Singer Ariana Savalas was born into show business. She is the youngest daughter of larger-than-life actor Telly Savalas, he of “Who loves ya, baby?” Kojak fame, as well as the iconic films “The Dirty Dozen” and “Kelly’s Heroes.”
It’s only natural that Miss Savalas would follow her late father into the limelight. After a decade of trying to find her niche, she is now a top-notch cabaret jazz singer. At a recent sold-out Los Angeles show, Miss Savalas reflected on the influence her father had on her life, opening for Tom Jones and meeting her millions of (online) fans.
Question: Your father was the legendary Telly Savalas, who died when you were 7. What do you remember about him?
Answer: I don’t have a memory of growing up as the daughter of a celebrity. I have memories of growing up with my “Papa.” We were on his film sets and this and that, but he was just him.
Q: Did you know he was a huge star?
A: I really don’t know Telly Savalas the celebrity. I only knew him as Papa.
We had a funny life. I was born into a hotel, like “Eloise.” We lived at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Hollywood, while he filmed at Universal. I didn’t know that was strange and never considered myself a daughter of a celebrity until he passed away, and my mom, brother and I moved to Minnesota.
This year, being on tour, I’ve finally fully realized how famous he was. I wish he were here for so many reasons.
Q: Was there any trepidation going into show business because he was your dad?
A: I have never had trepidation about anything in my life. [laughs] I was born a ham, and that kind of stuck.
Q: Have there been detractors who say, “Oh she’s just the daughter of a celebrity trying to sing”?
A: I don’t [care] why you come to my shows; I only care why you come back. If you are coming to see me because I’m Telly Savalas’ daughter, or you think I look great in this top, or if you have heard I have a decent voice, it really doesn’t matter. If you come back again, that’s all that matters.
Q: What drew you to the style of music you sing?
A: While my friends were listening to Britney [Spears], I was listening to Sinatra on vinyl. My grandfather gave me a stack of records when I was 12.
Even though my dad passed when I was 7, he was such a big influence because he was friends with all the crooners and the Rat Pack. Sinatra was one of his best friends. And as I got to know that music, I felt, in a way, I was also getting to know my father.
Q: When you started out, were you the jazz singer you are today?
A: No. Honestly, when I moved back to LA, I had no idea what the hell I wanted to do. I was playing rock gigs, did the singer-songwriter thing. Musically, I was experimental and really needed to find my voice.
Q: Can you believe that your online videos have gotten hundreds of thousands of hits?
A: It’s obscene. I’m just a cabaret singer. It’s so funny because when you look on YouTube, it almost doesn’t register. It’s just a number. I am more overwhelmed by a couple thousand people at the live show, because you can see the audience. It’s tangible.
The best part is when the fans from online come out to the live show. Fans who you think are just this user name and number, and then you meet them in person, [it’s like], “Wow, you do exist.”
Q: Of all the live shows you have ever played, do you have a favorite?
A: [Saxophonist and radio host] Dave Koz has a club called Spaghettini and the Dave Koz Lounge. Beautiful top-notch cabaret. On the first night of my residency there, Dave performed with me, and Tom Jones was in the audience. It was three weeks before my birthday.
I sang the Tom Jones song “I Who Have Nothing” in my set. After I finished the song, Dave told Tom Jones — he lied and said that night was my birthday. I got a birthday serenade from Tom Jones!
Then my musical director, who knows Tom, invited him up, and he performed five of his songs. Highlight of my career. I always tell people I opened for Tom Jones.
Q: Can you believe this is your career?
A: The career part of it is when I’m not on stage, the day-to-day. When I’m on stage, that is the fun, the reward. I would do this and gladly never get paid a day in my life.