Anoop Desei placed 6th on American Idol and has shown himself to be well loved by listeners around the world. Established now in Los Angeles and becoming a favorite new vocalist among young adults both here and in Europe and in Asia, he was born in North Carolina. Of east-Indian origin, Anoop’s speciality is in his ability to blend a cool ‘eastern sound’ with his love of R&B -- bringing his own interpretation of Indian music to the mainstream music scene.
What’s inspired the overall compositions for your debut album, ‘All is Fair’?
I wanted to write an album of songs that reached me emotionally first and formost. I put a lot of myself and my own experiences into this music because I want it to really touch people. I want people to hear it and say, "Man, I've been there." I want to be on people's running playlists. I want to be on people's chill playlists. Basically I set out to make music that other people would want to write if they had the outlet.
You seem to have an affinity for a pop and R&B blend - of music. Had did this evolve over your life? Life experiences, role models, etc.
I've always loved pop and R&B music- I love hooks and I love impressive vocal performances. You always try to emulate the music you love, so for me, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I love when someone says, "I love singing along to your songs!" That's always the goal.
Mixed in there, in your music, is this great Indian musical sound. Can you tell us how the music differs in the number of beats and how cool it is that you’re mixing the two East-West sounds?
It's really all about feel. But yeah, I love the Indian sound, and I grew up with both that and this very pop, R&B sound on the radio. I've tried to meld them on a number of tracks without beating the listener over the head with it.
Your first single, "All Is Fair (Crazy Love)” -- you wrote with David Mikush. How did that come together?
Well, David is my best friend, so it came together pretty organically. We were sitting there on Gchat one day and started throwing some ideas around. What came out is "All is Fair (Crazy Love)". Really proud of that song, and really happy that it came about like that between two friends.
I’ve read that you had complete control, from writing to release. How does this differ from so many of the other stars who don’t necessarily write their own stuff? Not to say that they don't or that their talent is limited by it at all. I'm an independent artist, so a lot of that control is a necessity. I don't have an A&R team or a label telling me what to do. Part of that is really nice-- to be able to really put out what you love. And at the same time, I would love to have that kind of backing with my music, to really promote it and have it affect people like the songs that these major pop icons sing. I'm working hard to get there.
The album debuted 14 on the pop iTunes Chart. How does that make you feel?
Tremendous. It's a testament to my fans really. I've always said this, and it's true: I have some of the most engaged, smartest, and most dedicated fans in the world.
Have you been influenced musically by Ravi Shankar?
I wouldn't say influenced, but I'm definitely very familiar with his work. Classical Indian music takes me to a special place, so I always love listening to him.
Any chance of joining up with Norah Jones for a singing duo?
That would awesome. Nothing in the plans just yet, but you never know!
What did it feel like to be on American Idol? You were “the first ever 13th finalist from first-generation Indian-American“, quoted in media reports. Overall, you ranked 6th, which is excellent, considering the competition. What do you make of the whole experience now?
It was an amazing experience and the best platform I can imagine. You can't buy that sort of exposure. At this stage, I think of it as a great first step.
Do you feel your life has been different being an only child?
Yes, definitely. It's a two way street, though. Love and encouragement yes, but under a microscope as well. In a weird way, being an only child has always forced me to push myself harder than my parents ever have. I didn't have a sibling to compete with or be compared to, so I always looked to my friends and schoolmates. I pretty often took it on my own shoulders to be the best because I knew that I would always be validated in my parents' eyes. It wasn't about that. It was about proving to myself that I could do anything with the best of them.
Born in Cary, NC of very impressive parents, talent certainly shows early on in CentralXpress TV children’s show and the rest is history! Was this the beginning of everything in your mind‘s eye?
Wow, bringing out the old stuff! The beginning for me was really in college when I was part of an a cappella group called the Clef Hangers. I never thought of myself as a great singer until I got to this huge community and people kept going crazy over me singing. It was an ego boost that I needed. As a shy kid, I needed that sort of push to finally tell myself that I could make it as a singer.
How did that shape you as an artist?
The group really taught me how to perform on stage and how to adapt to different styles of music. I would still say that the Clefs allowed me to be a better studio musician than I ever could have been without it. It taught me so much about vocal harmony, what makes great pop music, and how to get that across in the booth.
You graduate from UNC in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Political Science and American Studies. And, then, in the midst of a cultural anthropology MA at UNC in Folklore -- boom -- eighth season of American Idol changes your life….something along those lines?
Well it was very sudden. A friend of mine and I went to audition for American Idol in Kansas City the summer after we graduated from college, and it just...sort of happened. I was constantly taking breaks from graduate school that first semester to fly out to LA and compete, and eventually I couldn't do it anymore. I went into my professors' offices and said "Listen, I'm not finishing the semester. I'm on American Idol." The greatest response I got was, "Hey, you can't be making that up, so good luck!"
Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Keith Urban were big fans of yours during the show.
It's just such an eye-opening experience when you're this kid sitting at home after an audition, and suddenly you read that celebrities love your voice. I can't put it into words. It feels like you're in the twilight zone.
I read you idolize Boyz II Men and Michael Jackson. Who are some of your other influences?
I'm actually really into Brit-Rock. Oasis, Keane, Starsailor, Coldplay, etc. I love the musical sensibility of that sound.
You also find time to do charity work. Tell us about Room to Read and your desire to build more libraries in the developing world. How did this passion evolve?
I realize that I've been dealt an insanely good hand in life. I think it's a shame when people don't take the time to realize that most of the world doesn't have access to the most basic things. I count education as one of those things that no child should be without. Education opens all doors in my mind, and so I've taken it as a personal cause to help spread literacy and education around the developing world and to my community.