Read the full interview on SheenMagazine.com!
Simona Shao just unveiled her newest single titled “The Only Thing I’ve Known,” and we can’t stop listening. The song features her smooth, buttery vocals, while her lyrics touch on the importance of love and living in the present moment.
Speaking on the track, Simona Shao states, “[I pulled from] the idea of never being satisfied even when something is so perfect and good for you, as well as the strange yet innate human urge to try to mess things up when everything is going right.”
Having been enthralled in music since a very young age, even taking home the crown on ICN Network’s American Stars competition show, Simona has been steadily finding her own stride, sound, and identity within the music industry. Her initial collaborations landed in the EDM space, which ignited her desire to songwrite her own original ballads.
In any case, Shao pours her heart and soul into the music, allowing the listener to relate to the record in their own way.
Sheen spoke with Simona Shao about her background, love for music, beauty go-to’s, goals, and more!
For those who don’t know, who is Simona Shao?
I am a Chinese-American singer-songwriter/musician based in Los Angeles. I grew up in Arcadia (a suburb of LA, shoutout to the 626) and went to an all-girls school in Pasadena called Westridge, which was known for their fantastic arts program (choir, theater, pottery, dance, you name it!). I also studied classical piano since the age of 4, and began going to the Colburn School of Performing Arts in Downtown LA when I was around 12. I grew up doing acapella and musicals at my school, and studying classical piano and voice at Colburn as my extracurricular – it was definitely a busy time! I began writing my own music in my teenage years, and ended up doing international singing competitions like the International Beijing Water Cube Cup and ICN Network’s American Stars. I also took my academics very seriously. I studied finance and management as an undergrad at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and also completed a minor in music there. I actually had to turn down an offer to compete in The Voice of China in 2015 because it would have kept me from my freshman year at Penn. All throughout my life, I have been passionate about music and continued to write my own songs and perform, even while in college. It is the one thing that has very grounded and focused. I think it’s super important to have a creative outlet in life.
You’re from China, how does that play into your life and career?
My parents are from China (Mongolia and Shandong), but I was born in Arcadia, CA. Although I’m a first generation Chinese-American, I still feel extremely connected to my Chinese roots. I lived in Mongolia when I was around 2 years old, and I would visit my extended family in China every summer growing up. The traditional Chinese values of hard work, valuing academics, and gratitude towards parents/family is deeply instilled in me.
I always knew that no one would hand me anything in life. You need to go out there and prove yourself to get what you want. Through playing piano for years, I began to master the instrument and therefore it allowed me to create my own music, using the piano as my canvas. After writing a ton of my own music, I was able to go compete in singing competitions and really challenge myself to become a better musician and performer. I studied really hard to get into my dream college, and never let my academic ambitions die out.
Since graduating, I work in finance full-time and love that my Chinese background is a unique asset in the industry, as I can speak Chinese to clients and can share my Chinese culture while building relationships. All of this was truly made possible by my parents, who came to the U.S. to give my sister and me a better life and the chance to pursue our passions. The funny thing is, I remember crying at the piano when I was little because I didn’t want to practice anymore, and my mom adamantly told me I had no choice but to keep going (classic Chinese mom lol). Honestly, I am so grateful she kept pushing me to play piano, because I would not be where I am today as an artist without her.
At what point did you realize this music thing was forreal?
I had been participating in piano competitions and acapella shows, but singing solo was a whole other ball game. When I first started to get into recording music, I posted covers on YouTube (which was already 10 years ago), and got a small following on there. I remember it was super anxiety inducing to post my first original song, All For You, but it led to a lot of support from friends, which kept me going and posting more original songs. The turning point was when I started to participate in local singing competitions and make a name for name for myself within the LA Chinese music community, which led to me going to China to do my first overseas competition. Nothing beats the thrill of performing onstage and having an audience enjoy your music.
What was the inspiration behind your name?
Simona Shao is my real, legal name. The name Simona came from my parents’ English names, which are Simon and Mona. They just combined their names and voila, Simona was born! I didn’t really have the chance to think about releasing under a different artist name because when I started putting out tracks with producers, they used my full name before I had the thought to use something else. It ended up working out well though, and I wouldn’t want to use some other pseudonym now.
“The Only Thing I’ve Known” out now, is there a music video coming?
I feel like true music videos are almost unnecessary these days, unless you’re a massive established artist, because everyone consumes media through short clips on Instagram or TikTok. I had a fun photoshoot for the track and recorded some short visualizers that I used to promote the song on social media. I guess you could say those became mini music videos for the song. I will be recording a live performance for the track in the next month or so, which will be a full length video. Be on the lookout for that!
What did it mean to be crowned champion of ICN Network’s “American Stars”?
I really treasure my memories from this era of my life, because I was just starting to perform and write my own music, and honestly just starting to get comfortable in my own skin. In the prior competition I participated in, the International Beijing Water Cube Cup, I was a super awkward teenager with braces and bangs, navigating living in China for months and performing my original music for the first time to a massive international audience. After getting back to the U.S., I felt a new sense of confidence in my craft, and so American Stars was really a tipping point for me to blossom into the artist I am today.
The TV show was recorded in LA, so I was excited to be back at my home base, but I did continue to speak and compete in Chinese during this show. Knowing the journey I went through with the previous competition and being able to go even further competitively in American Stars, I was extremely proud of myself for overcoming all the various obstacles that I faced, including the language barrier, my own confidence in myself, and being one of the youngest contestants. Being in LA, I was also able to perform duets with some of my close friends in the entertainment industry, like Will Jay and Victor Ma, which was really fun and demonstrated how great it can be to collaborate musically with other talented musician friends, which is something I still love doing today.
How was your experience on The Voice of China?
Following American Stars, I was asked by the Voice of China’s team to audition that summer in Shanghai for their 2015 season. It was a great experience where I met the team, recorded demos, and heard about the experience. It was also great to have the chance to go back to one of my favorite cities. Ultimately, I had to pass up on the opportunity because I would’ve had to basically take off an entire year from school at Penn, and I did value my college experience more. I don’t regret it, because I truly had the best college experience and most amazing 4 years of my life while at Penn. My friend, Will Jay, did end up competing on the Voice that season and went very far and did really well, so I lived vicariously through him!
What do you like to do besides music?
I love going to concerts and festivals to experience music live. While living in LA, I try to go to as many as possible, so you’ll see me at most of the big EDM events happening around the city, and I regularly frequent the clubs in the area like Sound, Academy and Exchange to support my favorite DJs. I love a wide variety of EDM, whether it be house, techno, dubstep, trap, UK garage, drum & bass, and the list goes on! I also love to cook in my free time.
During the pandemic lockdown, I perfected a number of comfort food recipes, like lasagna, chicken pot pie, a 6-hour bolognese sauce, amongst many others. I would say I’m a foodie, so I love to have a nice night out at a fine dining establishment and or try new local spots around me. Japanese, Italian and Korean cuisines are my personal favorites. Living in California is such a blessing, so I try to get to the beach whenever I can to go play beach volleyball, hike, or just bask in the sun. On my days off from work, I try to plan out an overseas trip to get away and relax. My favorite cities at the moment are Ibiza, Capri and Tokyo.
What are your beauty go-to’s?
When I first got into makeup (which was late, back in high school), I experimented around with a lot of different brands before I settled on a few select items that I use all the time and replenish when they’re empty. I literally never change it up because I love these products so much. For foundation, I use Chanel VITALUMIÈRE AQUA Ultra-Light Skin Perfecting Sunscreen Makeup. I have skin on the drier side, so this foundation is amazing at keeping the skin hydrated but also matte. I use a Tarte 12-Hour Amazonian Clay Blush to keep my cheeks rosy.
I’m obsessed with this clear lip gloss from Huda Beauty – the Silk Balm Hydrating and Nourishing Lip Balm. For Bronzer, I’ve always used the Benefit Cosmetics Hoola Bronzer. Recently, I found the best eyeshadow palette from Anastasia Beverly Hills called the Norvina Pro Pigment Palette Vol. 5. My favorite color is purple, and it has so many beautiful, glittery shades of purple, but also a lot of everyday colors and darker shades for going out. The pigment is amazing and you can use this palette for a very long time. My last recommendation is an insane makeup removing face wash, Eau Thermale Avene Cleansing Foam. I found it in a convenience store in Europe, and it’s been a game changer. You can order it off of Amazon!
Goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
My goals right now are to continue releasing music that makes me proud. I had some interesting encounters with music managers as I was starting to release recent records who wanted to change my whole sound and manufacture me into an artist that I did not find authentic. I want to continue telling my story through music in my own true way, because why would I pretend to be something that I’m not? The industry can be difficult to navigate, especially as an independent artist, so these learning experiences were pivotal to how I want to develop as an artist going forward.
This year, I’m excited to release some electronic collaborations with a few of my producer friends. You will be able to hear these songs while they’re on tour in their sets, which will be really cool to see. I enjoyed making my recent R&B/pop style track, so I will be working on releasing another song in this style this year and further exploring this sound. After a long hiatus in performing, I also will be working on some live performance gigs going into the summer, so stay tuned!