From the opposite end of an extremely long corridor in a Beverly Hills hotel made up exclusively of suites, comes a booming singing voice (“Ba, ba ba ba, ba ba ba…”) and the sight of a small woman rushing towards me dressed in black and wearing heels. Camila Cabello — 19, born in the Cuban fishing village of Cojimar and brought up in Miami — is running late. She introduces herself with a hug and then disappears into her room. Next to emerge in the corridor is Dinah Jane Hansen, 18, from Orange County, who has dyed-blonde locks and wears a denim jacket; then Normani Kordei, 19, from Atlanta, who wears a baseball shirt and has long, immaculate pink nails; and finally Lauren Jauregui, 19, again from Miami, who appears vampiric with her jet black hair and tight choker.The oldest in the group,Ally Brooke, 22, from San Antonio, is already in the suite having her make- up finished at the dining table, waiting for her oatmeal porridge to arrive from room service.This is Fifth Harmony, the most successful act to come out of American X Factor, even though they entered as individuals and were only formed into a group by Simon Cowell after elimination. That was back in 2012. Now their second album 7/27 (that’s American for 27th August) comes out, confusingly, on 20th May and heralds a more grown-up but also more dance-y direction for Ally, Lauren, Normani, Dinah and Camila.This is the story of how the most diverse girl group came to be.
This X Factor-formed five-piece are taking over the pop landscape.
Wonderland: 7/27/2012 was the day you were formed on American X Factor. What do you remember of that day?
Lauren: So 7/27, that was such an intense day in our lives. It was the third round of boot camp, and tensions were high because it was a weeklong of not eating or sleeping.We had a hell week. So it was the last round, and we all were in different groups when they called us up.
Dinah: We went by age.
Lauren: Yeah, we went by age, and they called out all of the people in our group, and we all were in the same line, and we all died. We were all really, really sad. We were in a little room together, and I was up against a wall crying my face off, and she was –
Normani: I was just comforting everyone.
Dinah: You were crying so hard.
Lauren: I don’t even…
Dinah: You were sliding down the wall slowly, dramatically.
Camila: That was me. That was me.
Dinah: No, no, I saw her too. I remember seeing her.
Lauren: Did we both dramatically slide down the wall?
Camila: I have a thing where in really important scenarios in my life, or when I have a lot of nerves, I block everything out. So I don’t even remember that day because I had so many emotions that I think that my brain just went blip-bleep-bleep and I don’t remember.
Lauren: We all got eliminated, and we were all in that little room crying, and then we went out and they put cameras in our face. So we were all little kids who just got eliminated and we were super sad. They’d go,“How do you feel right now?” We were all [sobbing voice], “It’s okay. We’re going to get our dream someday.”
Normani: I was like,“I’m not crying on TV.”
Dinah: You were like, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Normani: I was the mom at that moment.
Lauren: So then we were all herded outside with all of the people who got rejected, and then someone came and called out all of the names of the people who were going to be put into groups, which is what we later found out — I knew it at the time, though.We were all getting called. I was, like, “Oh my God, we’re going to do this…”
Normani: It was an intense day.
Lauren: Yeah it was such an intense day. I remember every single detail, and it would probably take me the whole entire interview to give it to you.
W: Since then, amongst many other things, you’ve performed at the White House, twice, for Christmas and for Easter. What was that like?
Camila: It was incredible. It was a really, really special moment for me personally because I was born in Cuba — my dad is Mexican, my mum is Cuban — and so we are all immigrants that came over to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream, and for me to go there with my family and meet Barack Obama… We did a small meet-and-greet with Obama, and he has done so much in terms of immigration, and the immigration laws that he set have helped my dad out. I remember we had five seconds with him, and I looked him in his eyes and I started to cry, and I was like, “Thank you so much for everything that you’ve done for immigration.” He said, “Thank you. I really appreciate that.” It was something I won’t forget for the rest of my life because I just remember being a little girl and coming from a different country and my family starting from nothing, and to be in the White House is so crazy.
W: Did you get to meet Michelle Obama?
Ally: We did, and she was so nice and so lovely and actually, the first time we met her, the first thing she said to us, actually motioned to us, was, “Michelle Obama, purse all heavy, gettin’ Oprah dollars” — the lyrics to “BO$$”!
Camila: Crazy, right?
Ally: She sang to us, and she was one of the females that we’ve been inspired by that we put in our song, so that was kind of unbelievable that the First Lady sang back our own lyrics. She was like,“Girls, that’s my workout song,” and we were just blown away.
W: Wow. On another note, you’ve all had Barbie dolls made of yourselves by Mattel. How does that feel?
Lauren: That was a surreal experience for us. Having a Barbie that looks like me is crazy. It’s sitting in my house.
Dinah: What was also crazy is that the five of us, since we’re different races — we have an African-American, I’m a South Pacific Islander, we have Mexican and Cuban — we’re able to be representative for those that don’t really have anyone else to look up to. So I’m really happy, it was such a moment for me to be an actual Barbie doll for another little girl.
W: You’re probably the most diverse girl group ever.
Lauren: We’re very diverse, for sure.
Camila: It’s just really special because I feel like representation is so important, especially for little girls growing up that have dreams, and because of prejudices or because of Eurocentric standards they might not think that they’re good enough or quote-unquote pretty enough — whatever. We have all different ethnicities, we have all different body types, so I think that makes us really special.
W: The last question is, why should we buy your album?
Lauren: Because I would buy my album. Boom. That’s why. Because I would buy my album.
Dinah: Our first album was very much about empowerment, and this one is more of us being in love, and what we’ve gone through. Love is involved a lot, and I think —
Camila: Coming-of-age feelings.
Ally: Also I think at the end of the day, people want to feel. Whether that’s feeling good or feeling really confident or just feeling your emotions — like sad or confused about how you feel about somebody — and for us, that’s how we feel when we listen to the songs.