Thanks to the thumping, Britney-like hit “I Wanna Be Bad,” Willa Ford has made the transition from one of the most hated figures in pop music to one of its fastest rising stars.
A child prodigy as a singer, the 20-year-old Ford – whose real name is Amanda Williford – first claimed fame as the girlfriend of Backstreet Boys cutie Nick Carter. For that she was vilified by jealous fans, who spread rumors about her mistreating Carter physically and emotionally. At one point before their breakup last October, there were more nearly four dozen anti-Willa chat groups operating on Yahoo!
“I think I’m a really good survivor case for kids and people out there who go through things,” says Ford, who first met Carter at a high-school football game in her home town near Tampa, Fla. “The closest thing I could compare it to, which is really weird, is an interracial relationship; we were like two kids from different sides of the street, trying to be together, but the families – in our case, his family – wouldn’t let us. That was the most painful part, the fact I was being rejected by people who were supposed to love me – so painful it’s not even fair. You want these people to love you, and they fake it and make you think they do, but they turn their back on you. At one point, I was a very depressed person, to the point where I actually took medicine. I was falling apart in my own way, but I was hiding it from everybody. The hardest thing I’ve ever gone through was getting out of it.”
Ford credits focusing on her own music career with pulling her out of that depression. After a stormy tenure with MCA, she wound up switching to Lava/Atlantic, which has “I Wanna Be Bad” blasting on radios across the country to build anticipation for her debut album, Willa Was Here, which hits stores on July 17. She’s also signed a deal to be the spokesperson for the Pantene Pro-Voice competition. And despite comparisons to every other pop diva of the day, Ford says she’s most driven to establish herself as an individual in a sea of wannabes – even if that means wanting to be a little bit bad with ya, baby.
“There’s many talented girls out there, all talented in different aspects,” she says. “But they’ll never beat me at my own game – being real. That’s my game. That’s where I’m at. You know, ‘Tomorrow on Hard Copy, Willa does a keg stand.’ Yeah, that’s me. With other girls, there’d be serious damage control, but, no, I’m a real person out there.”