Somewhere in a packed, 800-student University of Toronto lecture hall, chart-topping pop singer Alyssa Reid is studiously taking psychology notes.
Yes, we’re talking about the same Alberta artist who toured internationally with celebrity boy band One Direction.
The Alyssa Reid who performed the hit Alone Again, which became the top-selling single by a Canadian artist in 2011, and No. 1 MuchMusic video.
The very singer who’s embarking on her first headlining tour across Canada with Virginia to Vegas, which stops on Thursday, Oct. 16, at the International Beer Haus and Stage in Red Deer.
Reid said she enrolled as a psychology student at U of T, not to please her parents but for herself. “I’ve always loved school and learning and I didn’t want to miss out on this experience.”
Although the 21-year-old can’t imagine doing anything other than singing, she likes keeping her future options open. She admitted she doesn’t know what life at 40 will bring. “I thought, what if I want a job eventually? I might as well do this while I’m still excited about the idea of being in school.”
To balance her academic studies with her career in the music industry, Reid admits she must do a lot of juggling — such as cramming for mid-terms while on tour. “I’m very fortunate my professor lecture is online so I can be studying on the road,” said Reid, who has gone unrecognized, so far — except for one classmate approaching to say, “You look really familiar. …”
“I said, ‘Maybe you’ve seen me around campus?’ ”
Reid admitted she likes to schlep around in sweatpants to blend in. “No one has any idea who I am and I can just be a regular student. It’s amazing. …”
Of course, her life has been anything but regular since her hit Alone Again, based on lyrics by Heart, went huge in 2011.
While the Canadian version of the song from Reid’s first album The Game includes rap vocals from P. Reign, the tune was later remixed with vocals from the Jump Smokers for a U.K. release. The remixed version went to No. 2 on that country’s radio charts, as well as places like Poland and Slovakia.
This led to Reid embarking on a stadium tour with One Direction, the biggest boy group on the planet (leading to media-fanned rumours that Harry Styles had slipped her his phone number).
“Those shows were absolutely ridiculous,” recalled the singer, who performed in front of 70,000 crazed, cheering kids each night.
Canadian crowds were about as boisterous when she later toured the country with Hedley.
“I was very fortunate in having that kind of success with Alone Again,” said Reid, who appeared as a contestant on YTV’s competition The Next Star at age 15 and was later discovered in a YouTube video parodying a Justin Bieber song.
“I learned a lot from it, so when the time came to make my second album, I knew what I was doing.”
Still, the attention she garnered for The Game — which also contained the hit title-track that Reid recorded with Snoop Dogg — made starting work on her second album, Time Bomb, seem daunting. “I was worried, I’m not going to lie,” said Reid. Time Bomb “was a bit of a departure for me, not only musically, but about who I was. I pushed a lot of boundaries.”
The album released earlier this year contains all-original tunes co-written by Reid, who had penned her first song at age seven.
And some of the lyrics are very personal.
Radio Silence was inspired by her cousin’s death of leukemia when Reid was a teenager.
“We were neighbours and best friends. It was a very difficult situation,” said the singer, who feels writing the ballad was a catharsis. “It’s about how I still feel his presence, even though he’s not here anymore.”
The title track from Time Bomb is about a bad relationship “that kind of changes who you are as a person.” Reid recalled feeling “driven so crazy, you stop acting like yourself. You are constantly unhappy and freaking out. … You start thinking: ‘I don’t like this other person I’ve become.’ ”
If she has unusual insight for her age, Reid said it’s because “I’m very self-sufficient because I’ve been on my own for a while. I’ve been taking care of myself.”
The Edmonton-born, Brampton, Ont.-raised artist moved around a lot after her parents split up. Now her father lives in Alberta and her mother recently moved from Ontario to Pittsburgh to be with a new partner, who has young children.
While Reid understands her mom’s decision to relocate, and can still rely on a sister, supportive friends and colleagues at her Wax Records label in Toronto, she joked that her sense of abandonment will probably come spilling out when she writes songs for future albums. “It’s a very weird new situation. …”
Meanwhile, she’s looking forward to returning to Alberta on her first headlining tour with friends in the band Virginia to Vegas.
Reid also promises to put out some new music in 2015.
Not only is a brand-new song being released shortly, she also has plans to record an EP that will not be available for purchase.
“It’s going to be released exclusive to a very few people … but I can’t say too much yet, we’re still working on it.”
For ticket information about the 7 p.m. show, call 403-986-5008.