About this article
This article was originally published in the Dec. 2015/Jan. 2016 issue of The Life-400 North, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
19 years. 1:30 minutes. 17,768 fans.
For 1:30 minutes, every fan in Phillips Arena – 17,768 of them – is silent. Hats are in hand, hands are on hearts. Eyes stared, captivated at a 19-year-old girl from Cumming and her echoing, booming voice that sent chills through the crowd.
Chills turn to cheers, then she is off.
It wasn’t the first time Riley Biederer sang the national anthem before an Atlanta Hawks basketball game. She’s now done that twice. Also once for a Braves baseball game.
Nor was it her first stint singing in front of large crowds. After scoring two record deals (Elton John’s Rocket Music at 15 and Sony at 18), she auditioned for and competed in “The Voice,” a nationally televised and widely popular reality singing competition that airs on NBC, where she was coached by celebrity judges Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani. And her No. 1 idol. (More on that later.)
As she sits in a restaurant in southwest Forsyth’s Vickery Village the day after that Hawks game, Christmas music plays in the background. She’s not worried about that Christmas music. It’s raining, and she’s supposed to film a video for her first originally written Christmas single.
She had to press pause on her songwriting (soul-pop style) while she was on “The Voice” and is happy to get back to it. Now she can continue working on her publishing deal with Sony (she signed on her 18thbirthday).
“I do take from my life. I guess as a writer you have to be an observant kind of person, so I observe things around me and phrases and things that happen to my friends a lot of the times and family,” she said of her lyrical inspiration. “I’ll just hear something and I’m like, oh, that’s interesting, and it just sparks something like a desire to put it into a song. A lot of my ideas come from social media or something you’ll read and you’re like that’s a dope title.”
One of her favorite songs was ignited by a phrase her best friend, Chandler, said to her.
“It’s called ‘Love on Fire.’ And it was about this guy I was dating, and we had kind of a really topsy-turvy relationship, but most of the time it was really good,” she said. “And she used the phrase, ‘y’all’s love is like a love that’s on fire, and it’s passionate.’ And that’s really cool to say. So I used it, and it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve written.”
‘Just that good’
Her band – Cheney Brannon on drums and Biederer’s music director, Jacob Evergreen on lead guitar, Preston Shewbridge on bass and Rex Hussman on keyboard – continued to practice her songs while she was in Los Angeles for “The Voice.”
“We’ll do cover gigs, and we will do three-hour shows and I’ll be like, ‘you guys are in for this?’ And we won’t rehearse, and they’ll just play around with whatever I’m doing in the moment,” she said. “They are just that good.”
She describes herself as an easygoing performer. She can sing almost anywhere with anything. No rituals or must-have items, just her voice and maybe a guitar. And her voice is enough.
Waiting for us to choose the next location during a photo shoot earlier in the day, she starts humming. Better humming than many people can ever hope to sing.
Her favorite performance atmosphere is when she’s singing in the back of a bar. No one’s really listening intently. She knows she’s performed at bigger arenas and for larger audiences. But they’re enjoying the music and maybe moving around a little. Or this time she sang for a young girl’s birthday party to 40 kids. They were all standing around her and singing along.
“It was so cool, and I just love when everyone is engaged and actually paying attention and enjoying it,” she said. “It makes it so much more enjoyable on stage. It sends energy back to you.”
Growing up musical
For as long as she can remember, Biederer has been a singer.
Her grandmother sang professionally. Her mother signs and plays piano. Every holiday consists of piano and music.
“Half the people in my family can actually play instruments, so it’s really kind of fun. I think I just grew up in it, and I took a liking to it when I was really young. I mean, my dad has videos of me when I was like really small singing, so it’s like, I don’t know, I’ve never really had any desire to do anything else. There was one weird point in my life when I wanted to be a veterinarian.”
She hasn’t always been so outgoing with her voice.
Biederer used to suffer from stage fright to the point where, around the ages of 6-8, she would run out of the room when someone asked her to sing. But one day she told herself if she’s going to do this as a job she has to stop being scared.
She hasn’t stopped singing since.
No such thing as overnight success
She now has gained more than 250,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel and more than 27 million views. Her first video to pass 1 million views was a cover of a Rihanna song. (“Diamonds.” It now has almost 9 million.) Who just so happens to be her biggest idol and favorite part of “The Voice.”
“I remember before they had announced who our [guest] advisor was going to be I remember joking around with my friends saying like, ‘oh my god, if it’s Rihanna I’m going to die,’” she said, sounding more excited than for anything else we talked about. “I was so excited. After that I was like I don’t care what happens on the show. I’m good. I was freaking out … She was so nice and so into it and 100 percent involved in the whole giving advice and helping out. It was amazing. She’s amazing. I could have cried, and she hugged me and I felt tears. I was like no no no no no.”
Until she makes it big enough for an upcoming star to fan-girl over meeting her – and she intends to – she is spending her time singing, performing, writing, hanging out with friends, shopping and going to concerts.
If she seems calm (minus Rihanna) and collected for a teenager who has been working for her one dream career essentially her entire life, it’s because she is. And she does it without acting like she thinks her life will be over if the next thing isn’t “the thing.”
“I definitely think that it happens differently for everyone. I don’t think there really is such a thing as an overnight success. Like one day you’re no one and the next day you’re signed. Everyone who is trying to do this has been trying for probably a minute, and to the world it looks like it’s really, really fast,” she said. “I don’t think there’s really one shot. I think that hard working people get opportunities, and you just take it and run with it and go as far as it goes. Then you move on.”
Whenever her shot comes, whether it’s one or many, she plans to be back in an auditorium like Phillips Arena, with 17,768 fans looking on. Cell phone flashlights on instead of lighters. And she’ll be on stage for more than 1:30 minutes. Because they’ll all have come for her.