No single member of a cappella girl group Citizen Queen is alike: All five women come from different states and different ethnic backgrounds, but that’s only the beginning. As vocalists, each has a distinct sound and style. Instead of fitting a group mold, these women draw inspiration from one another’s strengths and lean into their individuality, coming together like pieces in a puzzle.
Nina Nelson, Kaedi Dalley, Hannah Mrozak, Cora Isabel and Kaylah Sharve’ compose Citizen Queen. They’ve already stunned millions of viewers on YouTube with their perfect harmony and created magic on stage during their first tour as openers for Pentatonix. It’s shocking to learn that they were complete strangers before the group’s founding, aside from Nelson and Sharve’, who both graduated from USC and were members of the SoCal VoCals, the University’s oldest a cappella group.
“I don’t think I’ve met a group of people who are more different from each other, but that’s the beauty of it,” Nelson, the group’s soprano, said. “Musically, in personality, in what kind of things or experiences we’ve had in order to get to this point … it can’t be about competition when there’s so much to learn from each other.”
SoCal VoCals alumnus and member of the world-renowned a cappella group Pentatonix Scott Hoying, along with alumni Ben Bram and Shams Ahmed, two acclaimed vocal arrangers and producers, hand-selected each member of Citizen Queen. The co-founders spent months sorting through hundreds of audition tapes until they hosted in-person callbacks in Los Angeles and New York, according to the members.
Isabel, the group’s gifted beatboxer, was still in high school when she joined Citizen Queen as its first member. After only sending in a couple of videos to Hoying, Bramm and Ahmed, she was quickly chosen without an in-person audition. Even more impressive is that her beatboxing abilities are self-taught.
“One day in sixth grade, I was sitting at the lunch table singing some Adele song to myself,” Isabel said. “I remembered being able to just hum and beatbox with it and make cool noises with it and was like ‘That sounds cool,’ and it honestly just became a habit.”
Once all the members were chosen, Citizen Queen’s spark came to life at an Airbnb in L.A. where they recorded four fully produced songs and music videos in one week. The women faced obstacles right off the bat: Mrozak had strep throat, Isabel was sick and ants had infested their living space, Nelson said. Despite these hurdles, the group’s dynamic was magnetic; this was their first time collaborating in any way, shape or form.
“Just because the five of us are amazing singers, it doesn’t mean that we’ll have the chemistry that is needed for an audience to love us,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t mean that we’ll get along, you know, so we were kind of put to the test.”
To their delight, not only did the women have unimaginable chemistry but their first projects were well-received. Their most popular video to date, “Evolution of Girl Groups,” has accumulated more than 18 million views. Beginning in 1954 with The Chordettes and ending in 2014 with Fifth Harmony, Citizen Queen takes us on a seamless journey through legendary hits of past and present girl groups. The concept of the video is wildly creative and was difficult to compose and choreograph.
“I remember almost having a mental breakdown, if not one for sure, because it was so brutal and so hot … It was supposed to be a continuous shot, so we had to nail every single scene, so there was a lot of reviewing things,” mezzo-soprano Mrozak said about the filming of the music video. “I think there was a moment in there where we were all like ‘Is this even worth it?’ But then we all ended up realizing very quickly that this is what we want to do with our lives, you have to put in the work … but it’s the finished project that counts. We were so happy with it … and I remember we saw the views just go up and up and up, and we were genuinely taken aback.”
Shortly after discovering their sound and harmony, the members of Citizen Queen received their second test: a nine-week world tour opening for Pentatonix. Although they didn’t know each other that well yet, the tour gave Citizen Queen the opportunity to understand what it was like to be professionals in the music industry, and sharing that experience bonded the women greatly.
“For me, it was beneficial to just be in that setting of being on tour and sound checking every night and being on the road and being in a tour bus with all of these people,” alto Sharve’ said. “It’s just getting us prepared for what’s to come, and I’m believing [in] great things.”
The tour was not only a productive learning experience for Citizen Queen but also a chance for the group to gain a large fan base.
“I didn’t imagine in a million years that I would perform at Madison Square Garden that early [in my career], but here we are,” bass singer Dalley said. “Wherever we went, the crowd was so receptive of us and very welcoming, and it seemed like they were very impressed with what they heard. It gave me a little bit of fire sometimes whenever I had down days. I’d just think of how people receive us and how we bring a lot to the table.”
Citizen Queen’s most memorable moment on tour was when the group was able to perform near each of the members’ hometowns for family and friends, Mrozak said.
Tyler Ellis, a 2020 graduate, had been close friends with Nelson since his freshman year when he was able to see Citizen Queen twice on its first tour. He described how he knew Citizen Queen had untapped potential after observing the members’ powerful stage presence.
“When I saw them live for the first time … I was screaming because all five of them … come together, and their blend is so incredible,” Ellis said.
Unstoppable is exactly how members of Citizen Queen want their listeners to feel. Their mission is to empower women and help every girl listener realize that they have a queen living inside of them, which is precisely how they came up with the name Citizen Queen, according to Dalley. Whether it’s because of their different cultural backgrounds or their diverse life experiences, the women hope that any listener can identify with at least one member of the group.
“It’s so easy to let your identity slip when you don’t see people like you on the screen, and representation is so important when you’re a young person trying to build self esteem and confidence,” Nelson said. “We live in a specific time in history where more and more women are taking less shit, and our music is becoming less about the man and more about empowering ourselves.”
Although the group hasn’t released original music yet, there’s a lot to look forward to in Citizen Queen’s future, according to Sharve’.
“We are so passionate about our original music and are working with some heavy hitters in the industry,” Sharve’ said. “We’re excited about it, I’m excited about it and the label is excited about it.”