Melissa Raye: “Don’t compare yourself to other people”

Keep working on the inner thought process and try to think positively. Don’t compare yourself to other people. With social media at our forefront, we see what everyone is doing at all times and sometimes it feels like people may get ahead of you. It’s important to remind yourself that you too are on your […]

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Keep working on the inner thought process and try to think positively. Don’t compare yourself to other people. With social media at our forefront, we see what everyone is doing at all times and sometimes it feels like people may get ahead of you. It’s important to remind yourself that you too are on your own journey and you too have made great strides in your career and life. Be happy for others because you are on your own personal journey and you never know who is admiring you from afar. Also, keep reinventing yourself a little at a time. Also as we get older our priorities may change and that’s okay too what you may want when you’re 15–25 might change when you’re 26–30 and so on. Also, it’s never too late to try something new. Be on your own journey and inspire others to feel the same.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Melissa Raye.

Melissa Raye has always had the bug to perform and bring joy to people’s lives by using her vocal talent. From the tender age of two, she would perform in her living room for her stuffed animals and to her mom, dad, and her Nonna. It wasn’t until she was in the sixth grade when her teacher Ms. Weltz really discovered her big voice and she has been on her musical journey ever since. “It was a gift inherited from her late Nonna,” says her mother Antoinette who used to sing in her small hometown of Settefrati, Italy. Since the discovery of her vocal talent, Melissa has gone onto singing and performing on various stages like Radio City Music Hall for Tony Bennett and on NBC’s TODAY Show where she had the pleasure of singing with Jennifer Hudson. Her fans say she has a strong voice that can be compared to Adele, Janis Joplin, Joss Stone, and Amy Whinehouse. Lately, she has been recording and putting out content on social media. Melissa has a ton of musical experience under her belt and continues to share her talent with the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Melissa! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Corona, Queens, New York. We lived in a corner house down the block from the famous Lemon Ice King and Spaghetti Park. I lived with my mom, dad, and my Nonna lived downstairs. When my Nonna would babysit me she would always have opera singers like Pavarotti on the television. I would watch in awe and try to mimic the voices I would hear. My Nonna would sing to me and I thought she had the most beautiful voice. We believe that’s where I inherited my talent. My mom would often buy me Disney movies on VHS and I would always pretend to be the characters. Snow White was my favorite! My mom would sew me all the outfits that the princesses would wear and I would line my stuffed animals up and pretend I was putting on a show for them. My mother loved to see me being so creative and would often be taking pictures and recording me for the memories. My dad was a carpenter and would love to hear me singing around the house when he would come home. When I was 8 years old we moved to Whitestone and I started a new school. There were more kids on my block and I would love going outside to play. That’s when I started to build friendships. I really loved my childhood. Even now when I think back on my childhood I think of the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Christina Aguillera, Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was always shy in school and not as into the academic side of school as I was into using my imagination. Even though I enjoyed music and using my big voice to sing, I still would never speak up in class or sing a song in front of my classmates because it never dawned on me that I was actually musically inclined. One day in the sixth grade, my music teacher was playing Disney tunes for the younger grades and had me help out as a monitor. When the period was over she had the monitors come up and sing the songs while the kids exited the classroom. That’s when she heard my voice. I had no idea that I stood out to her until she asked me to stay behind and sing “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. I belted it out and her jaw dropped. A few teachers came down the hall to see who was singing and that is when my life changed. She then gave me a solo at the end of the year concert and wanted me to surprise my family by singing “Tale As Old As Time.” My mom sewed me the Mrs. Potts hat for the show. I remember the feeling of finally singing for an audience and how proud my family was of me in that moment. I knew from then on music would be a part of my life and it has shaped me into the person I am today.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have a few interesting stories that have happened at different times during my career. For high school, I went to Frank Sinatra School of the Performing Arts (founded by Tony Bennett) in Long Island City. He would often stop by the school to visit and loved to come to see our performances. One day I sang the solo in the choir and after the performance, I was told that Tony Bennett was really into my voice and scooted up in his chair to really study what I was doing. I was so shocked that I went to find him after the performance and he told me “keep going for it.” I will never forget that and I still am going for it to this day. After graduating from high school I entered a contest that was being held on NBC’s TODAY Show to have the chance to sing with Jennifer Hudson. My mom had just gotten a knee surgery and saw the advertisement on TV during one of her physical therapy appointments and called me right away. I was staying with my aunt and uncle while she was in the hospital and they helped me fill out the paperwork. All I had left to do was film myself singing the song “And I Am Telling You” from Dream Girls. My mom had come home from the hospital and the day before I had to send in the application she filmed me in our home. I then quickly sent the application through and thought nothing of it. A few days later I got a phone call from the producers at NBC. They said, “Are you Melissa who sang in this audition clip?” I said “yes!” By my speaking voice, they didn’t believe it was me so they had me sing over the phone to verify. Amazed by my voice, they told me they wanted me as a contestant! I immediately said yes and the next day they picked me up in a limo to take me to NBC. They sat me in one of their famous green rooms and I looked around in amazement. It wasn’t too long until I was whisked away and off to ahri and makeup. Then, I walked into the plaza with the other contestants. All of the anchors I grew up watching were there and were all so kind. Then Jennifer Hudson came out. They ran the regiment and she actually chose me as the winner. We then got to rehearse and I sang the song with her. It was amazing to sing alongside a Grammy and Oscar-winning. Not only that but also I was interviewed by Kathy Lee and Hoda Kotb who were so kind. Kathy turned to me while they were touching up my makeup and said, “get used to it you will be a star one day.” I will never forget that moment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure if I have a funny story but I do know that I have learned a lot over the years. I definitely know I have made mistakes in my life and honestly, you just grow from them. I always say to trust your gut. You will meet a lot of people in life that will try to steer you one way but if it doesn’t feel right for you, move on.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am a busy bee and I am a part of many projects. Currently, or before the pandemic, I was working on a few projects. In 2018 I joined a jam band called Cousin Earth. Their original lead singer was leaving and they were on the search for a new female vocalist. I auditioned for them and it was a whole new journey for me. We are not your traditional band we are a funky party band with a sci-fi twist. We were touring a lot before the pandemic and now we have put out a new single entitled “Bacon Cat Food And Cheese”. I know it’s weird but it’s quite the song. Beside Cousin Earth, I’ve been still focusing on my own music and building a catalog of original music. Over the pandemic, I released a song I wrote with my friend Craig Greenberg entitled “Spirits”. We got together to write the song cause he had just lost his mother and I lost my father to cancer. The song is written for anyone who just went through a loss of someone near and dear and being that we went through this pandemic I felt it needed to be pushed out to the universe. If anyone happens to come across it my hope is that they feel some comfort from this song. At home, I sing with a few cover bands in the Long Island area and in parts of Queens. We have been doing a few acoustic sets for the top 40 music in a little group called “DontbDaft”. In November I was singing at this event where I lend my talent too for different charities the organization is called Leave A Lasting Mark series it’s usually held once a month at New York’s Bitter End and ran by Sam Teichman. He chooses a musical theme and a charity to raise money for and it’s truly a great cause, well one day I was singing and after I was finished I was approached by this woman named Marcela Campos and she loved my voice so much we started a new blues cover band. She plays the guitar and I am so happy cause you don’t find as many female guitarists so I jumped on the opportunity and although we don’t have an act name yet I am so excited to work with her and get out content. From the LALM series I have met so many musicians and have had the pleasure to sing background vocals for my friend Alex’s band SquareWon. Finally, I am in an all-female caroling group called Santa Babies. We are going into our third year and taking the Christmas scene by storm. We just put together a few music videos that are soon to come out in time for the holiday season. Because of the pandemic, we are not sure what our season will look like but we will keep the public informed. I have to say I really enjoy working with people and each new connection becomes an opportunity.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I absolutely feel this industry needs diversity. For starters, I have found the music industry to be very male-heavy. I have performed with many bands and most of them are all-male bands where I have been the only woman in the group. I will say I am proud to be up there to hopefully inspire young women who want to be up there with the men but may feel too intimidated. We do have a voice and we do matter. Regardless of the field, you work in, I feel that there needs to be more female presence. It excites me when I work with other women because we are few and far between in this industry. One of my favorite groups growing up was the Spice Girls. I loved how diverse they were and how each one of them represented a different type of female. Another aspect of the entertainment industry that I feel needs diversity is body type. I know I was never the skinniest girl in the world. I was always battling with my weight and often felt bad about myself because there weren’t many characters on TV that represented my body type. I do feel that the industry has started to change that over the last 10 years or so and it’s wonderful to see. Women come in all different shapes and sizes and we can’t all identify with what they typically show on TV and on the runways. One huge conversation being had within the industry today is the lack of diversity in the race on TV and in the media. I feel it’s important for everybody to be represented no matter what skin color you are. My day job has me working in schools and I see what kids of color go through and we need more positive and diverse role models for them to look up to. When I was in college I was cast in the musical Little Shop of Horrors as a member of a girl group, similar to the Greek chorus. This was the girl group who sang most of the songs and told the storyline but what was so amazing about it was that we were a group of four diverse women put together and were incredibly powerful. Not only were we castmates, but also we built a friendship that we still have to this day. We learned so much from one another and put our all into that show. The media has such an incredible influence on society and if we give everyone a fair chance it can change the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Always take the chance. Opportunity presents itself in many forms. Sometimes it might feel like a hurdle but it’s always better to take the chance than let it slip away. Life is full of “no’s” but you never know when you will find the “yes.” Each time you take a chance you learn something new and you never know who you will be in front of.
  2. Know your limits. Always do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into. Trust your gut. If something feels off, stay away. Also, you’re only human. Don’t try to do more than you can handle and make sure to listen to your body. It’s okay to take a break and relax. The mind works in mysterious ways and it’s important to be in tune with yourself otherwise you can make yourself sick.
  3. Don’t dwell on your age. I know in Hollywood they make it seem like once you’re 20 it’s over but it’s not. Some people get discovered faster than others and it’s not about who walks the red carpet first or last it’s about the journey and how you grow and learn along the way.
  4. Make sure you’re happy. Always check in with yourself and make sure you feel good doing what you are doing. I know I’m most happy when I’m on stage performing and making people feel good in the moment. I really enjoy performing for people and I love it when I hear them tell me how I made their evening that much better. That’s why I do what I do.
  5. Don’t rush. Take your time and make sure you love your product. Don’t make any rash decisions and don’t let anyone peer pressure you. You will feel much better when you take your time with something. You know what you like, no one else can make you like something you are unhappy with.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Keep working on the inner thought process and try to think positively. Don’t compare yourself to other people. With social media at our forefront, we see what everyone is doing at all times and sometimes it feels like people may get ahead of you. It’s important to remind yourself that you too are on your own journey and you too have made great strides in your career and life. Be happy for others because you are on your own personal journey and you never know who is admiring you from afar. Also, keep reinventing yourself a little at a time. Also as we get older our priorities may change and that’s okay too what you may want when you’re 15–25 might change when you’re 26–30 and so on. Also, it’s never too late to try something new. Be on your own journey and inspire others to feel the same.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I can actually think of many movements but I think something important is to teach the youth that with hard work and dedication they can achieve their dreams. It is so important to encourage children to reach their full potential. We live in a world where information is at our fingertips and I feel it is important to teach the young how to use it wisely to better themselves. I feel there is so much pressure that is put on kids these days with everything being on social media and we have to promote positivity. To not let one person drag you down. We need support systems for children who may not be as fortunate by showing them love in our own communities. By having resources that help them grow and help them stay on a good track. I see many students who are told they can’t do things because either life has given them a rough road or someone has put a lot of pressure on them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mom is my number one fan and has let me give this avenue in life a try. My mom, Antoinette came to the United States right off the boat from Italy. My mom has had an interesting life herself; she used to be an assistant hairdresser for the stars back in the 60s/70s like Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. She has been my biggest supporter and there is no one that I have to thank more than her. I remember when I was applying to the performing arts high schools in New York and since my grades were never straight A’s I didn’t get accepted. My mom believed in my talent so much that she fought for me to be accepted into Frank Sinatra School of the Performing Arts. I remember the call and she taught me that sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in otherwise an opportunity will slide by. She is one of the hardest working people I know and she gave up everything to raise me and give me the best life I could possibly have. We both went through the loss of my dad in 2005 to cancer. My dad also loved it when I sang and supported me till his last day. She became a single parent and supported this small family. I couldn’t have done this without her. I remember when I was filming the segments to sing with Jennifer Hudson I mouthed towards the camera “I love you, mom.” That’s a moment she will never forget.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One quote I say a lot is, “and this too shall pass.” I remind myself of that a lot because sometimes you get into a situation that you feel is the end of the world in that moment but you will get through it. So I think of that quote to remind myself that some things happen but we will get through them and learn from them. Then you think back on what you may have been worried about and think “wow that wasn’t worth the stress after all.” It’s about how you got through it and what’s to come next. And I feel this now during this pandemic. It won’t last forever. We will get through this and I’m sure we will have learned something from it. Life can throw you curveballs and no one has it easy, even the most “put together” people have bumps in the road. It’s how we learn to deal with them.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

This is such an interesting question. I would love to have tea with a few people. Adele because I’m always compared to her and I feel like she has a great laugh and knows how to have a good time. It would also be amazing if we could do a collaboration. Lady Gaga because she is a chameleon in this industry and knows how to handle her image and business very well. If anyone can turn heads for a star moment, it’s Gaga. My final would be Christina Aguilera. I have always wanted to sound like her. She was a huge influence on me as a vocalist growing up and I feel like she would have some amazing stories.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can find me on Instagram as: Miss_Melissaraye

Facebook: Melissa Raye



Sound Cloud:

YouTube: (Cousin Earth)

You can also type my name in and find multiple videos.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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