Setting the Stage

Rising singer uses her background as a child actor 

CONFIDENCE COLOR
These are red-letter days for young performer Izzi Hughes.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Though she’s barely into her twenties and still in school, Hendersonville native Izzi Hughes is a seasoned performer. Gaining experience in musical theater and acting as a youngster at Flat Rock Playhouse, she first appeared onstage fronting a rock band, Calculated Error, when she was just 10 years old. 

Hughes doesn’t come from a musical family; needless to say, her parents were surprised when they witnessed her rock ’n’ roll debut. “They had never seen me in a rock band-type setting before,” she says. The band’s set featured young Izzi belting out Adele’s 2010 hit “Rolling in the Deep.” She recalls her parents’ reaction: “They were like, ‘Who is this little diva?’ Because I had really taken a lot of the sassiness that I’d learned from acting and kind of put it on stage.”

By age 12, Hughes turned her attentions fully to music. “I decided to put the acting on the back burner,” she says. Encouraged by her parents to learn to play an instrument, she chose guitar. Her reasoning had everything to do with her performance-based focus. “Guitar seemed like an instrument that would lead into me being able to sing with it,” she says. By age 14, Izzi was writing songs. Though she describes herself as primarily a “covers artist” (playing the music of other songwriters), she enjoyed the challenge of songwriting. 

Inspired by a Robert Frost poem, Izzi wrote “Straight Through” when she was still in middle school. Her second composition, “The Jones” — about societal pressure to keep up with those mythical neighbors — followed during her early high-school years. Hughes would eventually travel to Nashville to record both songs in a professional studio.

She says the subject matters of the songs were relevant to her life at the time, but “they could also be relevant to anybody at any age. I tried to take a theme and [write] about things we all [experience],” she says.

But songwriting isn’t a primary endeavor for Hughes, currently a student at Belmont University in Nashville. “I don’t write very frequently, because I don’t have that passion for it when I’m by myself,” she says, noting that she’s looking into co-writing — a popular practice in Music City — in the near future. “My true passion is singing,” she says.

Hughes looks back at a contest win at age 15 as one of the landmarks of her budding career. She entered into a Wild Wing Café “throwdown” competition, one of her first solo voice-and-guitar performances, and while she lost in the competition’s first round, the organizers asked her to return.

In a finale performance on that second try, she sang and played one of her original tunes and a cover of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” Instead of a judges’ panel, “There was an audience vote,” she says, “and I won.”

These days, Hughes approaches music from multiple serious angles: “I’m going into my senior year, studying music business with an emphasis in production.” She acknowledges the go-for-it mindset embodied in the adage “If you really want to succeed as a musician, you can’t have a back-up plan.” But she doesn’t see things that way. 

In one sense, earning a music-business degree is her backup plan. “Because that would [allow me to] be involved in the music industry and make a living and be able to feed myself,” she explains. But there’s more to it than that. The degree will help equip Hughes with a well-rounded approach — important to the modern model of success.

“I’m learning how to market, how to make publishing deals, and about contract law. All of these things are beneficial for myself as a musician, and they’re also beneficial to help [me to help] other musicians.”

Hughes spends most of her time in Nashville these days — “I’m hoping to move there permanently,” she reveals. But her busy schedule allows her to book live engagement back in her Western North Carolina hometown. And even though she has long since left her acting career behind, she continues to draw upon the lessons she learned as a child actor: “I’m a pretty introverted person. … I have my acting background to thank for the stage presence that I do have.”

Izzi Hughes plays Oklawaha Brewing Company from 8-11pm on Saturday, June 5, with Eric Congdon (147 First Ave. East, Hendersonville, oklawahabrewing.com); at Point Lookout Vineyards from 2-5pm on Sunday, June 6 (408 Applelola Road, Hendersonville, pointlookoutvineyards.com); at Green River Brew Pub from 8-11pm on Friday, June 11 (26 Church St., Saluda, 828-769-9033); and at The 2nd Act from 6-9pm on Saturday, June 12 (101 East Allen St. Suite 101, Hendersonville, 828-513-0045). For more information, see izzihughes.com. 

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