Alumna pursues passion for music through professional girl group

February 4, 2022 — by Avani Kongetira and Nidhi Mathihalli
Nina Ann Nelson shares her experiences with pursuing singing and joining Citizen Queen

Class of 2016 alumna Nina Ann Nelson gazed out at the packed arena in Amway Center, in Orlando, Fla., in June 2019 as she belted into a microphone, surrounded by the four fellow members of her a cappella girl group, Citizen Queen. As they finished the last harmony of their rendition of Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left To Cry,” thousands of fans burst into applause.

Citizen Queen, which consists of Nelson, Kaedi Dalley, Cora Isabel, Hannah Mrozak and Kaylah Sharve, was formed in 2018. Since then, they have released covers, including “Best Part” by Daniel Caesar and H.E.R. and “Lost in Japan” by Shawn Mendes, as well as original music like their newest single “Y.”

In her sophomore year at University of Southern California, Nelson received a life changing call from Scott Hoying of Pentatonix, a Grammy Award-winning a cappella group. Upon having seen posts of her singing on his explore page, Hoying wanted her to audition for a girl group he was creating. After multiple virtual and in-person auditions, Nelson became a member of Citizen Queen.

The girls stayed together for two weeks when the group was first formed; in that time, they produced four full a cappella covers and recorded “Evolution of Girl Groups,” which has garnered over 22 million views on YouTube.

On May 1, 2019, Citizen Queen signed with RCA Records. Under the mentorship of Hoying, the group was able to hone their skills, and their covers have garnered positive responses from their fans.

Citizen Queen accompanied Pentatonix on tour in May 2019 and opened for them all across the country, from Madison Square Garden to Oracle Arena to the Forum.

“The minute I got on that stage, I was like ‘I’m not leaving. You’re going to have to forcibly remove me from the premises because this is home now,’” Nelson said.

At the moment, the group is focused on growing their presence on TikTok and other social media platforms. Currently, they have nearly 500,000 subscribers on YouTube and 1.2 million TikTok followers. Several of their videos, such as a cover of “Champagne Poetry” by Drake, have gone viral, enabling them to build their audience.

Nelson said she has loved every minute of her time with Citizen Queen, relishing in the fact that singing — a career path she had given up on early in college — was making others happy. 

 As a high schooler, despite her winning Saratoga Idol as a freshman and being widely recognized for her talent, Nelson never anticipated a singing career.

“I actually ended up applying to colleges for acting,” Nelson said. “Throughout my whole high school career, I was going down to Los Angeles to audition for TV and film.”

Nelson had auditioned and been booked for various different TV shows as a high schooler. One of her favorite roles was playing Khatira in “NCIS” Season 5, Episode 19. Throughout high school, she continued auditioning for shows, often traveling to Los Angeles to do so. She focused much of her time on acting; however, she also pursued music on the side.

Nelson’s musical passion started early; surrounded by a family of diverse musicians, from rock-band members to classical singers, Nelson’s musical influences inspired her to compete in various competitions. At school, she honed her skills through the Theater Arts Program and the Media Arts Program (MAP).

Despite her robust musical background, she entered USC as a theater major after several rejected auditions for its heavily impacted music program.

“After the rejections, I was like, ‘That’s God telling me not to do music,’” Nelson said. “So I dropped it because I just lost faith in my voice.”

Her family and friends urged her to keep going, however. Nelson said her parents have always given her the freedom to pursue her dreams, but under one condition: She needed to give it her all. 

“[My mother] always says that talent is only 10 percent of what you need,” Nelson said. “You need to fill the other 90 percent with hard work, consistency, doing things outside of your comfort zone and matching your passion with your work ethic.”

Once they realized her passion for singing, Nelson’s parents strongly encouraged her to follow her dreams and supported her in her singing journey.

“I’m super grateful for them,” Nelson said. “I know not everyone gets that kind of support from the get go. The fact that my parents have been investing in my dream since the beginning is amazing.”

With her family’s support, she was able to regain her confidence and pursue music, realizing that finding herself as a musician was more important than trying to emulate someone else.

“I ended up saying, ‘You know what, screw it,’” Nelson said. “I made a music Instagram, and I started singing again in my freshman year of college. Then, one of my favorite artists commented on my video.”

While Nelson had some hesitations about singing, when Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter Yebba told Nelson to not stop singing in a comment on Nelson’s singing post, Nelson said her insecurities about singing vanished. In the following years, she continued to make song covers and post them.

Nelson has also begun to explore songwriting, and even penned a couple of Citizen Queen’s upcoming tracks, as well as music for other artists.

“It’s crazy: I’m a musician but that’s not at all the degree that I originally pursued,” Nelson said. “My high school gave me the space to start exploring my passion for music. In the end, it’s really just putting yourself out there. When you think something can happen, trust me, crazier things have happened.”