Grammy favorite Olivia Rodrigo: Our 2020 interview with the ‘High School Musical’ star

Olivia Rodrigo is now celebrating a whopping seven Grammy nominations announced this week. She earned bids for Album of the Year (“Sour”), Record of the Year and Song of the Year (“Drivers License”) and Best New Artist. That makes her only the 13th artist in Grammy history to earn all four of those nominations in the same year.

Let’s flashback to last year when she joined Gold Derby’s Sam Eckmann for a webchat about her role on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” for Disney+. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“There’s a couple moments in my life where I’ve been in an audition room and really felt aligned and felt like I’m where I’m supposed to be,” explained the actress and singer during our 2020 chat.

“It’s such a phenomenon” Rodrigo said of the original “High School Musical” which premiered on Disney Channel in 2006 and starred Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. The actress was initially apprehensive about taking on such a widely known and loved franchise. But when she discovered that the series would have a “fresh take” with a documentary style meta-narrative, she was sold. Casting was sold on Rodrigo when she and eventual co-star Joshua Bassett whipped together an acoustic cover of Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” during the audition. Rodrigo stepped into the role of Nini, and is honored “to give a new interpretation of an old classic.”

The show features original songs in every episode, and one of the biggest breakout hits is the power ballad “Wondering,” which features the soaring vocals of Rodrigo and her co-star Julia Lester. The tune sees the characters examining the decisions they’ve made and wondering what could have been instead. It’s gripping, heavy stuff for a teen series. But Rodrigo believes that kind of emotional resonance is the secret to the show’s success. “We don’t underestimate young people,” she explained. In her eyes, the emotional quality of the writing lends “an amazing sense of authenticity and rawness” to the series. “Everybody relates.”

Rodrigo also had the opportunity to write original songs for  the series. Reshoots were scheduled when it was decided that her character needed a ballad in an early episode. When one Disney executive shared a video of one of Rodrigo’s own original tunes, which had the desired tone, the actress was tasked with quickly composing her own song. The result was the soulful “All I Want,” which has amassed well over five million views on YouTube. Rodrigo borrowed her own lived experiences for the lyrics, noting that “the best songs come from a place of honesty.” Considering how closely she related to her character’s life as a teenage girl, “it wasn’t hard to write from Nini’s perspective.”

Apart from cranking out impeccable vocals on the show’s hit tracks, Rodrigo enjoys the family-like summer camp environment that was created on set with her co-stars. “I’ve been home schooled since middle school, so I never had a normal high school experience,” she admits. “So I always say that being on set…is my high school experience.”

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