Us the Duo Talk Decision to Go On 'America's Got Talent,' New Tour & Coming Up on Vine With Shawn Mendes
"This is really great exposure for us to take us to that next level and to gain some new fans that we weren't able to reach before," they tell Billboard.
Every summer, America’s Got Talent showcases a range of undiscovered talent, but one couple featured on the show last week had already found a fanbase from singing six-second covers on the now-defunct Vine app. When Us the Duo's AGT audition aired, Twitter formed its own judging panel, wondering how two recognizable contestants could be eligible for the talent competition.
But the show's actual judging panel -- Simon Cowell, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel -- was impressed. The married couple behind Us the Duo, Michael and Carissa Alvarado, performed an original composition on the show, “No Matter Where You Are,” which they wrote for their wedding vows and was featured in the 2014 animated film The Book of Life. With Michael playing guitar and Carissa shaking maracas in one hand and hitting a drum with the other, the audience got on their feet to clap along to their performance.
Beyond AGT, Us the Duo begins a North American summer tour this month, with their first show set for June 19 at Wonder Ballroom in Portland, Oregon (find tour dates here). And the Alvarado family is getting bigger: Carissa told Mel B on the show “We want to start a family soon,” and their plan is in full swing, as Carissa is five months pregnant and due in October, according to the baby’s Instagram account with the handle @usthebaby.
Before hitting the road, Us the Duo got on the phone with Billboard to discuss their decision to audition for AGT and how they’re managing their expanding family and music career.
Why audition when you were previously signed to Republic, have 1.2 million monthly Spotify listeners, a song in a movie and have toured with Pentatonix?
Michael: For us, we're independent artists, and we always want to do things that are better than the past, so Carissa and I, we've played stages before, but never a stage at the size and the magnitude of America's Got Talent. ... The other night of the performance, that was the biggest stage we've ever performed on. So for us, that's closer to our dream than maybe what we're doing right now, which is playing club venues around the U.S. and occasionally in Europe. So we just call this the next big step to expand us to hopefully getting in front of a little bit more eyes than we have in the past. So I have seen that question online a lot, but in our heads, we're like, "We always want to be bigger than we are, and we want to keep growing." And we think America's Got Talent is the perfect way to reach that next level, that next stream for us.
How does it even feel to perform “No Matter Where You Are” in front of the judges? You have this intimate love song and then you play all the instruments and it has that funky, pop vibe and then it’s like Simon Cowell is right in front of you.
Carissa: We were definitely really nervous to play an original song, and a song that means so much to us, in front of the judges, but we were really excited to see their response to it, especially Simon. We really think that he knows his stuff when it comes to musical talent, so for him to say all those nice things about our music and about our performance, we were really excited about that. So we're happy to have him on our side.
How does it feel to advance your musical career and family at the same time?
Michael: It's really exciting. I actually don't really know how to feel, because it's like both of our dreams are coming true. You know, you dream about this when, or at least when I was a little boy, I always wanted to play music for as many people as possible and I've always known I wanted to be a dad at some point. And now both of those things are starting to happen and I really don't know how to handle myself. Carissa just looked at me and she grabbed my arm. She goes, "Eeee! You know that eek emoji?" And I'm like, "What does that mean?" And she's like, "I'm just so excited I can't contain my excitement!" And we probably do that maybe two or three times a day. So we're hanging on, but we're loving every minute of it for sure.
What happened from six-second covers to four studio albums? Where did that jump come from?
Carissa: I would say it all happened really, really fast. I think we were the first artists to be signed off of Vine, so from then on out, it was just go, go, go. And we signed to the record label and we put out an album with them and we just started touring. So we just really hit the ground running, and we have Vine to really thank for pushing us to that level and getting us started. And then things didn't work out with the label and we are independent again and now we're just using all the other social platforms that we can to keep it rolling. Vine, rest in peace, is no longer around, so we decided to take it to Facebook, where we got more followers there and shared just a bunch of videos. And we just tried to keep putting out new music and keep getting on the road. It's what we love to do, so the fact that we get to do that is pretty amazing. But like Michael said before, we just need think this is really great exposure for us to take us to that next level and to gain some new fans that we weren't able to reach before.
With the death of Vine, do you think that other aspiring artists can follow that same path that you guys did, but through Instagram or Snapchat? Or do you think your career path is no longer viable because of Vine, which also helped Shawn Mendes grow to where he is today?
Michael: Yeah social media is always going to be a huge platform for any person -- especially in our demographic like from teenagers onto like mid-20s -- reach their friends through their talent. And that's really where it started for us: We just put videos out and only our friends saw it. But when your friends share to their friends, who share to their friends, and then something starts to happen -- the snowball effect. And no matter what platform it is, videos will always exist and people are always going to watch. So for us, it was Vine, and for Shawn Mendes, it was Vine too. And I just remember when Vine started, us and Shawn Mendes traded each other's songs. We like got on the phone and were like, "All right, you cover one of my songs, and you cover 'No Matter Where You Are.'" And he did, and it's just funny to see how far he's come since then, because it's about camaraderie and intermingling in that community. So for couples or artists starting out, starting to make videos consistently is really important, but then finding other people on the platform who also make videos like you and doing those things like share-swap or asking for advice and that way you can borrow each other's followers and grow together.
With everything that’s happened so far and everything that is still going on, what does the future look like for Us the Duo? Is the baby going to rebrand the group as Us the Trio? Can we expect new music?
Michael: That's a good question, and I think we're still trying to figure out. But I definitely know the baby will become a big part of who we are. Our "Us the Duo" as a brand has always been about us, and music is a big part of that, but we really just share all of our personal moments, whether it's our wedding video, our engagement video. We actually announced the baby's gender on Facebook Live. And that was very emotional, but we brought all of our fans along with us on that. So our baby's just going to become a part of our daily life, and we're going to put all of those videos online and grow together. So I think we may tour a little bit less just because taking an infant on the road might be a little tough, but other than that, we're not going to slow down. We're always going to keep our fans involved and just keep making content again, keep putting music out.
We're just excited for the next round of AGT and we're kind of contemplating what we're going to play next. And I don't know if you saw some of the judges' comments on the audition, but Howie wasn't a huge fan, so our next goal is trying to win him over with our songs. So fingers crossed that we can do that, but we're writing our arrangement and getting our things set so we can try to take round two by storm.
The next episode of America’s Got Talent airs tonight (June 12) at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.