Idolizing UCLA Songwriter, Sophia James

By John Grossi

In 2020, and at the age of 20, Sophia Wackerman made it into the top 20 on American Idol and captured America’s hearts and ears. While her journey on American Idol was approaching its climax (she would go on to be a top 10 finalist), her personal journey was reaching a turning point. “It was the funniest and most random thing that’s ever happened in my life but also the most enjoyable experience, and a phenomenal way to realize my true passion,” Sophia told our magazine in an interview over Zoom from her UCLA apartment. She is finishing her final year at UCLA under a new name, one her friends and community in hometown Long Beach are excited to embrace.


During the “Top 20” reveal show Sophia introduced her new stage name “Sophia James” and introduced her brother to the show’s millions of audience members around the globe. The name honors her brother James, who Sophia says “is my favorite person in the world.” James

endures Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), which causes intellectual disability, behavioral and learning challenges, and various physical characteristics.


America watched as young Sophia was transforming in front of them into a woman who was no longer shying away from, but embracing the hardships in her life and turning them into art with her naturally poetic and deep, beautiful, emotional, yet hopeful voice.


Among other hardships Sophia has faced in her young life, her mother Naomi Star passed away in 2015 when Sophia was only 15. Sophia’s mother was a professional singer. Her dad is a professional drummer who has played for the likes of Frank Zappa and Barbara Streisand.


“My family has definitely been my biggest inspiration - we’ve been through a lot of hardship so it has been incredible to share music as a common thread of coping and connecting,” Sophia says. “My mom always offered music as comfort to me - and after she was gone my dad did the same. My brother has an intellectual disability and it’s incredible how skilled he is at music despite his internal challenges - he’s actually a drummer as well. James’ talent really

reminds me of how powerful music is and how wonderful that we can share it with each other and use it as a connecting force!”


Sophia’s plans post-graduation are to “make as much music as I can with as many people as I can and to follow the wave of music, grasping at every opportunity that comes my way.”


Her newest EP, just released, is an amazing tribute to her talent, emotions, aspirations, and raw musical ability. (Side note: it’s really good - I’m calling it the love child of Norah Jones, Julie Andrews, Ella Fitzgerald, John Mayer, and Adele. Its jazzy and somber vibe is the perfect addition to your fall season).


Sophia grew up in Long Beach attending Lowell Elementary (where she’d like to shout out her 2nd grade teacher Dr. Brennan), Rogers Middle School (many thanks to her band teacher Mr. Hamilton), and Los Alamitos High School where she specifically went to join David Moellenkamp’s renowned “Sound FX” Musical Theatre program.


“I think Long Beach absolutely fostered my love for creativity and creative ambitions. From having annual talent shows at my elementary school Lowell, to having artists come into schools and talk to us about their careers, Meet the Masters, and community events where art is featured like the free art lessons at Latin America Museum of Art. Long Beach just has so many opportunities for young people to explore their creativity and to present it in a safe and encouraging environment. I don’t think I‘d be anywhere without that. Long Beach makes art exciting and instilled it in me at a really young age. Now that excitement in art still and forever lives in me so I will always consider Long Beach my home because of that.”


Follow @sophiajames on Instagram to learn more, or better yet, give her amazing new EP “Stand Beneath The Sky” a listen on Spotify or wherever you listen to music!

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