Picture this: one singer, alone on stage, waiting for the lights to come up. He can already hear the screams of the girls echoing through the concert hall.
Their expectations are overwhelming and crash into him like a breaking wave as he stands there, gathering his thoughts. Guitar in hand, he pauses before looking up, and then his eyes are flooded by bright lights and even brighter fans. He steps up to the microphone, smiles at the crowd and begins to play. No hesitation: this is where he was always meant to be.
We’ve met Cody Simpson before and have always been impressed by his quiet confidence, yet nothing could have prepared me for the anything-but-quiet enthusiasm of his fans who lay waiting outside. “The fans here are amazing,” says Cody, as we sit down together near a window at our photo shoot, where we can see the queue of his fans. The girls are waiting outside, braving the cold, already lined up for the concert, which will take place at the same venue later that night. They spot us immediately, and Cody stands to wave back, to ecstatic reactions.
The 15-year-old native Aussie has already released two EPs (4 U and Coast to Coast), with singles like “On My Mind,” “Not Just You” and “Angel” quickly climbing the charts. So how did a laid-back surfer guy from the shores of Australia end up on a stage in front of thousands and thousands of fans
hanging onto his every word? It all comes down to a fork in the road: one decision that changed the course of his destiny from regular teen to rock star.
“I first picked up a guitar when I was six years old and started writing songs when I was seven,” Cody says, recalling how it all began. “But you know, it was just something that I was doing on the side. I was swimming every day, and I was surfing; I had my life set up. I was 13, going into high school, and then I posted a few videos online.”
Famous last words. These few videos changed everything. He started with a posting of a friend and himself at a school talent show, singing a cover of Jason Mraz hit “I’m Yours,” and news of his talent started to spread. Fans wanted more videos, so Cody started recording covers at home and posting them on YouTube. The responses were overwhelming. “I was never expecting for this to become such a big part of my life.”
What he was banking on was pursuing competitive swimming, not music, as a career. “Swimming was a huge passion of mine,” he says. “I was going to be the next Michael Phelps.” Taking inspiration from U.S. Michael Phelps’ dominating eight gold medal wins at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Cody was training hard with some of the best coaches and putting his focus into perfecting his sport of choice.
But then record labels came calling, and he had a tough choice to make: stay in Australia and continue swimming, or take a huge risk by signing a deal and relocating his entire family to the U.S. Standing at a fork in the road, Cody decided to take the plunge into a different sort of pool: the world of music. “It was very difficult for me—especially at such a young age—to have to choose a career for myself. Can you imagine, at 12 or 13 years old, to be trying to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life?” Cody says. “It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy decision.”
He had to break the news to his swim coach—as well as friends and family—that he was making the choice to move to the States. “It came as a big surprise to most people. I’m kind of the quiet kid,” he says, remembering their shocked expressions after hearing the news. “I’m very modest, and I think it’s important to be that way in this crazy work because it can pick you up off the ground a little bit.”
So, Cody packed his bags and took his family halfway around the world, giving up one dream in the hopes of making another come true. And although they aren’t with him on stage, under the bright lights, they stay close by, with him through every step. “It’s important to keep that tight circle of great people around you to make sure that you’re always on the ground.”
Of course, even the most confident of us have days of doubt. “Sometimes I think, ‘Did I make the right decision for my little brother and my little sister?’ My little brother’s eight years old, and he’s travelling the world, doing school on the road; he doesn’t have a regular life,” Cody admits. “I second guess myself sometimes, but my family’s always reassuring me that they’re here to support me and encourage me with everything that I do.”
Sometimes it’s the act of seizing an opportunity when it comes your way and taking the harder road—with the right people to walk beside you and make sure you never look back—that makes all the difference.
Success, in whatever career you choose, comes from a willingness to say “yes” to your big break, even when it’s a little scary to do so.”It all just happened so fast and unexpectedly,” Cody says. “Now, to be coming to countries I never thought I’d visit in my life, and to be playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans—for that whole deal to be going on, it’s like something that I think lots of people dream of. But they only dream of it, you know?”
By choosing the right path at his crossroads, Cody gets to do so much more. He gets to live his dream to the fullest. This is where he was always meant to be.
PROM NIGHT Q&A with Cody Simpson
It’s prom night! How do you start things off?
a) Agree to meet your date there and roll in with the guys.
b) Pick her up in your own wheels.
c) Surprise her with a stretch limousine.
Sometime during the night, your date’s dress ripped! What do you do?
a) Give her your jacket to cover up the rip.
b) Tell her to go home and change.
c) Encourage her to let it be and rock it!
When it comes to dancing, what’s your style?
a) The first one on the dance floor!
b) Reluctantly busting a move.
c) Waiting for a slow song to hold your girl close.