Interview: How Ashlie Amber Overcame Tragedy, Stereotypes to Find Her Country Dream
If the country music community truly values authenticity, then they'll rally behind Ashlie Amber.
Don't flinch when you see her mohawk. Don't drop your jaw when you see the singer-songwriter's full figure in revealing swimsuits on Instagram. If the color of her skin has you making assumptions about her style of music, reset your expectations.
The Colorado-raised, Las Vegas-based chanteuse knows who she is now, after years spent hiding her hair with wigs and hating her body. Google her name to find a four-word biography as elegant as it is confident:
Ashlie Amber: Black Female Country Singer
Amber's mid-20s were spent focused on insecurities she simply has no time for in 2021. She talks of financial responsibility with the same energy and acuity as she does her white-hot new song "Those Nights." She recalls how the mostly white Denver suburb she grew up in introduced her to — and in some ways, kept her from — country music. She reflects how her father's death turned her life around.
"I would lock myself in my room for hours and just belt at the top of my lungs. (It was) not good," she says, laughing. "I would drive my family crazy just singing for hours and hours and hours. And it was always just Whitney."
"Whitney" is, of course, Whitney Houston, her greatest early influence. Years later, Amber would headline a Whitney Houston celebration on a cruise ship, where she'd meet her manager, Don Gatlin — an event that turned her full-tilt to success in Music City. In between, she studied and obsessed over songs by Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes and Faith Hill. Sure, those who appreciated her talent tried to steer her toward hip-hop or R&B at every step, but her first lunch money album purchase was a Britney Spears LP.
"I'm not going to sit here and try to be all hard in these songs, because it's just not who I am," Amber assures.
Growing up in Thornton, Colo., Amber watched her mother work overtime to raise her and her siblings after her dad died unexpectedly at the age of 43. He was in good health and heavily involved in his children's lives.
"My dad's passing is actually really what changed the direction of my life, because up until that point, we were a very sports family," she says. "My dad actually coached us. So I played volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball. We did everything."
Then suddenly, they didn't.
Amber admits that having no real father figure during her formative years led to massive insecurities later — insecurities that were heightened by other people's expectations of what a career musician should look like. Professional theater, cruises, television performances and modeling work just wasn't enough.
"When I first started, I thought that if I'm not famous — if I don't have a recording contract — then I'm not successful," she says. "And I legit thought that. I was embarrassed when people said, 'What are you doing with your music? Do you have a record deal yet?' People would talk to you like that.
"I'm like, 'No, I don’t have a record deal, so I must be failing at life.'"
Of course this isn't true, as thousands of professional musicians will tell you. So around the time she took the stage on the Celebrity Edge cruise ship, she decided she needed to do things her way. In truth, the evolution had already begun. Now, in 2021, Amber is her own financier, which means she never has to surrender control.
"I don't want people to own me," she says. "I know that I have to give in and I want to be signed to a major label, and there’s input that's going to be put in, but I'm gonna try to hold on as much as I can."
"Those Nights" is the kind of song that's capable of scaring someone in a suit and tie, even as fans are reacting positively to her bold message. The song is a sensual bedroom ballad that finds the singer whispering like early '00s Twain might have.
"It's a pretty sexy song, isn't it?" Amber asks, laughing when asked to share the story of the song without making her interviewer blush. Short story: There was a relationship, and things became hot and heavy quick.
"And, we had some fun nights,” she remembers, once again laughing.
"But within those fun nights we also just had fun. Like we would laugh and we would hang out and we would talk about stupid things, like video games or why the sky is blue. I dunno. Sill things, it wasn't always serious."
Careers (as in her career) got in the way of that relationship becoming more. When it's your stated goal to become the Beyonce of country music, those kind of nights take a backseat more often than not.