By Judy Shields
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 10-12-2020
Just under a decade ago, after enjoying a lengthy and successful career as a TV news personality and press secretary in Moscow, ALYA left her native Russia to boldly pursue her musical dreams in the United States. Now, having artfully chronicled her personal struggles and triumphs as an immigrant and evolving artist assimilating to an entirely different culture on her stylistically eclectic, well-received 2019 debut album Ten Years of Solitude, the multi-talented singer/songwriter shares deeper universal truths about the experience of female immigrants on her heart-tugging latest single “American Beauty.”
“American Beauty’ is the first song representing the new era of my musical journey, where I’m looking deep into who I am today and connecting my experiences as a new American with the countless stories of women who have also come here and started building new lives from scratch. The song is a story about and for women who came to the U.S., or any country really, to find new opportunities and become their best selves. I am letting them know how strong, beautiful and unique they are – and that we are united in our quest to discover the beauty of this country that we chose out of any other. It’s about the universal story of immigrants – which unfortunately also touches on the nightmares going on at our border due to today’s political climate. I wanted to create a song that would be warm and inspiring, soothing and supportive of them as well – a reminder of the true values of America that we come here to embrace.”
THT: What was it like being a news personality in Moscow?
ALYA: As you know, Russia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a reporter. During my career as a journalist, I worked on both sides of barricades (government own and so-called independent media and later public relations), trying to find a balance and be honest. Looking back, I am very grateful for the experience that I was fortunate to have; it taught me many things.
The most important one is to be resistant to brainwashing and how to find accurate information, which is very helpful these days in America. But overall, being a reporter in Russia was challenging. I am looking at my Russian friends trying to survive in online media with admiration. If you want to follow the journalism rules, not the laws written by State officials, there is no room for you in Moscow.
THT: When did you discover you could write a song, and what was the first song you ever wrote?
ALYA: At a very early age, around Kindergarten. It was about the Fall. I still remember it. The straightforward melody and the hook that goes something like this (obviously Russian):
Fall, Fall, there is the last flock of birds flying by;
Fall, Fall, the rain is drizzling.
I was kicked out of the math class once for humming it during the test.
THT: What was the first song you remember writing once you came to the United States?
ALYA: I came to the United States with the whole album “Ten Years Of Solitude” almost ready and polished for a while songs from there.
But the whole song, I think it was “American Beauty,” which I dedicated to all the immigrant women.
THT: Did you have an influential person in your life that geared you towards a singing career?
ALYA: I love Anna Netrebko’s beautiful story and her vividness.
I also a huge fan of Celine Dion. When I was learning how to sing like “western singers,” her cassettes were the ones I was listening to non-stop.
THT: You have explored different genres of music. Do you happen to have a favorite now?
ALYA: My favorite one is still to mix. I am so in love with experimenting; my second album will be all about it.
THT: Are you finding more time to work on writing more songs during this pandemic?
ALYA: I wish. My husband and I are blessed to have three kids, which leaves almost no time almost to anything with a current situation. But I have a lot of moments of inspiration which I record to develop later.
THT: How did you and your husband get into philanthropic work to help low-income college students?
ALYA: Access to education is the key to a better future, but the college’s high cost is out of reach for far too many families. When we learned that textbooks’ price was even higher than tuition for community college students, we knew we had to do something to help fix this system. We helped launch Openstax, which provides free, online textbooks to colleges that are now being used in 60 percent of colleges and universities in the US and over 100 countries.
THT: I read where you recently donated 20,000 laptops to help Los Angeles Community College, students. How were you able to obtain that many laptops? Awesome accomplishment!
ALYA: The pandemic forced schools to shut down and students to take classes from home. More than half of the community college students in Los Angeles live at or below the poverty level. Most did not have a laptop or another way to get online to continue their studies. When we heard about this problem, we sprang into action. Together with philanthropists like Steve Ballmer, the Foundation for the Los Angeles Community Colleges, and the nonprofit organization human-I-T, we were able to secure and distribute 20,000 laptops, so these students could stay in school. The response was overwhelming. One student wrote, “I am crying while writing this because I was very scared and sad. I did not know how I was going to try and read and study on my little phone. Not having access to a computer has been extremely hard. I can now breathe a sigh of relief and focus on my classes.”
THT: Tells us about the Michelson Prizes for Human Immunotherapy and Vaccine Research.
ALYA: Now more than ever, we need to support high-risk, high-reward efforts to solve the challenges we are facing due to this pandemic. We recognized early on, and the data shows that young researchers early in their careers were more likely to have breakthrough ideas in biomedical research. However, the vast majority of funding goes to older, more established scientists. We established a prize to give $150,000 to fund a research project that would not have been supported otherwise. Over the last three years, the results have far exceeded our expectations. The prize supercharged the winners’ careers, and now one is helping lead Stanford University’s efforts to fight Covid-19. Another just received the National Institute of Health’s New Innovator Award for his work to fight cancer and HIV.
THT: Explain to us about the Grammy Foundation’s MusicCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
ALYA: COVID-19 has been devastating to the music industry. Artists and other professionals have been lost work and are facing an uncertain future. Given the nature of our business, many don’t have insurance or access to affordable healthcare. Too many have been lost to this terrible disease. Each week we hear the tragedy of another voice or talent silenced. The Grammy Foundation established the MusiCares fund many years ago to help music industry professionals experiencing medical, mental health, substance abuse, or eviction crisis. They connect those suffering from resources and, in some cases, provide direct financial assistance. This is so important, and I was eager to contribute to this effort.
THT: Where do you see yourself in five years with social issues and empowering women?
ALYA: I hope to create a new conversation about immigration and be a catalytic force to support immigrant women and unlock their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Now is the time for us to collectively uplift immigrants’ contributions and recognize women as robust and diverse assets. We can write a new story that gives a voice to the marginalized, silenced, and ignored; that empowers immigrant women and embraces those who journey in search of community, opportunity and a place to call home.
THT: What plans do you have for the upcoming holidays this year?
ALYA: You know, I am back to my Russian survival mode these days and do not plan anything. Cherishing every day and try to stay calm.
THT: What do you and your husband have on your Christmas list this year?
ALYA: A new President who cares about people.
ALYA’s new single, “American Beauty,” was produced by legendary Grammy, Emmy and Dove Award winning producer Bill Schnee. The original track has racked up nearly 500,000 Spotify streams, and ALYA also released an explosive remix by Grammy winning producer Dave Aude (Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars) that stormed up the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, reaching #16 after only two weeks; and a Tropical/Latin-fired remix by DJ Cruz.
After a lengthy and successful career as a news personality in Moscow, ALYA left her native Russia to boldly pursue her dreams in the United States. Now, having chronicled her personal struggles and triumphs as an immigrant and evolving artist assimilating to an entirely different culture, the multi-talented singer/songwriter shares deeper universal truths about the experience of female immigrants on “American Beauty.” Born during the Soviet with the limited access to Western Music, she developed a passion for classical tunes and opera. In her own work she is exploring different genres making them sound mainstream and deliver impowering social messages.
“’American Beauty’ is a universal story about and for women who came to the U.S., or any country really, to find new opportunities and become their best selves,” says ALYA. She continues, “In the uncertain and shallow times that we live today I wanted to create a song that would be warm and inspiring, soothing and supportive of them as well – a reminder of the true values of America that we come here to embrace.”
Complementing her career as an artist, ALYA, along with her husband, are driving positive social change through their philanthropic work to help low-income college students, advance breakthrough medical research, and improve the lives of pets and their families. They recently donated 20,000 laptops to help Los Angeles Community College students who were forced out of the classroom when schools were closed due to the pandemic. They also announced the $150,000 Michelson Prizes for Human Immunotherapy and Vaccine Research, which were awarded in August to young researchers on the front lines of finding ways to prevent disease. ALYA also has supported other artists and arts education through the Grammy Foundation’s MusicCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.