This year’s Radio Disney Music Awards are making history, with Britney Spears being the first ever to receive the Icon Award for music that transcends popular culture. That makes 2017 a pretty good year for Sofia Carson, the 24-year-old singer and Disney star, to be the awards show co-host — a duty that includes performing a Britney Spears tribute medley with Hailee Steinfeld and fellow host Kelsea Ballerini.
Growing up in Miami, Carson always had a love for music and performance. “The very first song I ever learned was ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from Evita,” the Disney star tells Billboard. “My parents have this video of me at 3 years old singing and dancing to Evita. It was so much drama.”
Carson plays Evie, daughter of Snow White’s Evil Queen, in the award-winning Disney Channel Original Movie Descendants and has launched a promising music career with explosive singles like “Back to Beautiful,” an EDM-laced pop ballad produced by Alan Walker. “It’s pretty surreal to be able to collaborate with people like Julia Michaels, Alan Walker and Stargate — people I’ve admired for many years,” she says.
But talent and voice aside, Carson’s killer fashion sense and personal style alone make her someone to watch. From front-row seats at Paris Fashion Week’s biggest shows to personal invitations into the ateliers of fashion legends like Azzedine Alaïa, the multi-hyphenate can confidently add “fashionista” to her résumé.
Billboard caught up with the RDMA 2017 co-host — before the show tapes Saturday and broadcasts Sunday at 7 p.m. ET across Disney platforms — about the timeless meaning of her single “Back to Beautiful” and her love affair with all things fashion.
As a musician, who are some of your inspirations?
I’ve definitely always been influenced by pop music, starting back in the day with The Beatles and Michael Jackson. Today, I really admire artists who tell stories through their music. Lyrics to me are of utmost importance and they mean so much to me — in every song that I write, the lyrics have to come from my heart and they have to be honest and true. That’s why I love artists today like Ed Sheeran and even Taylor Swift who tell stories through their music. That’s a big inspiration for me.
Your latest single, “Back to Beautiful,” is a great example of storytelling.
The record is really close to my heart, because I always wanted to share my music with the world and to be able to say something important and tell a meaningful story. There’s so much happening in the world right now, but I think the song has such a timeless message that beauty is in our hearts. First and foremost, we have to be beautiful people and love who we are, where we come from, and not judge others. Alan Walker came in and even though it’s an almost dark ballad, the production takes it to a different place and makes it almost EDM. It’s a really cool mix.
Tell us a little bit about the “Back to Beautiful” music video.
I was able to work with Emil Nava, who I adore and who is such a brilliant director. He directed some of my favorite Ed Sheeran and Rihanna videos. When we were looking for the idea or the inspiration for this video, we were looking for something different that really translated onto the screen what the production of the song does.
Emil had this incredible idea of having lasers come in at the drops — they drive that anxiety and frustration that’s in the song. We came up with the idea of being in an old abandoned theater and me being a performer. I grew up in theaters, so it’s a place really close to my heart.
You have such a strong sense of personal style. How would you describe your fashion sense?
I’ve always loved fashion. It’s a huge part of who I am as an artist. I tend to fall for more classic pieces with a bit of an edge. I always really loved timeless fashion like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly — really beautiful and classic. But as an artist and musician, I always try to find that edge, whether it’s the boots or adding leather. A combination of leather and lace is very true to who I am.
Do you have any other style icons?
I really, really love Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson and Kate Bosworth. In the music world, my ultimate icon is Gwen Stefani.
For Paris Fashion Week, you got to meet high-fashion designers like Alïa and Monique Lhuillier. What was that like for you as a fashion lover?
It was surreal. It was my very first fashion week and taste of the fashion world that I’ve grown up admiring and dreaming to be a part of. When I landed in Paris, I got a call from Mr. Alaia’s studio that they would love to dress me for fashion week. I was completely speechless and blown away. We show up to his beautiful studio in Paris and they’re like, “Mr. Alaïa would like to see you now.” I had no idea that Azzedine Alaïa would be there himself — he’s a legend. He’s an architect of fashion. He dressed me himself, he was playing with my hair, my makeup. [The Alaïa dress] was my favorite piece I’ve worn to date. It was absolutely surreal.
Another really special moment was being able to meet Giambattista Valli and to wear his clothing. His style is so feminine and ethereal — he just dresses for the woman’s body like no one else.
Who are some of your favorite designers right now?
On of my favorite designers is David Koma, and he’s designing for Mugler now. The very first fashion show I went to was Mugler, and I got to meet Koma and wear one of his designs. I wore him on the carpet recently and I’m a huge fan of his work. I really love Dior, and Marc Jacobs is amazing right now. I love Versace and Versus Versace — their new line is one of my favorites.
Are there any must-have beauty products that you swear by?
Right now, I’m really in love with Charlotte Tilbury lipsticks; they’re really beautiful. There’s the Penelope Pink and Nude Kate shades that I love using a lot. I love Nars products for my skin — I cannot live without their concealers. I love the Dior mascara and their highlighter that just came out.
Congratulations on hosting the Radio Disney Music Awards. Are you excited?
I’m beyond excited. This week has been filled with fittings and rehearsals. My very first awards show was the RDMAs and Zendaya was hosting at the time. I remember sitting in the audience and thinking to myself, “Wow. How cool would it be to host the show?” So when I got asked by Phil [Guerini], who’s the vice president of Radio Disney and has just been so special to me, I was so thrilled. We have some really exciting tricks up our sleeve.
And what about your looks during the awards show?
Yesterday, I had a fitting and we found the main look — there’s about seven changes. I’ve never hosted an awards show, but I think it’s a moment where you can have fun with fashion and be yourself — you can experiment with color and everything that shines on stage works beautifully. I want [the looks] to be a true reflection of who I am.
What do you have in the works for the rest of 2017?
I’m putting out one of my favorite songs that I’ve recorded to date this summer which I’m really excited for — I’m gearing up for the single and music video. I’m working on the album to be released maybe by the end of this year or next year, but music is a big priority right now. I’ll also be joining Alan Walker on tour again this summer. The Descendants 2 comes out July 21 which we are so excited about.