Amanda Phillips is a small-town girl with a big heart. Growing up in Jamestown, N.C., she dreamt of becoming a singer and using her voice to help others. That drive took her to Guilford Technical Community College’s Larry Gatlin School of Entertainment Technology, where she studied music performance and graduated in 2002. Since then, Phillips has devoted her life to music trying to make it as an artist. And this past summer she finally hit a breakthrough when Sony Music’s The Orchard signed her.
In November, Phillips returned to Guilford Tech to give back to the school that she says “made” her. The alternative country singer/songwriter performed at the Larry Gatlin School of Entertainment Technology open house and talked with current and prospective students about her experience in the industry.
“I believe you should always go back to where you started,” she said. “There are two teachers who put me where I am today. I want to thank them in person. There are students that I want to share ‘You can’t give up.’ I want to come home and give thanks to the college.”
We caught up with Phillips prior to her campus visit and talked about her time at GTCC, the importance of giving back and why music is her heart and soul.
How did you end up at GTCC?
I just remember I was at Jamestown Middle, and we walked over, and believe it or not, I saw the campus and I remember everything. I said “I’m coming here.” I fell in love with it when I was a kid.
Originally I graduated from Southwest Guilford, and I remember I was so excited. As soon as I come out [of graduation], my mother says, “You’ve got two options: Get a job tomorrow or go to college.” Three weeks later I was at Guilford tech.
How do you think GTCC prepared you for the industry and helped you get to this place in your career?
I have to say it made me. It’s outstanding. … I don’t think I’d be where I am without it. It was neat to be in North Carolina and to be able to meet people like myself. I remember meeting everyone on the first day … everyone sang “Lean On Me.” Everyone just magically came together.
What is the essence of your music?
When I was in college I realized that if you go out there and become an artist then no one can stop you from helping other people. Every day that I wake up, I want to fulfill my purpose. I am excited to wake up because I choose who I can help that day.
I feel songwriting is a blessing. My whole message — being that I come from an abusive biological father — is to help people. One more voice trying to spread awareness — things that I really feel strongly about — abuse, equality … poverty … empowering women.
A lot of my country comes from North Carolina. I grew up on the farm, so I’m going to stay true to myself. My stories are sad but at the same time they’re real.
How did the program build your confidence as an artist?
At the time I was just young and dumb. I just wanted to sing. This program showed me it’s make or break. This is what you have to do to get it, from behind-the-scenes to lighting, to the teachers telling you to sing now to meeting people like yourself. It’s your base to build up from. Music each year, something new happens. It’s really hard to learn that stuff on your own until you have a teacher touching your shoulder, teaching you how to do something and telling you about their experience.
The teachers gave me their knowledge, their experience. It was everything to me. And that base you’ll never forget.
Why is it important to you to give back to Guilford Tech?
GTCC was the first school to give me a chance. The first year I was not allowed in [the program] because I couldn’t read music. Then the second year, they saw I had something.
Those teachers put their whole heart in there. I’ve never seen that much heart from the teachers I worked with. The things that they said still ring in my head today. I love my hometown. I love the college. The heart behind that college is what matters. That was my middle-school dream.
Do you have any advice for future students wanting to get into the industry?
Never forget where you came from and the teachers who helped you get to where you are. No matter what happens just be happy with where you’ve gotten.
— Carla Kucinski/GTCC
Dec. 11, 2015