “American Idol” in 2002. “My parents, my sister, and I would sit down and watch. Seeing the contestants who were older than me opened my eyes as to what I wanted to do with my life. I kept watching; I have literally seen every season and I can tell you about every finalist because I remember everything about them.”
Right from the age of five, television was Allison’s window into the world of music. Her parents watched MTV and Spanish music stations. Even before that, Allison’s mother, Sara, would take her daughter to work at the hospital where she was a cashier in the cafeteria. “I’d wander off and go up to random people and start singing to them,” Allison recalls. “Mostly it was Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from ‘Titanic.’”
The soundtrack to that all-time box office champ was a strong influence on young Allison, but so were her parents’ musical tastes. “My dad, Carlos, listened to a lot of classic rock, including Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. My mom was a huge ABBA fan and listened to Spanish music, which is why I started singing in Spanish, even though I didn’t know the language back then.” Then there were the R&B albums that Allison would ask her older sister to buy for her, by artists like K-Ci & JoJo and TLC. And her brother, Carlos Jr., taught her to play guitar. “I’m the youngest, so whatever my brother and sister did, I wanted to do,” explains Allison. “When my brother picked up the guitar, it looked like fun, so I thought I would play, too.”
Allison was just six when she made her professional singing debut at a community event for La Curacao, a local Latin supermarket. “There were about 600 people in the audience. My whole family came. My dad was nervous and I was nervous, too. I ended up singing there every weekend.”
Growing up, Allison took voice lessons from private coaches and sang with her high school chorus. She performed at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood and at Cal State Los Angeles. When she was 15, her mother and sister encouraged her to try out for Quinceañera, a reality competition series that aired on Telemundo. She sang at the audition and was immediately asked if she could fly to Mexico the next day to start the series, which taped there for the next four months. Allison became the ultimate winner of the show.
With three male friends from school, she formed a band called Allison and the Dudes, and then Allison and the Gurus. At a charity performance held on the Paramount Studios lot, Allison met two other singers performing at the event – Brooke White and Michael Johns. She told them of her plans to audition for season eight.
Finally 16, and after watching “American Idol” for seven years, Allison was at long last eligible to audition. The family drove to San Francisco and Allison got in line at the Cow Palace one evening at 7pm. She was too excited to sleep, so was still awake at 9am the next morning when she was one of the first 50 people to sing for the first round of judging. She performed P!nk’s “Heartbreaker” and Etta James’ “At Last.” When she appeared before the four judges, Randy told her she “had something” and Paula said she was “very distinct.” She won a golden ticket to Hollywood, where she made it into the top 36, the top 12 and then the final four.
During her weeks of competition, she impressed the judges as well as viewers with performances that belied her age. She sang with maturity far beyond her teenage years. “For me, choosing songs always has to be about connection,” she says.
Her most memorable performances included a take on the No Doubt hit “Don’t Speak.” Allison says, “I am definitely a huge fan. They’re my inspiration. I grew up listening to their first album with its punk/ska sound. It was really, really nice to do one of their songs on the show.”
Allison will long be remembered for singing Janis Joplin’s version of “Cry Baby.” Allison says, “I grew up listening to Janis Joplin and I’ve sung ‘Piece Of My Heart.’ ‘Cry Baby’ is also one of my favorites. For me, I definitely connect with that one. I thought that was one of my best performances. It’s one of those songs I’ve always wanted to do.”