When Bianca Ryan returned to the America’s Got Talent stage in 2019, she knew she had something to prove. More than a decade had passed since she was crowned the show’s first-ever winner at just age 11, and since then, she felt like she had vanished from the spotlight.
“Everyone always says that girl from Northeast Philly who disappeared, where’d she go?” said Ryan, now 26.
Ryan sang a version of Say Something by A Great Big World, rearranging her version to showcase the vocal pyrotechnics in her singing, as part of AGT’s Champion season. She received a standing ovation from the judges, with Simon Cowell saying the show would likely not have gotten this far without Ryan as the inaugural winner.
It was an encouraging moment for the singer who had undergone surgery on her vocal cords just a few years prior, but Ryan still didn’t feel like she was “back.”
With the release of her new EP, now she is.
What the World Needs Now Is Love, released in November, is a six-track pack that serves partly as an ode to the holidays, partly as a rumination on modern events in the world, and mostly as a celebration for the singer “relearning” her voice. It’s deeply personal to Ryan, who a few years prior had been told she may never be able to sing again.
The Mayfair resident underwent multiple surgeries on her vocal cords and abdomen in 2016 after doctors declared her a high-risk candidate for esophageal cancer. After the first surgery was a success, she had to undergo another after finding out she had developed blood vessels on her vocal cords.
The surgeries were successful.
“I feel stronger than ever vocally now,” Ryan said.
Ryan finally felt her voice was prepared to tackle the music she truly desired to make that let her belt out notes and runs that originally won her the show. Only one problem – the world was on shutdown.
But that didn’t halt production. The EP was stitched together from across the country – Ryan recorded her vocals at a studio near Philly while background vocalists and instrumentalists recorded their parts from home, most also being in the city. The audio files were then sent to Los Angeles to be mixed, and finally passed to a producer in New York City to be mastered.
The entirely virtual creation process couldn’t have gone smoother, but it’s this uncertain and distanced state of the world that inspired the EP’s opening and title track What the World Needs Now Is Love, originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965.
“I always internalize the song and its lyrics before I jump into a studio and sing it,” Ryan said. “What I went through emotionally, I really feel this tells the story of that.”
Other than love, maybe the world could use a little holiday joy. Ryan revisits Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day? on the EP, an upbeat stocking stuffer of a tune that became her first hit after the show in 2006. It was co-written by Walter Afanasieff, who also penned Mariah Carey’s omnipresent holiday hit All I Want for Christmas Is You.
It’s a candy cane-flavored bit of sugary nostalgia that’s also meant to represent the growth Ryan has gone through.
“Part of me understands the holidays are coming up and people want to be cheerful, but at the same time we can’t neglect the fact we are going through so much right now,” Ryan said.
While some have been hunkered down at home since the spring, others have been separated from family and loved ones. On Celebrate Me Home, a climactic call to home on a frost-tinged night, Ryan lets out her most impressive vocals in sync with a harmonica played by LD Miller, the runner-up of her season. Even though she’s been able to quarantine with her family, Ryan thought the Kenny Loggins track about missing family had the perfect message for modern times.
Ryan hopes 2021 will be a personal best, with music video shoots and songwriting sessions on the horizon. In the meantime, she’s giving virtual concerts and selling merchandise on her social media accounts.
“I finally feel free, health wise and mentally. My heart is finally aligned with my body and voice and I can do all the things I’ve been dreaming about,” Ryan said.
It’s been a rocky road for Ryan, but in a time of uncertainty, she found her joy. Now she’s just trying to pass it on. ••
Connect with Bianca on Facebook at Facebook.com/OfficialBiancaRyan, on Twitter @BiancaRyan or on Instagram @OfficialBiancaRyan.