For AJ Mitchell, fame came almost overnight. Like predecessors Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes – of which he is likened to – the up-and-coming star gained a fan base posting covers on Youtube from the age of 13. Gaining thousands of followers in a matter of days, the young artist hailing from Belleville, Illinois, moved to Los Angeles two years later in the hopes to make it big – and so far, he has. Boasting over 1.5 million followers on Instagram, the now-18-year-old is now considered the next big thing.
Heading Down Under for his first trip to Australia, ICON caught up with Mitchell as he looks to his debut album early next year. Here, we chat social media, growing up and what can we expect from his forthcoming release. He’s humble but ready for a “world tour”. Arenas? I ask. Confidently he responds, “Oh yeah!”
ICON: Welcome to Australia. What inspired you to make the big trip Down Under?
AJ Mitchell: “Radio promo, getting to meet the whole team down here. The people here are amazing, animals even though they’re out to get me.”
At just 18-years-old you have garnered 1.5 million followers on Instagram and a passionate fan base. What has been one of the biggest challenges about growing up in the spotlight?
AM: “I think the biggest challenge was social media. Having to keep up with the travelling and meeting people and the fans, but on the other side I have to keep up with social media and posting all the time with Twitter, Instagram, like literally every single platform. I think that was the hardest struggle but now I’ve reached the point where I can get someone from my team help with social media and I can post what I want to post. Instead of posting because I have to post.”
You’ve been likened as the next Shawn Mendes or Justin Bieber. What is your response to a claim like that?
AM: “Those are some great artists, so I just take that as a compliment. I would definitely say I’m not the next Shawn Mendes but you know, I take that as a compliment.”
What sparked your love for music?
AM: “From when I was born, music was always playing. When I was four, Mum had this little iPod and anytime I was in the car I would be like, ‘Hey, can I have your iPod’ and I’d just listen to honestly not even mainstream music but more like Enya or just classical music. So, I had a lot of that as inspiration when I was younger and when I grew up, that’s when I got into Lil Wayne and Bruno Mars.
All the classical music made me really drawn to the piano but also growing up, my Dad was playing the piano and he was writing songs. And when I saw that, I was like ‘I want to do that too.’ So, from four, I started messing around with the piano…”
In a previous interview you mentioned that you gained something like 15,000 followers on social media overnight. Did you ever imagine it would amass to this level?
AM: “No. I never even thought that posting videos would gain followers from that. I mainly just started posting because I wanted my friends to know that I was singing and find out what other people thought, because no one else knew besides my parents.”
What were the positives from coming from a small town and having that childhood, before moving to LA?
AM: “I think the best part was, there wasn’t a lot to do. So, we kind of had to find things to do so we were very adventurous. Me and all my friends would get together and explore the town. Some of the things we found fun to do was explore abandoned buildings because there were a lot of those, so we did that all the time. We would sneak into a college that was close to where I live, so we’d sneak in and play basketball until we got kicked out.”
How has your music evolved since you first started to dabble in song writing?
AM: “I think I’ve been able to really write down how I really, really feel. Since moving to Los Angeles and getting in the groove with other writers, I’ve been able to see how other people write and I can pull from that, pull from a lot of different ways of writing.”
Being so young, do you find it difficult to draw on life experiences?
AM: “I honestly think it’s something that is quite easy. I go through a lot of life experiences all the time.”
Artists like yourself are leading the next generation of the music industry. Is there anything you hope to see change or evolve in the next 10 to 20 years?
AM: “I guess see some more AJ Mitchell out there (laughs).”
Who would be your dream collaboration?
AM: “Stevie Wonder. I’ve loved Stevie Wonder since I was a kid, it would just be a really cool collaboration.”
What can fans expect from your album rumoured to drop in 2020?
AM: “People are going to be able to understand more of who I am and where I came from. The album is called ‘SKYVIEW’ which is a drive-in theatre in my hometown – Skyview was the cool thing to do in my hometown, something I went to all the time, my parents went to all the time, their parents went to all the time, so it’s been around for almost 70 years now. When I think of my hometown I think of Skyview. I’m super excited. I know there are some songs that I can’t wait to put out, to hear what people think about it.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
AM: “In five years, hopefully touring the world. A world tour.”