Singer-Songwriter Paxton Ingram Does It All
Chioma Nwana: So first thing’s first: tell us your name, where you’re from, and what you do.
Paxton Ingram: My name, they call me on the streets Paxton. Paxton Ingram. I’m from Miami, I’m 22, and I sing.
CN: How long-
PI: I also write… and dance… and cook.
CN: Cook? What’s your favorite food to cook?
PI: My favorite food to cook is probably on some Indian tip. Some curry situation, some butter chicken. Yeah.
CN: Oh cool, does it relate to your ethnic background?
PI: Negative. We got this thing – the Blue Apron thing. They give you all the ingredients and then you get to cook it. You get fresh ingredients delivered to your house and recipes and a video clip on how to do it. So I got lost in that. I felt like I was Top Chef. I was making everything. Everything!
CN: Well I mean, you’re currently on your way to stardom. And you know how Food Network has that celebrity cookoff show?
PI: YO, I’M READY! I think I saw Magic Johnson on there! Laila Ali! She was on there, taking it serious.
CN: Right, so then Paxton Ingram is next.
PI: Paxton Ingram is next!
CN: Alright, so how long have you been singing? How long have you been songwriting? How long have you been dancing? Did they all start at the same time? Or were they one after the other?
PI: Music was always first. I grew up in a house with two older brothers.
CN: Aw, you were the baby!
PI: Yeah, man. Yeah, so one was a hip hop head and the other was a Michael Jackson, kinda R&B freak. Whatever they would listen to, I would listen to, and they would feed me the music that I should be listening to, so the first thing I got was Aaliyah’s “One In A Million.” So fly, the whole album. Then I met Michael Jackson – not physically, but you know. And that kinda just took over my life. The first time I saw him and understood what that was, I knew that was what I wanted to do: perform, music, entertain. I knew that was it. I was always trying to write songs. My brother was writing songs, so I would read his song book like, “Okay, that’s what he does.”
CN: You were a little nosy, huh?
PI: I was a little nosy! Yeah! So I would mimic him. I had to be like 8 or 12 when I would do that. I remember making my first demo when I was like 13 years old and trying to send it out to Jive Records or whatever. I was googling the addresses.
CN: That’s ambition though!
PI: Yeah, I was a 13-year-old kid, calling A&R assistants like…
CN: “Hi, is this Def Jam?”
PI: “Jay-Z’s office, can I? Does it work like that? No? I get it, I get it.”
CN: “I’ll try again next week.”
PI: As a kid, I had a lot of ambitions and a lot of hope. Trying to get into that world early is being introduced to a lot of disappointment very early. I wasn’t prepared for that, so I kinda stopped running for it. I loved singing – I would sing in church – but I just stopped gunning for it.
CN: Oh, so you got those church choir pipes. You know they’re a little different.
PI: Yeah, they’re different.
CN: I’ve noticed that there are singers, and there are SANGERS, and a lot of those sangerscome from the church choirs. The vocal chords are just built different.
PI: That’s where it starts. Yes, cmon! I’m all about that.
CN: Word, but continue.
PI: So I started dancing. I joined a dance team by accident.
PI: Yeah, I was on the track team. I was going to practice, and my friend was like, “Yo, there’s dance auditions for the team, and I don’t want to do it by myself. Can you come with me just to hype me up?” And it’s in Florida, we’re hot, I’m not trying to run. I’m like, “Let’s go.” It’s in an air-conditioned room, and it’s all these girls. And it’s me and my homie and the girl we came with at the audition. We were just fooling around. We were just there to have a good time. Just fucking around. Just doing stupid shit. And every person had to do a solo. My turn was next, and I just did Michael Jackson. I didn’t know what to do! Fast forward, and I end up making the team, and my friend didn’t.
PI: Right? Right? I was like, “Ooh girl, I’m sorry! It was on 5 and you were on 6! You know why you didn’t make it!” And that, joining the dance team, just redirected everything. I started dancing full-throttle. I didn’t want to do music because I started getting professional work as a dancer. I’m a huge believer in a prayer, so I was like, “Maybe this was my calling. Maybe I fell in love with music to get to dance.” Because things were happening so quick. I was making money. I was like 16 or 17.
CN: Yeah, I’ve seen your videos! You really out here.
PI: Thanks! I was like, “Maybe this is what I was supposed to do, and maybe I’m just gonna be content with doing the dance life, whatever that means.” And God was like, “Nope! You thought!” I got fired from a really good job – I called it my dream job. A world stadium tour for this artist, and I lost it, which is the best thing that happened because that’s when I started to fall in love with music again. And I just started writing again. I was kinda retraining myself. I had to retrain how to write, I had to retrain how to sing. Everything. I’d sing here and there, but I wasn’t about it. I was like, “If I want this, I gotta go.” So I started doing vocal lessons and started singing at my church. I stopped dancing professionally completely, I started working three jobs and hustling to make some money just to book a studio and do that whole thing. So I’ve been singing for all my life, to answer that question. That’s the scenic route.
CN: That’s usually what happens. You’ll be thinking, “This is exactly what I want to do.” But what is to say that this thing that I’m doing right in this very moment is exactly what I want to do forever? Because you never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. These things happen: you get cut from a team, or you get fired from a dream job, or whatever. Then you start looking around like, “What else do I have?” You get so stuck on that one thing like, “Oh, I’m gonna be a dancer forever,” and then the rug gets yanked out from under your feet. Then it becomes a situation of, “Well now I don’t have this rug, what else could I cover the floor with?” And you look around and you’re like, Wow, singing! I remember you!”
PI: Yes, it’s so true.
CN: That’s really cool.
PI: What an analogy.
CN: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience on The Voice? How did that happen? What did it do for you?
PI: Ah man, it was literally a miracle. Straight up from Heaven. I was working at my church job that I had. I was working in administrative stuff (but I was mostly online shopping). So I was like, “I want to do something else. I’m tired of the same old routine. I’m in an office job. I’m not an office person. I’m an artist, I’m a songwriter. I need to be fueled someway, somehow. I never wanted to be on TV like that. I was like “If imma be an artist, I’m gonna come from the studio and be writing songs and be cool.”
CN: Like, “I don’t wanna be seen.”
PI: Yeah. So I went on thevoice.com/auditions and straight-up submitted online videos that I had, and I got to the last step, and it was like, “Please submit DVDs to this address.” And I was like, “DVDs?” It was 2015, so I was like, “No, I don’t want to do that. I’m not doing that.” So I hit “save and continue.” I didn’t even save and finish. I did “save and continue” or “save and come back,” one of those things. And an hour later, I get an email from a casting director saying, “Hey, your information was passed my way, and we would love to have you out to audition.”
CN: Paxton was like, “I don’t even got the DVD, y’all sure?”
PI: Yeah! Straight up. So they do invite-only auditions in some places, and they came to Miami, which is crazy. I had friends who were on the show who got invited to, say, Nashville – a Nashville invite-only audition – but they lived in Minnesota, so they had to fly themselves out to Nashville. But they came out to Miami, so it was just a drive down the street. I did that, and the rest was history. I got on the show, met some of the best people ever in my life that I still talk to today, and it opened the craziest doors and started conversations that I would have never had. And it introduced me to people that I would have never met that taught me things about myself that I never thought I would learn so quick. Because you’re thrown in this cage, and it’s everything all at once for 12 weeks or however long it is. All the things that come with that are so intense for someone who didn’t have a slow or steady pace to get there and kinda just overnighted it. The psychology of coming off of that cloud was really intense and confusing.
CN: How so?
PI: They cut the umbilical cord off. Show’s over. Season’s over. It’s a new season. Once the cameras turn off, the cameras stay off, you know what I mean? And it’s up to the artists themselves to go out there and fight for it, push for it, knock down doors, stay in L.A., and stay in those circles that will keep your name going around. It becomes us picking up the weight. A lot of us leave that show feeling entitlement. You think, “Oh, I was on TV for this number of weeks, and I have this number of followers, and Columbia Records is gonna email me tomorrow and ask, “WANNA BE A STAR?!’” So you have to talk yourself off that cloud real quick, and you gotta come down, humble yourself, and realize that now you’re just another artist like everybody else.
CN: You got a little push, but now you need do need to continue pushing for yourself.
PI: Yes, you have to push as if you never had this show experience, you know what I mean? It adds a little bit, but you really have to go for it and do it yourself. But yeah, The Voice was intense.
CN: I hear you. So what are things that you did to stay relevant? Did you stay out in L.A.?
PI: Yes, in L.A. Once the show wrapped, I was like, “I can’t go back home.”
CN: Paxton said, “Who gon’ move me?”
PI: Who gon’ move me?! Forreal! Y’all can’t make me leave! One of my best friends and her family lives out there, so I had a home. I just stayed there. I just had to figure things out. I didn’t have a manager or anything. I had to figure it out. I made connections on the show. I had to use those as much as possible. I did use that as much as possible. I had money in my pocket, so I was paying for better studios and better sessions. I was in it. I found management through that, by staying in L.A. When I found management, they provided another place for me to stay just to create the album. They were like, “Hey Pax, stay here as long as you can and create the record.” It was a blessing. If I didn’t stay in L.A., none of that would have happened. It would just have been me going back home and falling back into the same routine, wanting something else. Staying in L.A., trying to make the best moves possible as an artist. Making sure the sound was right, making sure it looked right, making sure I was detached from the idea that people had of me from The Voice because I’m not on The Voice anymore – I’m Paxton Ingram. I’m my own person. I was doing things to make sure that people didn’t just see me as a TV kid that was given a little platform because he was on The Voice. Like, nah. I’m out here. I’m a whole person. I was doing this beforeI got on the show. So I had to keep chasing it. A lot of people didn’t chase it and didn’t keep running. They ran back to comfort. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I was staying at my best friend’s crib or this random office – I was living in an office for four months. I had to do that. And I think that really set the tone for how the future was going to look after the show.
CN: And what was your mental like at the time, in terms of the effect that all of this had on you?
PI: All over the place, all over the place. I wrote the most revealing record. I was putting everything I felt into that project, from cover to cover. It was my way of recovering from everything because it was really intense. There would be days when I’d wake up like, “What am I doing? It’s a waste of time. Why am I not on tour? I have all these fans who want to see me. How come I’m not there? Not knowing that it’s a freaking process and it takes a machine and time. Just because you were on TV doesn’t mean shit.
CN: The show wasn’t just gonna print your tour dates out for you. No one’s gonna run up to you like, “Here Paxton, here’s your tour and your tour dates.”
PI: Right, I had to figure it out. I was in L.A. by myself. No mom, no dad, my real circle was back home. I was really by myself. And those morning were tough, just waking up.
CN: Mornings are always tough.
PI: I was in L.A., I was in that space, I didn’t even have to pay for studio time anymore. I’m here. Why was I still waking up feeling like that? I had to retrain my mind. I was on an ego trip, basically. When I look at it in hindsight, it was an ego trip. I felt entitled to have this thing. It was about the process. You still have to take these baby steps, and they have to mean something to you when you do. I had to do a lot of praying and soul searching and realizing who I am and what I can do. And I could do it. Anything’s possible, I just had to accept the process and live in that and enjoy the process and not try to rush. And in hindsight, I think that’s what that was teaching me. Because I really just wanted to get there. I didn’t want to do this whole thing, I just wanted to get there.
CN: Like, “Why is there a process when I could be famous today?”
PI: Right now! Like, it says Universal Republic on my name! How come we can’t just go out there?
CN: Why is Jay-Z not calling me?
PI: You’d think that having conversations with Pharrell for 12 weeks would get you- it’s a mindfuck. You really have to retrain your brain. If I could write a guidebook to help people in that situation, I would love to do that. Because that was something I wasn’t prepared for.
CN: Yeah, everything happened so fast. All of a sudden you were on The Voice, and just as suddenly, The Voice was over, and people are asking you, “So what are you doing next?” and you’re like “Uh…”
CN: So to that point of making a guidebook, if you could give somebody one piece of advice on how to stay sane and grounded if they find themselves in a situation like yours – getting catapulted into the spotlight – what would it be?
PI: I have two nuggets: The first one is, “You are your only competition.” Keep your mind focused on that. There’s a lane for every single person. Don’t look to the left, don’t look to the right. Stay in your lane and do your thing because you can win, and so can that person on the right and so can that person on the left. If you just compete with yourself, and keep your eyes on yourself, and be yourself, great things are destined to happen. You’re allowing your true artistry and your true unique thing to be in the spotlight because you’re not trying to be something else. That’s what’s really gonna make those iconic things. Look at Beyoncé. She’s not looking at any other artist.
CN: Beyoncé be minding her business.
PI: You know what I mean? That’s what she does, and if she’s pulling references from anything, it’s from before. It’s something that people don’t even know. It’s probably from theater. It’s really not from people who are in her same world, remotely. So that’s what helped me when I was on the show. I gotta top myself, I gotta top what I did last week. I gotta keep growing and growing and growing. I’m not trying to sound like this chick or this dude. I’m good.
CN: And look how far that got you.
PI: You know what I’m saying? And the second thing would be to know what you do it for. Know what you want this for. Is it for the fame? It’s cool if it is.
CN: Just be honest with yourself.
PI: Just be honest with yourself. Is it money? For me, it was literally, “I can’t do anything else but this.” I can’t do diddly-squat. I can only perform. That’s all my heart wants to do, so me doing something else won’t work.
CN: Especially when you know. If you know exactly what you want to do and you go to do something else, who are you playing?
PI: You’re only playing yourself. It makes things a little easier because you’re not worrying about the numbers. You don’t have your mind set on the digits and everything because you know why you do this. I don’t do this for all that extra shit. I do this because this is how I breathe. This is how I function. This is my life. If that can help someone out, then I hope so.
CN: So then if this is your life, does that put a strain on relationships? How are romantic relationships within the context of being this person? How do you know how to balance work with relationships?
PI: I’m zero relationships right now. I try to do it, but then I forget to text back because my schedule’s all fucked up. Or it’s mad late. If I text you back now, it’s like, “Ah, it feels weird.” You know what I mean?
CN: It’s like, “Is this a booty call?” And you’re like, “I know it’s late, but I just wanted to see you!” Likely story.
PI: I don’t know. I gotta figure that out. It’s really weird. Also are you just trying to be with me because of what I can offer you? I’m down, that’s cool. But like me for me. Anything else is an added bonus.
CN: Like, “I like Paxton for Paxton. And it’s cool that he’s a performer and it’s cool that he does all these things.”
PI: But if he wasn’t, would you still? I guess that’s the quest of love that we’re all trying to figure out. I think everybody’s kinda dealing with that.
CN: True, true. So my last question to you: what can we expect from you in the next couple months?
PI: More music, more videos. Just keep running, keep chasing, keep giving the content to the fans and try to get as close to them as possible. More shows and traveling, and just keep reaching for the stars.