“When I was really young, my parents used to take my sister and I to orchestra concerts,” the 27-year-old musician says. “I was so exposed to classical music.”
It was this exposure that inspired her at that young age to take up the violin—a talent that would ultimately lead Stirling to compete on America’s Got Talent, garner half a billion views on YouTube for her performances and embark on worldwide tours.
“It’s been pretty spectacular,” Stirling says. “Sometimes I find myself thinking, ‘Wow, is this happening?’”
The journey wasn’t immediate—or without doubts. As she grew older, Stirling confesses, she had started to lose interest in the violin. She found new energy when she adopted dubstep and synthetic sounds into her playing, combining the classical elements of the violin with electronic beats and inspiring a whole new genre.
“I just had to make it fun again, and it reinvigorated my passion,” she says. “I really enjoyed pushing the envelope everywhere I could.”
A self-taught dancer, Stirling also adds movement to her unique performances, although she admits it was initially a challenge.
“It was very awkward at first and very unnatural,” she says. “It’s difficult, but once I learn [the choreography], it becomes really fun. Now, it’s so much a part of my playing.”
Stirling commits each song to complete muscle memorization so she can then focus on fine-tuning her lithe leaps and pirouettes. Her niche of being a twirling techno violinist took her all the way to the stage of America’s Got Talent in 2010, reaching the quarterfinals before being voted off the show.
“I would lie if I didn’t say I was really disappointed. … I was so humiliated,” she says. “It’s like we’ve all become desensitized to the fact that [the show participants] are real people whose dreams are being crushed. I thought this was going to be my big break, but it wasn’t. I was terrified to get back on stage again.”
However, she soon realized she wasn’t ready to give up on her talents, and the devastation turned into motivation.
“I knew I could work harder, and I wanted to prove them wrong. I was ready to fight for it,” she says. “I am definitely stronger as a result of going through that.”
While America’s Got Talent had cast Stirling out, YouTube quickly embraced her. With millions of views on each of her videos, she easily became a viral sensation. Movie-quality music videos filmed by cinematographer Devin Graham showcase Stirling’s passion as she performs covers and original songs. Her videos often have a whimsical, ethereal element to them: Performing a Lord of the Rings medley, for instance, she is reminiscent of a woodland fairy, fluidly prancing about grassy bluffs and forests in New Zealand in a flowing white dress.
For other covers, Stirling has collaborated with the popular a cappella band Pentatonix as well as John Legend, accompanying him on his popular, soulful ballad All of Me.
“I was pretty nervous to work with him,” she says. “I wanted to write something that he would like, but he was incredibly kind.”
Her newest album, “Shatter Me,” which was released April 29, features 12 songs all written by Stirling. She has also filmed music videos for many more of her originals.
“Sometimes I actually think of the video idea before I’m writing a song,” she says. “For Shatter Me, Shadows and Elements, I essentially wrote the song for the video.”
Stirling will be performing in Boca Raton at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on July 5. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the show, and the doors open at 7 p.m.
“I’ve never been to Boca,” Stirling says, “but I’m excited to discover it.”
All photos by Eric Ryan Anderson