Raquel Castro’s energy was palpable as soon as she jumped on our conference call. The winner of NBC’s Songland episode with H.E.R. was still elated after being selected with the chart-topping hit Wrong Places. The moment was surreal and gave her validation as a songwriter. She expressed gratitude and amazement at the opportunity this platform is providing to undiscovered songwriters. It is clear that her success in the competition is another stepping stone on the journey to something greater.
My younger self would say that you can be anything you want if you work hard and believe in yourself. However, as we grow into adults, our sense of self can be shaken by external sources and life experiences. Castro, a native New Yorker born to Puerto Rican-Italian parents recalls entertaining her family in the living room of their Long Island home at a young age with only an imaginary microphone in hand. Singing and dancing to the tunes of Jennifer Lopez and Selena was thrilling. Raquel dreamed of following a path that for many artists remains a fantasy.
One can only imagine her excitement at the age of seven when she was called to share the big screen with her idol, Lopez. Raquel played the daughter of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in the movie “Jersey Girl.” The role in the movie was a game-changer, but the years that followed were inconsistent.
The gigs came sporadically, reminding the artist she had to remain grounded while thinking of a backup plan. Her family kept her centered, as did her desire for a normal life. The acting made her happy, but being successful was never about creating an unrealistic self-image for others, fame, wealth, or fast track to Hollywood.
For Raquel, happiness meant doing something that brings balance and peace within. Music brought her joy from a young age; it was natural to return to her first love. Winning a spot on Christina Aguilera’s team on NBC’s “The Voice” gave her an incredible boost of confidence. Despite being eliminated in the first round of the live shows, she demonstrated only gratitude for being part of it. Sometime after, she locked a recurring role on Fox-5’s television smash hit “Empire,” but coming full circle took her to the place where her heart truly lives.
I pitched an interview with Castro and, as is our new normal, jumped on a conference call with the actress. Her energy was palpable and contagious: she was still elated about being selected with the chart-topping hit Wrong Places.
The win was an emotional high that gave her validation as a songwriter, she said. Castro expressed gratitude and amazement for the opportunity NBC provided to aspiring songwriters like her.
During our conversation, Castro talked about her career as a songwriter, actress, and vocalist and said the win was the portent of greater things in the near future. Here is an excerpt of our wonderful chat.
The song “Wrong Places” is relatable, personal. I hear the song came from a personal place. It isn’t easy to express such vulnerability. Are all your songs so personal? Have you ever put one out that made you feel – “Oh, maybe that is too close to the vest or reveals too much, maybe I will not release that one?”
I started the songwriting to get my thoughts out, it has been therapeutic. It’s like writing a journal to tell my stories. My songs are personal, writing my emotions about past relationships when in a sad or bad place can ease the pain. If my lyrics can help someone else then sharing my experience is worth telling the story.
Many of us remember you as “Gertie” from the movie “Jersey Girl.” You have come a long way from that little girl. Most recently, you played a brief role in the popular show “Empire.” What has been the most significant growth experience experienced between the time you filmed Jersey Girl and Empire?
There was a major gap between the ages of 9 and 20 years old! The time helped me learn to balance young adulthood in real life. As young actors in the spotlight, this can be challenging. It was important for me to keep my values intact, stay true to myself.
You acted in “Jersey Girl,” competed and made it to the live rounds of “The Voice” and now, a winner in Songland for “Wrong Places.” Do you find it to be an easy transition between multiple careers? Or is each of the roles part of you?
Acting, singing, and songwriting are all parts of me. I have been able to flourish into the woman I want to be because of my experiences, all parts together make me whole.
We commonly pursue a specific track in our careers, sometimes stumbling on a different path and finding purpose but often, the process forces us into a niche which becomes a barrier for many, unless there is strong resolve to materialize a specific dream. You have managed to chase three paths and do well in each one! What have you done differently that has allowed you to acquire success in everything you take on?
The most important thing for me is waking up with a sense of purpose. I want to feel fulfilled by doing something that has meaning. I will not give up on my dreams. There is no ego, I’m willing to work hard to do what it takes. Success for me means being happy doing what I love.
What has been your biggest challenge shifting between careers? If you were forced to choose only one, which would it be? If you were not in entertainment, what would you be?
The transition hasn’t been too bad because these are all me. It has been helpful that I have not forced myself to do something I don’t want or have to do. It is key that you do not sacrifice who you are for something. If I had to choose one, it would be songwriting. Telling my stories, creating words and melody fulfills me.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, just in case because we all have bills to pay. If I were not in entertainment, I know that I’m not made to sit in an office for a 9-5. It needs to be something like an aesthetician or interior decorator! I love HGTV and Fixer Upper, or self-care.
What inspires you to write and what do you do when you don’t have inspiration?
Life inspires me, everything that happens all around me is an inspiration. Like any writer, I experience writer’s block. Sometimes, it lasts for a while but reading stories, lighting candles, a glass of wine, and sitting at the piano helps during those times.
What advice would you give to those that may feel they have to choose between one career or other?
Believe in yourself. Once you know in your heart that you are meant to do something do not give up. Pursue your passion without letting what anyones says force you to abandon your dream.
Castro explains that for her success is a compilation of many things. It is helping others, giving back, and creating a positive environment. Her answer to my last question before ending the interview is a message that we should all remember each day.
I am Worthy
I am Loved
I am Respected
I Belong Here…
Indeed, this young lady is one to look out for in the future, as she brings hope and optimism to a world that needs it, right now.