‘The Voice Australia’ winner Anja Nissen shoots for the stars
By Claire Spinner
Anja Nissen is a performer to her very core. The singer-songwriter has never been one to shy away from the stage. She has been a competitive singer for nearly 20 of her 25 years.
Ten years after winning “The Voice” in Australia, Nissen is determined to break through in the music industry, so she moved to Los Angeles.
Getting there was turbulent. Nissen endured unexpected trials on her journey, but her resolution and buoyancy carried her through with grace. For this musician, nothing will stand in the way.
Nissen, who lived in the countryside of New South Wales, Australia, grew up around music. Her father was a DJ. Nissen frequently sang around the house, so her mom found a vocal teacher.
At first, local vocal teachers wouldn’t take Nissen because she was just 6 years old. Finally, her mom persuaded an instructor to hear her sing and Nissen was on the road to performing in vocal competitions.
“I really started doing competitions because I loved being on stage,” Nissen said. “My first performance was a song from ‘Annie’ and at the end I just stayed on stage so starstruck. It made me feel so good. It was just such an amazing feeling being on stage and so magical that I became obsessed with it and knew from a very young age that it was what I wanted to do.”
Nissen quickly found success. At age 12, she placed in the semifinal of “Australia’s Got Talent.” That gave her the chance to sing to Princess Mary, the Crown Princess of Denmark. It seemed only logical to audition for “The Voice”.
“I was 18 when I did ‘The Voice’ and I definitely did not expect to win,” Nissen said. “The whole thing was really challenging and I just remember being in complete shock when all four judges turned during my audition.
“It was like a whirlwind, out-of-body experience. I was a teenager, I had moved from the countryside to the city by myself, it was the craziest thing.”
Because the family lived in Australia, Nissen’s brother and sister took a gap year in Denmark to connect to their heritage after graduating high school. Nissen chose to compete on “The Voice,” which was bittersweet.
“I had just kind of felt that because I won ‘The Voice,’ I really missed out on going to Denmark,” she said. “My mom reached out to a friend to see if there were performance opportunities or if she knew a publicist. Instead of a publicist, she asked for a publisher. Miraculously, there was a publisher looking for somebody to sing one of his songs. It felt like the weirdest lucky thing.”
Nissen flew to Denmark less than a month later to record the song and perform it in the Melodi Grand Prix, the competition determining Denmark’s Eurovision representative. Nissen learned another lesson from this, after placing second in the competition.
“It was a weird feeling,” she said. “Everyone in the room had been shouting my name and it felt really good — like I was going to win. And a lot of the media had stirred it up that I would win. So, to come in second was just a reality check. Things don’t always go as planned, so it was back to the drawing board.”
The next year, Nissen competed in the Melodi Grand Prix for a second time, performing an original song that she wrote in Australia. This time, she won the competition and represented Denmark in Eurovision.
“Eurovision was a crazy experience. I was meeting all the representatives from different countries, and we were traveling to Portugal and the UK and all these places, so I was just learning so much about other cultures,” Nissen said.
“I felt super proud to suddenly have all this distance from where I grew up. I had grown up in all these Danish cultures and had always felt very Danish, but I didn’t really know what it meant to be Danish. So, this led me on a journey to discovering what that meant and how proud I was to be Danish.”
After gaining travel experience, Nissen made a major life change. She moved to the United States.
“I had always wanted to go to the States. It had been my dream since I was 16. I started looking at colleges and music schools over there, but I always chickened out and wasn’t serious enough to follow through.”
Nissen completed a one-year certificate in keyboard technology at the Musicians Institute and, by the end, she knew she belonged in LA.
“I knew that Los Angeles would be the best place for me to really try to live out my dream,” Nissen said.
Nissen persuaded her boyfriend, who lived in Denmark, to leave the country with her. Feeling closer to her dream, Nissen just needed to finalize her visa. In December 2019, Nissen returned to Denmark. It was supposed to be a quick trip for her interview at the embassy, but as her interview got pushed back, a new obstacle would present itself. In March 2020, Nissen found herself stuck in Denmark due to Coronavirus-related restrictions.
“It was a really isolating period,” she said. “It wasn’t really my hometown, so I didn’t really have friends there besides some family. It challenged me a lot because it really wasn’t part of the plan.”
Eight months after Nissen left the U.S., her boyfriend surprised her in Denmark and stayed until the couple could return to LA. Nissen said his presence helped her through the pandemic.
“When you’re missing someone that much, you bottle up a lot of emotions. You put on a strong face and go into that survival mode,” she said. “Seeing him again was emotional for both of us. It felt like being home again, being safe again.”
In January 2021, Nissen and her boyfriend returned to Playa del Rey, where they reside now. Nissen said the hardships she lived through leading up to their return had a major impact on her songwriting.
“Everything really made my writing more emotional and dynamic,” she said. “It forced me to think from new perspectives because I was going through things I had never experienced. My focus really shifted from songs about past relationships to more of this appreciation of life and family.”
Nissen taught voice lessons online to students around the world and the experience reaffirmed her belief in her abilities and her desire to be known in the music industry.
“It has really strengthened my belief in what I’m doing here and made me realize how much I truly do love singing and how much I know about it,” Nissen said.
Her next goal is to find management and start on a new record.
“If I could choose, it would be on an international spectrum that I would be releasing new music,” she said. “I really am reaching for the stars, because that’s always been my dream — to be an international voice in music and influence people the way singers like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera influenced me.”
For Nissen, success comes down to perseverance and commitment.
“I’ve tasted it and felt what it’s like to be recognized for my singing in some way,” she said. “I could say that’s enough for me, but I still feel that there’s so much more to be done. I still haven’t lived my dream to the fullest, especially through music I’ve written myself. At the end of the day, if I don’t give this whole thing a proper shot, I won’t be able to rest — and that’s what I’m here to do.”