In the few short years since, she has garnered a "Best New Artist" nomination from Radio Disney, picked up an MTV Europe Music Award and won worldwide recognition for her debut single, "Run, Run, Run."
Everyone measures success differently, though. And speaking to Buckingham, it's obvious accolades and awards — although nice — aren't the benchmarks she uses to define greatness. For Buckingham, success boils down to authenticity.
"For me, ultimately, if it's not authentic and it's not honest, I might as well hang my hat and not do this," she said, sharing that she can't write unless it comes from the heart.
"It's a crazy job and a crazy lifestyle, and as much as I love it to death — I can't imagine myself doing anything else — it's not easy. It's an uphill battle all the way," she continued, "so I'm not just here to write great pop records or records that will do well in commercials or on radio stations and TV; I'm here to put my soul into what I do."
Judging from the reviews already sifting in for Buckingham's new single, her new music seems destined for success by both her standards and the music industry's.
An infectiously catchy track, "Unpredictable" is a divine mix of drama and soul — a rocking tribute to the beautiful uncertainty of life. And ironically, the song itself came by way of happenstance.
Explained Buckingham, "It's kind of a funny story because I was at a place in my life where I didn't know what to do next and was going through a few different things. I didn't know if I should work on a new record or quit the music industry entirely, and I was literally in the studio and went, 'I can't take this — it's so unpredictable!' And my producer went, 'That's a great song lyric.'"
Much of the soulful 20-year-old's music comes to her in a similarly organic way. She wrote her first single, "Run, Run, Run" in the middle of the night during a bout of insomnia. To date, it has been featured in various TV spots and has 17-plus million YouTube views and counting.
"I don't think I've ever just sat down and decided I was going to write a song," she said. "It always kind of appears in a weird and unnatural way."
Weird and unnatural or otherwise, Buckingham has worked hard to get where she is today — graduating early and, in general, operating at an accelerated pace. But despite getting into show business at the tender age of 15, the singer doesn't feel as though she missed too many monumental teen milestones.
"I got a lot extra on the side because I got to do all this amazing stuff and travel the world and work with some legendary people. What more could a 20-year-old ask for? I still go out, I go to the movies, I've had relationships," she said. "I didn't miss out on anything basic and important."
Well, save for one experience.
"Having the graduation cap and being able to throw it in the air and go, 'I'm done with high school! I never have to do this again!'" she reveals, laughing. "That's the one thing I missed. Other than that, I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out."
Understandably so. The now-Nashville, Tennessee, native routinely draws comparisons to singing icons such as Adele, Etta James and Janis Joplin — the latter of whom Buckingham can't help but gush over.
"Janis Joplin is my god," she said. "When she sang, it was like she was possessed by something. I mean, the woman had an unnatural talent to make everyone stop what they were doing and get completely lost in music, which is something I would love to achieve one day."
It's that kind of transcendence that propels Buckingham forward.
She elaborated, "These women performed with a passion and a pain that was so powerful that they changed the course of music forever in one moment. They really brought something new and put their soul into it — and not just soul as in attitude or a type of music. They really actually put a piece of themselves into what they were performing or writing. So, for me, that's always been the ultimate goal."
Whether she achieves that goal (or already has), Buckingham likely will change very little. While many 20-something women in the entertainment world seem to be losing their wits, the "Unpredictable" singer is refreshingly grounded.
"Honestly, it really stems from building self-confidence not based on what you look like but who you really are," she said, confessing she has never been primarily concerned with her physical appearance.
"It's the inner me that I try to improve on. If my personality is harsh or unkind, no matter how hard I work at looking perfect, I will never really be beautiful. So, for me, beauty is everything... but it's internal."
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