STORY WRITTEN BY GORDON RAGO
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As a teenager growing up in New Freedom, Olivia Castriotawould while away in her room, headphones hugging her ears, listening to Joss Stone’s soulful tune, “Dirty Man.” She pored over the song. Memorized it. Then belted it out.
Music was a constant in her life and provided stability while growing up, said Castriota during a phone interview from New York City, where she now lives.
By the time she was in Susquehannock High School, Castriota was competing in singing contests throughout Pennsylvania during what she described as the “American Idol Era.” She would have been about 12 when the first season of “American Idol” premiered.
This summer, Castriota will release her first album “All at Once,” an eight-song production she described as upbeat and funky with touches of R&B, soul and funk.
The album’s title is a nod to her budding singing career — how a decision to quit an office job and pursue a singing career happened all at once.
Also performing on the album are eight recent Berklee School of Music graduates who contribute guitar, bass, drums, keys and trumpet.
While Castriota writes her own songs, she said it’s not one of her favorite things to do. She finds inspiration from her own life and takes notes on her cellphone if she sees something songworthy or if something she sees sparks a memory.
After graduating from York College in 2012 with a degree in communications, Castriota moved to New York City (“I just needed to be in New York City,” she said). At this point, pursuing singing took a backseat to earning a paycheck to cover rent and her student loans. So, she took a job at a restaurant.
Eight months later, she started working at the support center of a Belgian bakery as an office manager. After another eight months, she had enough.
“I thought, ‘what was I doing?’ I can sing,” Castriota said.
She began landing auditions and gigs at various venues around New York City to get her where she is now — working with a team of young musicians and producers who helped her put together “All at Once.”
She got a gig opening for Lil’ Mo, a “diva” R&B singer popular in the late ’90s known for her collaborations with big name artists like Missy Elliot. Prior to that, she found herself on the stage at the Apollo Theater, the famous music hall in Harlem. A man who went on stage before her got booed off in seven seconds. Up next, she sang Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband” and placed third in the day’s competition.
Today, she says she feels much more comfortable in her life as a singer. She still works at a restaurant part time, but with her album coming out soon, she is focusing on marketing it.
“You just have to grind really hard,” Castriota said. “I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, just trying to get someone to pay attention.”
Some things to know about Olivia Castriota:
Besides singing, Castriota runs the foodie blog, Confessions of a Hungry White Girl, where she reviews inexpensive restaurants in New York City.
While in college, Castriota studied abroad in York, England where she sang in pubs.
Castriota said her vocal coach, Irma Seleman, is a pop star in Malaysia.