A Look Back at Camila Cabello's Journey to Her Solo Album Debut

From immigrating to the US at the age of six, to auditioning on The X Factor and then joining Fifth Harmony—This is the story of how the "Havana" singer found her voice

By Diana Marti Jan 12, 2018 4:57 PMTags
Watch: Camila Cabello - 2017 Grammys E! Glambot

Camila Cabello is right where she wants to be, but the story of all the moments and events that brought her to this point is one worth knowing. 

The 20-year-old star just released her debut solo album Camila, and although we remember the "Havana" singer from her very beginning in The X Factor, Camila's journey truly began many years before that. 

The former Fifth Harmony member was born in Cojímar, Cuba to a Cuban mother and Mexican Father. Cabello and her family would divide their time between Havana and Mexico City. When she was almost seven years old, her mother told her that they were going to Disney World. 

"With a couple of hundred dollars, the clothes on our backs, no family in the United States, and no clue of what was going to happen next, that's exactly what we did. Like my mom said, "I don't know where I'm going, but I can't stay here." And that was enough," Cabello recalled in an essay for PopSugar

Beauty Beat: Camila Cabello

Cabello explains that her mother packed her a small backpack along with her Winnie the Pooh journal and her doll, after that, they crossed the border from Mexico to the US. 

At such a young age, her parent's brave decision to seek a better life for their family has stayed as a lighthouse for the singer. 

"Whenever I have to make a decision now, and I'm afraid, my mom always reminds me of that day. "That day, I knew if I thought about it, fear would make me turn back. That's why when you're afraid, you force yourself to jump. You don't think, you just jump," she says to me," Cabello explained. 

Camila Cabello "Hurt" by Fifth Harmony's "Petty" MTV VMAs Diss

After sitting in an immigration office, with other families that much like Cabello and her mother were anxious to know if they'd be allowed to stay in the US or if they'd have to return to Mexico, the mother and daughter were given the news that they were granted permission to enter the US. 

While little Camila wondered when they'd finally get to Disney World, she and her mother began their 36-hour journey to Miami on a Greyhound bus, she recalls this as some of the most vivid memories in her mind, she says that she wrote a lot in her Winnie the Pooh journal. 

Once they reached The Magic City they moved into her grandfather's colleague's house who has fate would have it, later became her godmother. 


From then on out, Cabello saw her mother's hard work and sacrifices which served her as lessons for the bright future that awaited her. 

"My mom was a very good architect in Cuba, but when she came to America none of the degrees she earned in Cuba counted, so to make enough to keep us fed and put me into school she began stacking shoes in Marshalls and going to school at night to take courses in English, all while taking me to and from school and helping me with my homework all by herself, alone in a strange country," she remembers. "I can't imagine how frustrating it must have been for her to have worked her whole life in architecture and then have it all erased when she came here."


But little did they know that her mother's job at Marshall's would be key in what was in store for the family. One day as they were working, Camila's mother Sinuhe Cabello was working when she was approached by two women that made small talk with her, she told them she used to be an architect in Cuba and it just so happens that the sisters had a brother who worked in architecture and needed someone in his office. 

Camila recalls how hard her mother worked to learn a computer program that they used here in the states since back in Cuba they created it all by hand with pencil and paper. 

"She learned fast because she literally had to in order to survive. Immigrants have one thing in common: Hunger. I don't mean it literally, although that's true too, but metaphorically. The hunger to do the impossible because you have no choice, because you came too damn far, because you've known what struggling is, and you're not going to take an opportunity for granted. The hunger and ability to win above people with better circumstances than you simply because you want it badly enough," Cabello explains. 


After a year and a half of being alone in the United States, her father Alejandro Cabello finally joined them in Miami. 

"I had a little calendar in my room counting down the days — because he couldn't stand being away from us. He went through such hardship to cross the Mexican border and had it harder than my mom and I did, literally risking his life for his family to physically make it here," she said. "When he first came to the US, he started off washing cars in front of Dolphin Mall in the blistering Miami heat. But we kept moving on up . . . with the Latin community in Miami, helping each other up as we did it. Slowly and slowly my parents kept working and climbing and ended up forming a construction company together named after my sister and I."


"My parents' story helps me to know what's important in life," Cabello recently said to The New York Times. "A lot of times you can be here and be on Twitter, and you think that the world is the internet. But I know what it's like in the places my family has come from and the struggles people go through."

Growing up, Camila admits that she was "introverted as a kid" but she started to bring her CDs to the YMCA after school, and that changed a lot of things, "I'd ask for the boom box and go play my music in the corner and people would come over. And I created a little YouTube channel doing covers—I must have posted 50," she said to Glamour

Fastfoward to Camila's 9th-grade year and she begged her parents if they could take her to Greensboro, North Carolina, to audition for The X Factor

"It was my 15th birthday, and I wasn't going to have quinceañera, so I asked my mom instead if her present could be for her to drive up with me to the audition," Camila explained in an interview for Lena Dunham's podcast, Women of the Hour.

She had never sung in front of people before, but she just kept thinking about how her mom didn't know that computer program and still took on the challenge because she wanted it so badly, Camila also really wanted this. 

"I learned from my family that if you war hard enough and you want it badly enough, you can do the impossible," she explained. 

I have never met someone who can confront her fears in the way she does. I can tell she's terrified, but she doesn't stop. She always asks me, "Do you think everybody knows [I'm scared]?" And I'm like, "No, nobody can tell," Sinuhe proudly said to Glamour. 

Although her parents admit that they never expected her to be a singer, they couldn't be prouder of their daughter's worldwide success and how proudly she stands for her roots. 

Earlier last year, the singer revealed that the show's producers initially rejected her. Yes, you read correctly. They almost passed on Camila Cabello. 

"They chose me as an alternate," she revealed about her primary audition. After that moment it was 48 hours of anxiety and hopeful wishes. "For two days, I was right about to go audition [with the celeb judges], and they would tell me, 'Oh no. You can't audition,'" Camila shared. "I had my whole family there, and they were like, 'We don't want to keep having you get disappointed. You might as well just go home.'" 

She ultimately got her way and convinced a producer her to let her audition for Simon Cowell, and she credits her island for such persistence.  

"I was like, 'No, just give me a shot,'" she recalled. "I ended up auditioning because they saw how badly I wanted it and how persistent I was — it's a Cuban thing. And so I got to audition. I got four yeses, went to boot camp, didn't make it and was put in my group."

Once she auditioned for the celebrity judges, and she received four, unanimous yeses. 

Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Latina Magazine

The show placed Cabello in a group with Ally BrookeNormani KordeiDinah Jane and Lauren Jauregui; they went on to call themselves Fifth Harmony, as chosen by the show's fans.

The group finished The X Factor in third place on December 20, 2012, but by January 17, 2013, Simon Cowell had signed Fifth Harmony to his record label Syco Music, in a joint deal with fellow judge L.A. Reid's label Epic Records. In October of that year, they released their debut extended play Better Together. Their lead single "Miss Movin' On" peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 76, which was the highest charting single from any contestant to appear on the show. 

On February 3, 2015, they went on to debut their debut studio album, Reflection, which included hits like "Boss" and "Worth It." They went on to headline their first major tour and visited 63 cities in North America and six cities in Europe. 

By November 2015, Cabello had collaborated with singer Shawn Mendes on their "I Know What You Did Last Summer" duet, which was a song they wrote together. The single was instantly a huge hit. 

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Billboard

In May 2016, the group debuted their second studio album 7/27. The album was named after the day they were formed on The X Factor. The went on release hits like "Work from Home" with Ty Dolla Sign. The single peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the group's highest charting single in the United States. The album was supported with The 7/27 Tour which began in Lim, Peru, continued through South America, North America, and Europe. 

On October 14, 2016, Cabello released a joint single with Machine Gun Kelly called, "Bad Things," which peaked at number four on the US Billboard Hot 100. Time went on to include her on "The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2016" list. 

"It became clear that it was not possible to do solo stuff and be in the group at the same time," she said to The New York Times. "If anyone wants to explore their individuality, it's not right for people to tell you no."

The group's last performance as a quintet took place at Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. On December 18, 2016, the group announced that Cabello had left Fifth Harmony, but they would continue as a four-member group. 

"After 4 and a half years of being together, we have been informed via her representatives that Camila has decided to leave Fifth Harmony," the statement read. "We wish her well."

It continued, "You Harmonizers have been there with us since the beginning, you've supported us, and with your love and support, we will continue on. That being said, we are excited to announce that we will be moving forward with the four of us- Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei,Dinah Jane and Lauren Jauregui for our fans. We are four strong, committed women who will continue with Fifth Harmony as well as our solo endeavors."

"We are excited for our future, and we can't wait for what the new year brings. Harmonizers, we are in this together. We love you with all of our heart," their lengthy message concluded.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Within minutes, fans flocked to the comments section noticeably distraught about Camila's surprise exit. But as longtime Fifth Harmony listeners knew, it was quite a turbulent year for the singers.

In a May 2016 interview with Billboard, the 19-year-old pop star explained that she's certainly faced her fair share of fame-related struggles. "I was having terrible anxiety, nonstop...," Camila explained. "I was scared of what would happen to me, of the things my brain might tell me. I realized the stuff I thought was important isn't worth my health. Now I write in a diary every day, work out and meditate."

Then in early September, Cabello left in the middle of a concert after suffering from "too much anxiety." She later apologized and rejoined Fifth Harmony at their next performance one day later. 

Splash News

Following Cabello's dramatic exit from Fifth Harmony, the songstress decided to spend time with her dad.

The next day she took to Instagram to share her side of the story in a lengthy Instagram post

"When I turned 15, I had the blessing of being put into a group with four very talented girls. We were five strangers that weren't even aware of each other's existence that were given a shot at one dream together," the 19-year-old "Work From Home" singer told her 8 million followers. "It's been almost five years and the most important chapter of my life this far. I am so proud of everything we've achieved together as a group and will always be proud of being a part of it."

But, to Cabello's surprise, her dream turned into a nightmare.

"I was shocked to read the statement the Fifth Harmony account posted without my knowing. The girls were aware of my feelings through the long, much needed conversations about the future that we had during tour," Cabello wrote. "Saying that they were just informed through my representatives that I was ' leaving the group' is simply not true. Just like the other girls said in their statement about their plans, I had also planned to continue with my own solo endeavors in the New Year, but I did not intend to end things with Fifth Harmony this way."

"As sad as it is to see this chapter ending this way, I will continue to root them all on as individuals and as a group. I wish nothing but the best for them, all the success in the world and true happiness," she said. "Just as I said to them during those conversations, and just like I try to encourage you guys, I want to lead by example when I say to each of you guys to be courageous in the pursuit of what makes your heart pound and what makes you come alive with purpose."

"Next year I will be working on my own music and giving you a big chunk of my heart," she promised her followers. "To our amazing fans, I will always be so thankful for the opportunities being in this group has given to me. I am even more thankful for the times that we've gone to get frozen yogurt together and talk about music, for the times we've locked eyes during a lyric, for the hugs that put pieces back together in both of us, for more love than I can put into words, and for showing me the way to myself."

"You took five ordinary girls and made their dreams come true—and together, us and you guys, we've written an amazing story—of girls from all different cultures, backgrounds, colors, shapes, languages, music tastes, all going for one dream—a dream I will never forget. The memories we've made together will last a lifetime," she wrote. "Now I gotta walk the walk. I have always encouraged you to be fearless, to live your life in the name of love and to do what makes you happy. And scary as it is to take the leap, I am excited and full of joy because I know that no matter what happens, I am following my heart. I hope to see you on my journey." 

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

In 2017, Camila went on to debut "Hey Ma" with Pitbull and J Balvin for The Fate of the Furious: The Album. Her first solo single "Crying in the Club" was released on May 19, 2017, and it was followed by a performance at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Weeks before, in an Instagram post, Camila said the track is the story of "my journey from darkness into light, from a time when I was lost to a time when I found myself again."

"The story behind the album starts with the second song that you'll hear called 'I have questions' which I started writing in a hotel bathroom on tour a little over a year ago. I was completely broken during that time, I was in the kind of pain that's uncomfortable to talk about, and it was the kind of chapter you never want to read out loud," she shared with her followers on Instagram. "I couldn't write another song for 6 months because writing meant I had to feel everything, and I wasn't ready to do that yet. So when I graduated from hotel bathrooms to studios to make my first album, I was making music about everything BUT what I was going through, it was like a secret burning on my tongue and for some reason, I could not get myself to say it......."

In August 2017, the girl group opened its performance at the 2017 MTV VMAs by showing five women in silhouette, then dramatically throwing one of them off the stage. Cabello, who watched the performance at home with her mother, was shocked to see her former bandmates treat her that way in such a public setting. "It definitely hurt my feelings. I wasn't expecting it, I wasn't prepared for it—especially because at that point I'd moved on from it," she told The New York Times. "I was just like, 'What? Why?'"

The singer, who went on to partner with Guess as the face of their 2017 fall campaign, released "Havana." The single has reached No. 1 in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, and peaked at No. 2 in the United States.

After seven weeks on the top of Billboard's Mainstream Top 40, Cabello's "Havana" went on to become the longest reigning single in the No. 1 spot for a female artist in a lead role since her friend Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" which set quite a record in 2013.

Andrew Lipovsky/NBC

Camila's journey began much before Fifth Harmony or The X Factor, and it's all led her to this very moment: Camila

Today, the 20-year-old songstress released her first debut album, which features inspiration from the Latin music that she listened to in her childhood also added contemporary sounds from artists like J Balvin and Calle 13. She then went on to blend those sounds, with the pop vibes from singers like her friend Taylor Swift. 

"I feel like the best way to come up with something new and different is just to be the you-est you possible," Cabello said. "If you pull from all the different little parts of yourself, nobody can replicate that."