In its 44-year run, Rolling Stone magazine has transformed the face of American pop culture. From its startling, in-depth political coverage to its open-armed embrace of all styles of music making, it is, for many, the Holy Bible of entertainment journalism. In turn, its covers have helped to make (and break) more than a few very big careers. (Think John and Yoko’s famous embrace, Janet’s seductive topless pose, and sweet, innocent Britney’s first true come-hither moment.) And now, for the first time in RS history, the editors are opening that coveted cover spot up—to an unknown.
Starting in February of this year, Rolling Stone’s editors and publishers began a nationwide search for fresh, unsigned talent that they felt spoke to the magazine’s ideals (i.e., solid, professional, unique songwriters who have what it takes to make it big). Among the 16 chosen for the Choose the Cover competition was a wide range of rock, pop, and hip-hop artists and groups, and that group of chosen few was then whittled down to eight talented semi-finalists by the RS powers that be. Among the bunch is Santa Barbara songstress Skyler Stonestreet, who’s currently awaiting her fate as online votes are tallied to see who moves on to round three. Up for grabs are not only a cover shot but also a recording deal with Atlantic Records and an appearance on TV’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
“They said they just really wanted to find an artist that nobody knows about and put them on the cover. And they wanted it to be about songwriting,” Stonestreet recalled via phone from her Los Angeles home. “At first I was like, ‘Is this going to be another American Idol?’ but they said no. The last thing I want to be doing is American Idol.”
Since graduating from Bishop Garcia Diego High School in 2005, the 24-year-old songstress has been busy plugging away in and outside of Santa Barbara in an attempt to jumpstart her music career. Raised on a healthy diet of James Taylor, Carole King, and Queen, Stonestreet makes music that speaks to her classic-rock and pop upbringing, but not directly. Filled with breathy vocals, her tunes twinkle with girlish abandon and rest on good old-fashioned pop storytelling devices. They’re catchy, cute, and not overwrought with the fancy production tricks that are running rampant among her contemporaries.
“I haven’t had the budget or the means to do the big shows that I want, so it’s been really acoustic,” she said. “I want to do pop, but pop with some substance, pop that’s personal with real stories. I think someone needs to come in and make a good name for pop music again. I also really want my music to be about the performance. I was in theater my whole life, so I’m interested in bringing that element to it.”
It’s that sense of musicianship and theatricality—paired with an adventurous style and doe-eyed appearance—that make Stonestreet a solid contender for Rolling Stone glory: that, and her unabashed desire to win. “I’m having a blast! I’ve been trying to get as many votes as possible, even telling ladies in grocery stores,” she laughed. “When I was in the top 16, I was kind of like, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ Then I made it to the top eight, and it’s, like, now I need to win.”
As for Stonestreet’s opinion of that other S.B. pop tartlet, she can’t help but laugh. “People want me to diss her so badly. I think we’re both from Santa Barbara and we both have brown hair, and we have completely different voices and songs. I like some of her songs—like “Teenage Dream,” everyone loves that song—but I think she’s way more into pinups and cupcakes and pink [than I am]. I think of myself as more ’20s-meets-’80s-meets-Andy-Warhol, or something.”
To cast your vote and stay up-to-date on Skyler Stonestreet’s race to Rolling Stone victory, visit rollingstone.com/choosethecover.