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Arts & Life

UNC Grad Sings Her Way From Colorado To 'La La Land'

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Courtesy of Renee McMahon
Angela Parrish sings the 'La La Land' opening song, 'Another Day of Sun.'

“The first time I heard it was actually when I woke up and a trailer for the film was on Facebook and my voice was in it,” said Angela Parrish.

Unless you’re living on a deserted island, you’ve probably seen the same trailer.

La La Land, a musical about an aspiring actress and musician struggling to make it big in Los Angeles, is being praised by audiences and critics alike. It’s also getting University of Northern Colorado graduate Parrish - who sings the opening song, “Another Day of Sun” - a lot of attention.

Thinking back to the morning she saw the trailer: “I didn’t know that they were going to use that portion and so it was like, ‘Oh, I guess, oh man, I’m in the trailer,’” Parrish said. “And then it was kind of everywhere and it was sort of surreal thinking like ‘oh man, this is like millions of people are hearing this.’ It was just surreal and bizarre - but in a really good way.”

It was a big break. Five years ago, Parrish was just graduating from the UNC’s jazz program. And just like the wistful character from the film, she headed to LA to pursue her dream.

“Totally coincidentally, the lyrics I sing kind of told the part of my own story,” she said.

Once there, Parrish got several jobs - including singing at a restaurant, working at a call center and teaching piano lessons. She quickly realized the commute from her friend’s apartment to all those jobs, not to mention to auditions, was too expensive. So for the first few months, she lived in her car, occasionally crashing on friends’ couches.

“It was hard, but it was also sort of a thrill, like, ‘How badly do I want this,’” she said. “If I want this badly enough to do this, then I know I really want it.”

While calling her car home was only temporary, the roller coaster ride of auditions, call backs and rejection was constant.

“I’ve had so many low points because I’ve been rejected by publishers or for performing opportunities or by record labels or just told ‘Oh, your music isn’t going to be marketable,’” Parrish said. “It’s just a tough industry to break into. […] There have been times when I felt like it’s going to be impossible for me, but I think that’s normal.”

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Credit Courtesy of Summit Entertainment
The musical 'La La Land' stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

When the audition for La La Land came along, Parrish wasn’t told much about the project. It wasn’t until she was hired that she realized the film would feature mega-stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

“I knew it was going to do well because of who was attached,” she said. “I knew that it was really great. I was like -- I’m so proud that this is such a huge piece of art. But I don’t know if anyone could have predicted what’s happened and how big it’s become.”

It may be about to get even bigger. The film has already picked up several awards, including multiple Golden Globes. Next up: the Oscars. The buzz is strong that La La Land will nab the award for best picture.

For Parrish, the most important audience reviews came when she took her parents to see the movie.

“It was really exciting,” she said. “My dad has Parkinson’s disease and he doesn’t get to leave the house very much and so we took him and -- it was a pretty emotional moment for my family to get to experience that. They were proud and they cried. They were happy.”

While one would think singing in a major hit film would be the key to instant fame and fortune, Parrish said that’s not necessarily the case.

“My day-to-day life hasn’t changed in the nature of what I do,” she said. “But I would say that I’m communicating a lot more with people, and sending out a lot of emails and taking a lot more meetings.”

She’s also booking some higher-profile sessions, including singing on a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.

One other upgrade: That car, the one that Parrish called home for a period of time?

“It actually died the week the film came out,” she said.

Now Parrish has a new car and is currently working on a new album due out later this year.

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