The Next Thing: Coffee With Ana Isabelle
As kind as she is driven and beautiful, Ana Isabelle has music in her blood and holds it close.
In 2009, the multi-talented Puerto Rican beauty won the hearts and minds of more than 30 million Latinos who voted her to victory on ¡Viva el Sueño! – a reality TV music competition on which Isabella was crowned “The New Latin Music Rising Star.”
Born in Humacao and raised in Caguas, Ana was drawn to the performance arts at an early age, first singing with her mother’s Caguas Children’s Choir at the age of 6. Her passion for performance flourished as she learned to hone her craft, regularly attending music competitions while studying flute, guitar, violin and piano at Escuela Libre de Música de Caguas where her father was a trumpet teacher for 35 years.
Coming from a family of artists and musicians, her parents taught her to be disciplined, work hard and stay positive. So work hard and study she did, focusing on music, karate and acting in addition to 9 years of modern and jazz dance at the Ballet Concierto de PR. As a teenager, Ana’s passion for music turned professional and soon saw her working as a backup dancer for such prominent stars in the Latin market such as Don Omar, Daddy Yankee, Luis Fonsi, Calle 13, Menudo, among others. Since then, Isabelle has put out two studio records, acted in film and television, and performed throughout the world. Though it’s been a few years since her last release, music always has and will remain a driving force in Ana’s Life.
Sincerity, earnestness and genuine human decency radiate from her character, leaving me confident in the fact that her future is to be a fulfilling one regardless of her path to be. I speak for all of us here at TIDAL when I say we wish her the very best and look forward to seeing what’s to come.
You can listen to Ana Isabelle’s personally curated Music Is Happiness playlist here.
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Who is Ana Isabelle? How would you Introduce yourself?
Well, I’m an actress, singer and dancer…. but most of all someone who enjoys art and the company of others.
You were born and raised in Puerto Rico into a very musical family. Can you tell me about that? I understand your father was a music teacher.
Yeah, he’s been a trumpet player and teacher ever since I can remember. He used to play with some of the most famous Latin music artists in Puerto Rico, such as Gilberto Santa Rosa. I grew up in that sort of environment.
So when did start to think you might like to pursue music?
You know that question that people ask you when you’re in kindergarten? Well, my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was always the same: I wanted to be a singer, actress and dancer. I knew when I was 5 years old that that was my calling and what I wanted to achieve. My parents encouraged me to study and be the best that I could be in those disciplines. So I started learning instruments and taking on dance, singing and acting classes from the earliest stages of my life. I was, and still am, very lucky to have parents that understand the value of the arts and supported me in pursuing a career in the performing arts.
I read somewhere that as a young kid, while learning to act and dance and play various instruments, you were also interested in learning songs from different cultures and countries. What inspired this?
That was my mom. She’s a choir conductor and her choir, which I was a part of, used to compete in different competitions around the world. I started traveling with my mom and brother when I was five. Though always representing Puerto Rico, I was sharing stages with African choirs, Italian choirs… and so I was exposed to different cultures ever since I was a little girl. I knew how to sing songs in Latin or in various African dialects. I still think it’s amazing that I could do that. I actually think one of the first boys that I ever liked was one of the African choir boys. I remember thinking to myself, “I have to learn African music, I have to move to Africa!” That’s how fascinated and interested I was in other cultures.
So I suspect that due to your multicultural, multilingual upbringing, your art is at least partially indebted to these different cultures. That said, how has of the native culture of Puerto Rico, and the Latin community at large, affected your art?
It’s in my blood. I love my country. I love my music. You know, often when you’re 17 and just starting out and you sign with a label, you don’t know exactly what you’re doing or what sound you want to have. Now it’s all so different. I know what I want to say, what I want to sing. Like with everything in life, you need to keep growing and searching and discovering yourself. I’ve done features with native singers but I’m very eager to do a new album with the rhythms of my country.
But you’re not just interested in music…you’re an actor and you’re a dancer too. How do you feel that these things are interconnected?
Again, that comes from my parents who taught me that if I were to be successful, I had to be proficient in different artistic disciplines. According to them, the more I knew the more opportunities I would have access to. So I followed their advice.
OK, let’s go back in history. When I started in the choir my dad was also a teacher at my hometown’s music school and I had to go there everyday after school for about two hours. When I started taking classes, my dad would tell me: “If you want to be an artist you have to study, it’s not that easy” and so I started discovering myself, discovering different passions… I got super involved in my art and at school as the leader of countless clubs. Before I knew it, my mom saw an ad in the newspaper and I was suddenly auditioning to be a backup dancer for Menudo, a Puerto Rican boy band.
So when exactly did you start dancing at this level?
I was 9 years old when I started dancing with Menudo. Think of them as the Latin world’s Backstreet Boys. I was the only 9 year old dancer whereas everybody else was 15 or 16. In that moment I was like: “Wow, I’m actually good at this. I’m surrounded by bigger girls and I’m still here. They picked me.” That’s when I started to see that all of these passions will ultimately lead me somewhere wonderful and that I just have to keep getting better and working to polish my talent. After that everything started to flow and to happen. I haven’t stop working doing while I love since then.
But you were really discovered in the largest sense back in 2009 after winning the Viva El Sueno reality television competition, right? I understand 30 million people were watched and voted.
Yes, and it really made a difference in my life both as a person and a professional. I learned so much from the other contestants and the process in general. Every Sunday throughout the entirety of the show I had to reinvent myself and see how I could get votes from these people so as not to get kicked out of the competition. I played a completely different song every night. I even played the piano and the guitar two different nights because I knew had to be different and utilize all of the talents that I’d been cultivating all these years if I wanted to shine.
It also seemed like a great opportunity to be exposed to the U.S. market and I felt that I needed to take that next step. So I went for it, for this amazing opportunity to compete against Latin artists from all over the Latin world. I decided to be in the competition and I won it. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life!
So what’s the best advice you’ve received along the way?
My mother used to tell me: “You never know what’s going to be next so you need to take advantage of every opportunity put in your way and, if you stand out, something great will happen. Never take any opportunity for granted. Make the best out of it.” I think that’s the best advice she ever gave me.
Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to perform with? Any contemporary?
You’re going to think I’m saying this because I’m here at the TIDAL office but… Beyoncé. I think she is one of the most talented and complete artists that I know of. I love her voice, her songs, the fact that she masters multiple musical styles, and her stage presence. I also admire that she is not only a singer but also a dancer and an actress. I think she is phenomenal at all of it.
What have your role models, the ones you aspire to be like, taught you in terms of what it means to be an artist?
To work hard. To put in the time. That it’s so much more than just having talent. You have to work hard and really want it badly.
People will tell you that they’ve had a great career and that everything has been beautiful all the way through but that’s not the reality. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve gone through moments where I’ve said: “I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m not good enough” and I’ve felt this way despite realizing how much I’ve achieved although sometimes it feels like it’s just not enough. In these moments, what allows you to keep your focus is your passion. It’s what makes you say: “Oh my God, I don’t see myself doing anything other than this. I have to work harder. I think I’m working hard, but I have to work harder. I have to do more, I have to reinvent myself.”
What advice would you give to upcoming artists? What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
Study your art as much as you can. Develop your skills. Be interested in growing more as a person every day. Be so focused that everyone else thinks you’re crazy. Enjoy the journey, keep the faith and always be grateful. When you do all of this, something will start happening.
You talk about having the power to capitalize on the opportunities presented before you, you’re an artist, a performer and musician known by so many. Do you think you have a responsibility to your fans, what is that responsibility?
Yes, I definitely think I have a responsibility with my fans. I feel I have both a professional and personal one. On the professional side, my responsibility is to be prepared on stage and give my audiences the bet of my art. Art that moves them emotionally, that makes them think, or sometimes help them cope with any difficult situations they might be going through in life. On the more personal side, I feel that I can have an influence on younger generations. Therefore, I choose to convey optimism and carry the message that anyone can make their dreams come true through hard work and dedication.
Switching things up just a bit, what did you listen to on the way over here? What have you been listening to lately?
I was listening to “Today’s hits” on digital radio. Since I’m now part of the cast of a musical, I have recently been listening to a lot of music from famous musicals.
So what’s in store for you in the next year? What are you looking to accomplish? What will be your headline?
My goal this year is to be signed by a label once again to further my music career as I’ve been more focused on my film and acting career lately. All of my opportunities seem to be in film or theater these days and my fans are asking: “Hey! Where’s the music?” For that reason, I think that if I release something else I want to be sure to stay true to myself. I think my talent, my art, my passion, my hard work, my family and my fans deserve my next release to be ambitious, true and on another level.
When you were 17 you didn’t really know who you wanted to be, musically speaking. It sounds like maturity has since taken over and that you’re mentally prepared to make something true to yourself. If your music was an object, a physical object, what object would it be?
Wow! [laughs] That’s a tricky question. I would say a rainbow. Everybody loves it and it’s beautiful. Every time you see it it’s magical and unbelievable. It has a variety of options and people are fascinated by it. It also gives the message of positivity, uniqueness and hope in dark days.
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