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Vocal powerhouse Andra Day is "rising up" to the top of her game, and it looks like she's not stopping anytime soon.
Aside from having two Grammy nominations under her belt, Day also managed to secure a Golden Globe for Best Actress in Hulu's The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, where she made her acting debut. Plus, the 36-year-old star is now in the running for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Given her stellar acting skills and the film's success, many are predicting that Day will also take home an Oscar this year. But before the big event, we wanted to learn a bit more about the multitalented star, from her biggest music inspirations to the story behind her getting the role of Billie Holiday. Read on to see eight surprising facts about Andra Day.
1. Andra Day's real name isn't Andra Day
That's right—it turns out Andra Day is only her stage name. The singer was born Cassandra Monique Batie in December of 1984. As for the inspiration behind the moniker, all credit goes to Billie Holiday, whose most famous nickname was "Lady Day."
2. Billie Holiday is one of Day's biggest musical inspirations
Now that you know the story behind her stage name, it makes sense. In her interview with Paste, Day explained that Holiday's passion and unique vocals always stood out to her. She said, “I’m attracted to big unique voices so of course I love the Arethas and Patti LaBelles, but also one of my major influences is Billie Holiday because she just has such a unique voice. It was very emotional and very real and very raw.”
3. Andra Day was actually discovered by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder clearly knows great talent when he sees it. In an interview with Live Nation, Day explained how she wound up on the legendary singer's radar, explaining that it all started when she performed at a strip mall. Her manager at the time recorded her performance and, only weeks later, he wound up meeting Wonder's former wife.
When she saw the clip, she was so impressed that she told Wonder. And as they say, the rest is history.
While describing her first conversation with Wonder, Day told Live Nation, "I get a call from the one and only Stevie Wonder—and first of all I didn’t believe it. We talked about writing songs and he talked about astrology; he was very interested that I was a Capricorn."
4. Andra Day almost didn't play Billie Holiday
During her chat with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, she recalled, "I turned it down, I was trying to run from it. My manager's like, 'You should look at this and do this,' and I was like, 'Hell no!'"
The singer also revealed that Lee Daniels, the film's director, wasn't too thrilled about the idea of casting her as the lead, but thanks to their managers, they eventually realized their shared desire to tell Holiday's story authentically.
Day continued, "I didn't want to do it period because I'm not an actor, and that was a scary idea for me. But also I'm a fan of Billie Holiday's, so what incentivized me was this idea that it would be vindicating her legacy, and that the world would know her as the great godmother of civil rights."
5. She went through a drastic transformation to prepare for this role
Day may not have the most acting experience, but it certainly didn't stop her from going above and beyond to do Holiday justice in the film. While speaking with W Magazine, she explained that she dropped nearly 40 pounds and took up drinking and smoking, just so she could accurately capture the real Billie Holiday.
She said, "I was originally 163 pounds when I started, and I got down to 124. At first, I started by just shrinking my caloric intake, of course, and then exercising as well."
She continued, "I started smoking cigarettes, which I don't do. I don't smoke anything because, first of all, I have no frame of reference for myself smoking. So it makes me feel like her; it slows me down. I’m very fast, and she’s like molasses."
6. Before her rise to fame, she worked about 20 different jobs
Day studied at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts before her career took off. But in order to keep herself afloat, she also worked about 20 different jobs, according to The New York Post. One of her most memorable gigs? Entertaining kids at parties as famous characters, including Dora the Explorer and Minnie Mouse.
She said, “People always think I must have been 16 when I did that job, but I was actually about 22 or 23. I would challenge myself to have the best Minnie voice. I had so much fun—it was like performing.”
7. She has a background in dance
She's well known for her amazing vocals, but not many are aware that she's also talented on the dance floor. According to the San Diego Tribune, Day took up dancing when she was just five years old. She continued to dance until her mid-twenties, when she decided to explore music a bit more.
8. Day got her start by singing in church
You may have noticed the soulful gospel vibes in some of her songs—that's all thanks to her early music days. When she was young, she sang a lot of gospel music at First United Methodist Church in Chula Vista.
It's no wonder Day's vocals are so stunning.