True Story: I’m a professional backup singer

professional backup singer

What’s it like to stand 20 feet behind Demi Lavoto, in front of thousands of screaming fans? Or appear on The Voice – but not as a contestant? Chelsea’s telling us all about it – how she landed her biggest gigs, how she stays positive, and how she protects her ‘instrument.’ 

Tell us a bit about yourself!  

I’m Chelsea Latimer and I recently turned 29. (Sagittarius!) I grew up in Colorado and moved to Los Angeles when I was barely 18. I decided to forgo college for the School of Life, it made sense for me as I homeschooled most of high school preparing to move to Hollywood specifically to pursue entertainment.

Over the last nine years, I’ve also lived in NYC, traveled around Europe and briefly moved back to Colorado. Currently, I’ve been producing and directing digital content, which I would like to turn into film one day, teaching yoga and pursuing an acting career.

When did you start singing/performing?

My mother owns an incredibly successful dance studio in Colorado and was in the chorus line of plays growing up. Naturally, I grew up around all types of music, whether dancing to it or listening and singing along in the wings. When I was at my mother’s voice lesson with her when I was 6, I was singing along to the vocal warmups in the background when they realized I had a voice….from there I took over her lessons and shortly after began doing local professional theater.

At what point did you decide that you wanted to make this your career?

Pretty sure I came out of the womb with an idea that I was going to be a dream chaser. From about six years old, I would pull out the audition section every Wednesday and circle the roles that I thought would be “fit” for me. Then, I’d plead for my parents to let me do every play that I booked, at the expense of their time and money. Thanks Momma and Papa. Still owe you one.

There truly was never a question whether I was going to work in entertainment, even when I diverted from my path, I knew it would always loop back around.

Tell us about moving from Colorado to L.A.  How has that move affected your career?  

I knew that if I stayed in Colorado there would be a ceiling on my dreams. If I stayed, I’d be able to do what I wanted on a small level Being in Los Angeles was essential for me to build the relationships, take in the knowledge, and get the experience for me to set up a long-term career as an entertainer.

Was it a struggle to adjust to life in L.A.?

Absolutely! I remember calling my friends back in Denver on the night they were going to prom, I had graduated early, working two jobs, ordering Chinese food sitting on the floor of my empty, sketchy apartment. I was incredibly lonely and lost for the first few YEARS.

Luckily, I moved in with two of my best friends from home who were pursuing dance. Within a year, they both booked big jobs working for Usher and Justin Timberlake while I was nannying and living on rice cakes. It took me much longer to get a break, which was tough.

Ultimately, I knew that there was no Plan B, so even when I was lonely or lost, I kept reminding myself to push on. Fortitude was my go-to word.

How does one go about getting work as a backup singer?

I was lucky enough to connect to another singer in the industry. I’d been hammering away, trying to get a backup job. I kept getting close, but not landing the gig. Meanwhile, I had a full-time job as a Digital Manager for various high-profile celebrities in the industry. I had a desk job, but I was longing to be out in the world using my voice.

One night I was with a producer friend at Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s house, for an after party for The Voice. I was eating alligator (best part of the night!) and chatting with people when I ran into the aforementioned friend. She took me under her wing and mentored me, eventually giving me my first big break.

From there, I learned anything and everything I could from her. I would volunteer to assist her, I trusted her advice and soaked everything up. Finding a mentor who believes in you is absolutely essential. Because of that friendship and my willingness to work insanely hard, I toured as a backup singer for Demi Lovato and have done a lot of session work for TV & film, as well as appeared on shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, X-Factor, The Voice, Ellen, Good Morning America, The View, etc.

professional backup singer

Tell us about an average audition.

Honestly, in this type of work there’s very rarely an audition. It’s mostly about who you know and what you’ve done.

In the past, like when I auditioned for Lady Gaga the audition process was a couple days and I was invited by my former dance agent from my dancing days. I wore the most insane outfit I could come up with, including a bright white wig. You have to give it everything you can and know the material; I’ve learned 20+ songs in one day. Being a quick read and going above and beyond always helps.

When you get a singing gig, what does your workday look like?

I always try to take care of my “instrument,” my voice by resting a lot, doing vocal warm-ups and staying HEALTHY. We sound check and make sure everything sounds good at the venue, then have a little time to rest, get ready (a lot of lashes and mascara), get amped up and work on anything that needs to be perfected before showtime. Every now and then, there’s time to explore a bit if you’re on the road, which I always try to do especially if I’m in a new state or country. Adventure is fodder for creativity.

Do you prefer backup singing to being a lead singer?  

Most of my young life I was pursuing the solo thing, I had a band, several songs written and recorded, shows, etc… but the long term goal for me was always to be an entertainer, not just a singer. I grew up watching musicals and admiring people who were Jacks of All Trades; Barbara Streisand, Dolly Parton, OPRAH!

Singing backup up, doing session work, etc. is perfect for me to also pursue the other avenues of entertainment; specifically acting, producing/directing and writing which has been my focus the last year and a half.

I think a lot of us imagine that living in L.A. and working in show business could be a struggle. How do you stay positive?

Well you would imagine that correctly! There are certainly struggles and times when I want to abandon it all and live in the woods making essential oils and raising babies (…in a perfect world I’ll be able to do all of that eventually 😉

I stay positive by creating a routine that works for me: yoga, meditation, carefully nurturing my relationships. You have to create a family for yourself and meaning outside of “booking a gig.” You can always create and live an “artful,” life and that’s really the most important thing.

Do you anticipate living in L.A. and singing for the rest of your life?  

I’ve always been a big believer in following what “feels right.” For instance, when I moved to Boulder and worked at a start-up it FELT right, then. For me, my art isn’t a “career choice” it’s directly who I am. It’s my hobby, my passion, my way of making a living all rolled into one thing.

I’ll always do it. The mediums and capacity to which I’m an entertainer may change. I directed and produced several digital shorts over the year for various brands, which led me to doing more film. Everything I do is a medium of storytelling, that will certainly never change. L.A. is home for me now…I could definitely see myself raising children barefoot in a canyon somewhere, soaking up beach sunshine and occasionally getting glitzy in the city.

What advice would you give to others who want to pursue a career in the arts?

LOVE THE SHIT OUT OF IT. If you don’t, you will give up.

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. It isn’t an easy road, so having courage and inner strength to endure it is imperative.

FIND A FAMILY. FIND MENTORS. Remember that it’s fun and silly and we’re essentially playing different characters, living in a little circus – that’s magical!  Don’t take yourself too seriously but KNOW when to focus and when to work hard. You will have to be your own motivator. Pinch yourself and remember that when you start getting jaded or discouraged. Enjoy it, it’s a zany ride and collect as many stories as you can.

Be gracious. Be humble. Show up on time. Keep your ego to a minimum. Be professional. NEVER STOP LEARNING. STUDY. STUDY. STUDY.

Thanks so much for sharing, Chelsea? Do you guys have any questions for her?

P.S. Interviews with a roadie, a working musician, and a hand model!

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6 Comments

  1. Kate

    Always an inspiration, Chelsea. I loved reading a little bit more in depth about what you do!

    Reply
    • Chelsea Latimer

      Thank you so much! <3 <3 <3

      Reply
  2. Julie

    Fan of Chelsea Talks Smack for years! Great interview.

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      She’s great, right? We’ve been internet buddies forEVER!

      Reply
    • Chelsea Latimer

      Thank you so much, Julie!!!

      Reply
  3. Dalit Merenfeld

    This is exactly what I needed to read!! I’ve been a singer for as long as I could remember but something about being a solo artist has always felt scary. I began thinking about doing background lately and it sounds perfect for me!! I would love some advice on where to go to get started- maybe an agency of some sort? Would love to have a chat with you about how to begin! The first step is definitely the hardest but also one of the biggest ones and I want to do it right 🙂

    Reply

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