How Ally Brooke Found Her Voice & Learned to Stand Up for Herself Against Cyberbullies, Sexist Music Execs
Ally Brooke is re-establishing herself in the music industry, this time as a solo act and author—but more importantly, as a woman in control of her own narrative and destiny.
On October 13, the former Fifth Harmony member released a memoir, Finding Your Harmony: Dream Big, Have Faith, and Achieve More Than You Can Imagine. The book details her early days of musical aspiration, her time in the group—both the good and the bad—and the beginning of her solo career. Her autobiography also unveils some of her darkest struggles, from substance abuse to dealing with sexist and abusive music industry executives, as well as celebratory moments, such as getting signed to a record label and landing her first acting role.
Below, Ally Brooke talks to PopCrush about her new book, her incredible journey filled with trials and tribulations, and the exciting projects—from her first movie role to her dance floor-friendly new music—coming around the pike.
You begin your book with an excerpt about how your 2012 X Factor audition was edited. What misconceptions do you think viewers had about you in the beginning because of that?
I felt that they edited me to look shallow and ditzy and that I was in the competition for wrong reasons, for fame or to have an empire. That’s not what my goal was; my goal was to be in the competition because of my love for music. When I saw the audition I knew that they left out such important things like my family, journey, being a premature baby and giving a shout out to San Antonio, all of these things. When my audition aired, what confirmed my fears was going onto YouTube and seeing the comments after my audition, they were just absolutely horrible. They called me all of the names in the book from terrible and fame hungry to the B-word. It was hate after hate after hate. It really confirmed that, "Oh my gosh, they portrayed me to be a different character than I am." I was completely agonized and heartbroken because I worked so hard for this dream and this opportunity. For a show to do some creative editing and in a way just ruin my first chance, it was awful. Not only for me but for my family.
You recently opened up about your virginity and faith. Was it hard to write about your decision to stay a virgin until marriage?
Something that is so personal and so meaningful is my virginity. Being able to share that in a book was a really beautiful way to show my beliefs and personal choices with my fans. The book was the perfect opportunity to do that. Of course, I love and support other people if they’re don't make the same choice as me. As far as music, for me it’s still important to be who I am; a woman, flirty, fun, sexy… That’s totally fine and I think there’s something awesome about that.
How do you know when something is too sexy?
I definitely allow myself to be flirty and sassy but there’s a line. It’s fun to be sexy but when it’s too sexual, that’s where I cut things off or where I say, "Oh, I can’t sing that lyric" or "I’m not going to dress this way." Finding a balance for myself has been awesome and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Some lyrics I wish I could've changed, but I learned [from that]. Now, I feel so empowered and supported being a solo artist and with my team to really express myself in a way that I feel comfortable with. Again, it’s totally fine to be flirty, but for me, I have my boundaries and I stick to them now.
You weren't comfortable singing the sexually charged second verse in “Work From Home.” How did you find your voice to stand up for yourself when it comes to making music-related decisions moving forward?
When we recorded “Work From Home,” I was so tired. I was frustrated and I had no sleep that night, a lot of factors went into it. I just didn't have any strength to stand up [for myself] and I knew if I did possibly, it wouldn't be an easy conversation. I just didn’t feel like having conflict or being uncomfortable, so I sang that lyric. As I detail in the book, I called my mom like, "I’m stuck with this line and I don’t know what to do." She said, "Well, there’s nothing you can do but to learn and just move forward."
Back then I did not have the confidence to speak up. I do regret [the decision] but again, I am so proud of our work and I love that song. I learned from that time. I do feel like I could have spoken up but I didn’t have the strength, and I have to live with that. Now I’m around people who encourage and help me to stand up if I don’t feel like a lyric is right [for me]. Now I have the confidence after so many years of being complacent and scared to speak up. Now I have the confidence because I’m going to live with this forever, especially in my solo work. Being able to be empowered to be like, "Let’s change the line," usually people are so nice and respectful about it. It’s an easier conversation than I thought.
Reading about your transition from being in a group to becoming a solo artist, what was the hardest aspect for you?
The hardest thing was finding my team and label. It was a very hard journey and a hard road because I was faced with unexpected rejection from four labels and at the time, those were the only options for me. You could imagine just how devastated I was. I didn’t know what would happen, I didn’t know how I would make music, or if I would ever make music again because I wouldn't have a label to distribute it.
Just like God does in so many times, he opens up the doors that no man could shut, even if man shuts it, he can reopen it. He opened the doors to Latium and Atlantic, I ended up signing with them and that was a journey itself. It was much harder than it was projected; I was delayed. A lot of people were comparing me to the other girls, saying things like, "Hey, everyone released music except you." That added to my anxiety. Just having the conversation with Charles [Chavez, founder of Latium], he really helped me to put everything into perspective. He said, "When the time is right, everything will fall into place. You don’t want to rush your first single or compromise your quality to meet a timeline." He was right.
You write about how daunting and cruel Los Angeles and the entertainment industry can be. Was there a time when you thought that you couldn’t handle it?
Oh, yes! So, I write about a dark moment that I had [a lot] of hopelessness and despair in my hotel room, and I had never turned to anything before besides my faith for comfort and to ease my pain. But that night there was so much happening within the group [Fifth Harmony]. There was so much media craziness. I had dealt with a lot of cruel treatment in the industry and people being really mean to me and abusive. Whenever I would speak up, I was met with more abuse. People [were] being really mean and ugly to me with their words and at some point a human can only take so much. Especially as an artist, you’re supposed to go out and smile and if you don’t do that, your career could be in jeopardy.
All of that led to this dark moment in my hotel room where I drank myself away. I drank to numb the pain and it was a horrible day. I was just feeling so empty, alone, hopeless, worthless. Thank God for my tour manager at the time, Will, who I wrote about in the book, who came in and rescued me, prayed over me and comforted me during one of my darkest moments. He reminded me that even though things seemed dark, God has a plan and one day I would get through that and that helped me so much. I did get through that and that’s why it was so important to write about the story. I was embarrassed and ashamed and I didn’t want anyone to judge me.
At the same time, the story was almost not about me, it’s about the reader. So many people feel that way and so many people do have substance abuse [problems] or turn to things that they shouldn’t. Showing them that, "Hey, I know how you feel, I’ve been through that but I promise you there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel and you will get through this"—that was my mission and purpose by sharing that story.
You address sexism in music, including an interaction with a terrible music executive. What would you tell another woman dealing with something similar on how to handle that?
I want to encourage women out there to stand strong and firm and know that you can stand up for yourself. You do not have to be in fear, you do not have to tolerate that kind of disgusting behavior. It’s amazing that now in 2020, we live in a world [where] that type of behavior is not accepted and has serious consequences. Back in 2016 when it was happening to me, you couldn’t say anything, you couldn’t speak up. It was such a terrible feeling to feel so demeaned, humiliated and disrespected. Feeling like you can’t do anything, you’re helpless, or if you say something you can get in trouble which is the most crazy, ironic thing. Just know that you do not have to accept that, you can report it and stand up for yourself, [and say,] "I’m not going to live in fear or accept your gross behavior."
You write about dealing with body-shamers and online trolls. How do you cope and deal with the negative comments?
Over the years I’ve definitely grown a thicker skin. Now when I see something, I’ll laugh or be like, "That person has their own issues." When I’m not feeling super confident, I’ll call my mom or a friend and they’ll pump me up. One of my friends told me, "If you have haters you're doing something right." So, that’s comforting and kind of a cool way to turn that around and pick yourself up. Remembering there’s one bad comment and a thousand good ones is always comforting.
You mentioned that you originally trained to become an actress as well as a singer. You’re now acting in the upcoming film High Expectations. How did that come about?
It is a lifelong dream for me to be in a film. After so many years of auditioning and training, I finally got a role and not even just a role, but a dream role. I’m in Atlanta filming my first movie which is a drama. The producers and writers of the film pursued me, they wanted me from the beginning. They reached out several times for me to audition but [with] conflicting schedules, I couldn’t. They reached out one more time and by the grace of God I was in Miami rehearsing for my headlining solo tour. The writer/producer happened to be in Miami.
I auditioned over Skype with the other lead actor, Taylor Grey. I got the part. That was such a triumphant moment, obviously, getting a role. But what the film is about and the journey of my character and the other character hits home for me. It feels special, meaningful, purposeful. I cried reading the script for the first time. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a project. The cast and crew are beyond incredible, there’s a special magic and family bond.
You’ve dove into numerous genres with your solo music, from Latin to pop, disco to Christmas songs. Where will your new music take you?
I’ve been working hard in the studio. I think the next chapter has more of an electronic and dance vibe. I’m so excited because I have a lot more songs coming out before the end of the year. That’s the direction I’m loving and really thriving in, and am really connecting to. We really do need music now that’s fun, uplifting and that makes you feel energized. I hope these songs can empower people and make [them] feel good and confident, even in their bedrooms at home.