So when that door closes, just what do you do?
I can still very vividly remember the day. For most of the first year, I would constantly replay every moment, trying to capture new details and engrave it into my memory, my brain – forever. I wanted to keep it to myself, relive it in infinity. Somehow, at the time, it seemed more comfortable to stay in that limbo of time and space, safely tucked-in in the perfectly bland and cold airplane air. If only the flight could drag into time and I would never have to land.
Five years ago my family packed our deeply rooted Slovenian history into 15 cardboard boxes and moved to the heart of Silicon Valley – San Jose in California. It was always the perfect decision and we always had the most perfect time. The transition was easy and fluid – the blending into the new environment? Seamless… If only.
In a world where you engage into other people’s lives through the perfectly curated smartphone screens, honesty is a value of intricate pretend, far away from the scrubby and unglamorous actuality. For someone who’s always had seemingly unrealistic dreams of working my way up to becoming a singer and performer, it was scary to publicly admit I couldn’t legally work in the US for my first four years here.
The harsh reality hit suddenly and unpredictable, while auditioning privately for executive producers for The Voice US: my parents’ business Visa didn’t allow me to work in the States. Just like that, my vivid daydreams of strutting around millions of TV screens across America were flushed down the drain. We moved here for a better future, bigger opportunities; sacrificed comfort and familiarity to have a shot at success on a big scale. So when that door closes, just what do you do?
If I couldn’t perform, I concluded, I would focus on my music, my education so that when the moment comes, I would be ready to go full throttle. After a year, I had written enough songs to make an EP selection – to record it I put together a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign. With the help of 156 pledgers from all across the world, I was able to record the album at Universal Music Studios in LA and premiere tracks from it at the Slovenian Song Festival and EMA 2016. Meanwhile, I was offered to study with Berklee College of Music Online and will complete my Bachelor’s in December, nearly two years early. I wrote pages upon pages of music for my new concept album, took lessons with the famed vocal coach Micah Plissner in LA, and designed my own fashion line.
Almost five years later, the moment has come. This spring, I finally received my Green Card. On May 25th, I released my debut full album, NOMAD worldwide, along with opening my own online store, Too Cool that connects music and fashion. On June 20th, the music video for the first single from the album, How to Be Cool, premiered and is featured on VEVO.
So yeah, it sucked to not have been able to work and perform in the US when I was 15. At the time, I was devastated, unable to see past the dark cloud the enormous obstacle had generated. But I kept waving my hands in front of me through the thick smoke, pushing the fog away, and little by little, crystal clear skies started to peek through. I came here for the American Dream, but got much more than that: the American Determination. I am incredibly fortunate I get to enter the industry on my own terms, with music I believe in fully (and jam to on the daily), none of which would have been possible had I received my work permit at the very beginning.
I can still very vividly remember the day. For the rest of my life, I will replay every moment, trying to capture new details and engrave it into my memory, my brain – forever. The moment, however, is no longer mine – it is now my responsibility to pass it on to my children, and their children. To remember where we came from, to always be adventurous, and nurture the hunger for more. But, most of all, to share the most valuable lesson in life: to never give up.
Text: Anja Kotar, Photos: Jani Ugrin