It started at the kitchen table.
Mat and Savanna Shaw sat side by side, harmonizing to the classic duet “The Prayer.” It was their first go at being a father-daughter singing duo — and the recorded performance would mark Savanna Shaw’s first social media post.
The video didn’t take off right away, but as the novel coronavirus outbreak transformed into a pandemic and people found themselves more at home and in need of inspiration, the Shaws’ fanbase started growing. So from their home in Kaysville, Utah, they kept singing.
Inside their closet — where a pair of pajama pants propped up a tiny microphone that plugged into an iPad — the Shaws practiced and recorded songs from “Beauty and the Beast” to “The Phantom of the Opera” to “The Greatest Showman.”
Since then, they’ve stepped foot in an actual studio, released two albums — with a third coming out in May — reached No. 1 on iTunes and performed a handful of concerts. It was an unexpected rise to fame.
“I really genuinely only thought that my friends and my family were going to see (‘The Prayer’),” Savanna Shaw, who was then 15, told the Deseret News last year. “And I think if I would’ve known how big it would get, I probably would’ve been a lot more nervous. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know that.”
The Shaws recently caught up with the Deseret News about this past year, sharing the highs and lows of going viral, lessons they’ve learned and their plans going forward.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Deseret News: Do you remember when, exactly, you went viral?
Mat Shaw: Yes and no. I still have this screenshot somewhere in my phone when things started to take off for us — I’d probably have to scroll back on my phone a year to find it. Savanna posted (“The Prayer”) on Instagram, and it started to build some traction, but not crazy. My mom and some of my family is not really on Instagram, so we thought that we would post it on Facebook, and that’s when things really started to go crazy.
It was probably mid-March. I took a screenshot when it had like 3,700 views on Facebook, and that was blowing our minds. I sent that text to Savanna and I’m like, “Savanna, you’re not going to believe this: People are listening to our song and they’re sharing it!”
It was so surprising to us. I just counted up the views, and we’re almost at 110 million views on just “The Prayer” on all platforms. It’s hard for me to even imagine what that number means.
So I think it was at that point, when “The Prayer” really started blowing up and getting millions and millions of views, that we were like, “Oh man, this could be a thing.”
DN: Do you guys remember your first interview?
Savanna Shaw: The first news interview was with Fox 13 (in late March). My mom came and woke me up and was like, “You’re going to be on the news today!”
I remember sitting up — shocked — and I quickly got ready.
ABC4 Utah reached out (that day). So it was like two interviews in one day. We were terrified. And then after I think we did “Good Morning America” and “Inside Edition,” and that’s kind of when the interviews started picking up.
MS: And it really didn’t register what that meant for us at the time. We just kind of thought it was a fun thing, but then having that turn into the ability to create an album and actually have real music out there, was really a dream come true. I think at the time we weren’t sure that we would be able to do that. We just didn’t even know how — we had no idea how to do any of that.
DN: What would you say is your favorite concert or performance that you’ve done?
SS: The first concert we did, at River Bottoms Ranch (on Sept. 5, 2020, in Midway, Utah). It was for Operation Underground Railroad, and was so fun because it was our first-ever concert and it was for a really great cause.
MS: I think I have two so far. Being in the Maverik Center (December 2020) and feeling the energy of the crowd and having people so excited and appreciative of our music. I loved that, getting that immediate feedback.
My other favorite was one that we just did recently, a 30-minute set for a senior living center. It’s one of those times that as a performer you can’t really make eye contact because you’ll get emotional. And so you kind of have to look over everyone’s heads because you’ve got to keep it together during the performance.
The most meaningful part was at the end, when we sang “The Prayer.” The room was just electric. These senior citizens throughout the room, they were wiping tears. I just felt from them their gratefulness for our music but also this kind of sigh of relief. It was a really special time I think for all of us, and we all felt it.
It had been such a busy week for us, and we hadn’t had any chance to practice for it at all or really even know what we were going to sing. And so (the night before) we were like, “Are we gonna be able to do this tomorrow?” It’s one of those things that you’re just so glad that you went and did it.
DN: What would you say has been the best part of going viral?
SS: Probably being able to express myself through music, because I feel like music is my therapy. It’s how I feel and how I really connect with people. Moments when you get to communicate through music in a way that you can’t through words, I think that’s the best part because I didn’t have that opportunity before we went viral.
MS: To have an opportunity to affect people positively through our music. I think it’s so fun that we have people who are interested in hearing us sing, because it allows us the opportunity to go into the studio and to create these new arrangements and to write our own music and share our feelings with the world. We wouldn’t have had this opportunity had we not gone viral a year ago.
DN: What would you say is the worst part about going viral?
SS: It’s been a really good thing for me. But at the same time, it has been a lot, because I was a really shy girl that nobody really knew. I didn’t really get out, I didn’t share my voice that much. So going from that to automatically having millions of people know who you are and hear your voice, is a lot. And that’s a big adjustment.
So even though it’s been one of the best things that has ever happened, it also has been hard at times — just that transition and learning how to live this new life.
MS: It reminds me of a quote that I heard from Garth Brooks, where he said something like every blessing is a curse and every curse is a blessing. I really resonate with that quote because so many good things have happened to us, but along with those good things, there are also struggles.
One of the hardest things for me is when you’re in the public eye, it seems like you’re definitely open to a lot more negativity and criticism than you were used to before. Now that’s more than balanced out by the enormous amount of positivity, but sometimes, unfortunately, we give the negativity much more weight. If you give that negativity too much weight, it can cloud your judgment, it can cloud your creativity. You don’t want to change who you are or what you do for those few negative comments.
Learning that balance has been a process. But I feel like we’re pretty good at that now.
And then the other thing is: We are very busy. We have less time to do kind of the free time, hang out, fun family activity type things that we used to do before. So we are learning to try to be more intentional with our family time. So we work hard, and then we try to plan times where we can play hard as a family and still be together, so it’s not just all about Mat and Savanna.
DN: What would you say is the biggest way your life has changed this past year?
MS: Time has become a scarce resource. Over the past year, it’s really been a process of learning how to still manage all the things that are important to us. Obviously family is high on the list. I have my normal job and then the music — all of that takes a lot of time. And we enjoy it all, but just learning how to be careful with time.
In the next year, I want to be able to look back on the year and be proud of what we’ve accomplished but also not have to regret the cost. We just want to make sure that we’re taking care of the most important things first.
SS: I think my life has changed in every single way possible. I don’t even know where to start — my life is not even a little bit the same.
MS: She shifted to an online school, which allowed her to accelerate her schooling. So Savanna not only has had this music career start but she’s finished her junior and senior years of high school, so she’s graduating a year early. So Savanna’s been very busy this last year.
DN: Is there a standout memory or moment from this past year?
MS: That concert that Savanna mentioned at River Bottoms Ranch. After our first song, we were up there on this stage, and we had lights going and big speakers and the audience was really having fun and loving it. And then I started to talk and just tell people, “This is our first concert. We’re so grateful to be here,” and I started to get emotional. Just because watching your daughter sing and be noticed and appreciated for something that she is so talented at — something that she worked very hard at — was a meaningful moment to me.
SS: That was the first time I’d ever seen my dad cry, so it was definitely a special moment on stage.
I think one moment that stood out for me was probably right before we went on stage for our (virtual) concert (in November 2020). My mom came up to me, and she gave me this present. It was this bracelet that had a bunch of silverfish going one way, and then a goldfish going the other way. She gave it to me and said, “This just reminded me of you because you’re choosing a different path.”
Knowing that she accepted me for what I was doing and was proud of me, that was very special for me. I wear that bracelet all the time.
DN: So far, for both of you, what’s a favorite song that you’ve performed?
SS: I have a couple of favorites. I love jazz, so I think two of my favorites have to be the “Fly Me to the Moon” mashup and then “L-O-V-E.” I also really loved “All I Ask of You” from “The Phantom of the Opera” because I am a huge “Phantom” fan. But I have so many favorites. I like all of the songs we’ve done for different reasons.
MS: I think my favorite will always be “The Prayer.” I also really love singing our original, “Picture This,” just because it’s so fun to be able to tell our story through music and to perform that, knowing that it’s our song. That’s a cool experience.
DN: Going forward, if you could sing with anyone, who would it be?
SS: My very favorite artist is Taylor Swift. I totally appreciate her and everything that she’s doing and the music that she’s writing. So if I could collaborate with anyone, it’d be her for sure. Or Michael Buble. Those are probably my top two.
MS: I would love to sing with two people. One is Andrea Bocelli, because I have always been such a huge fan of his voice. I think it would be so cool to have Andrea Bocelli and his son, Matteo, and do like a parent-child quartet with them. That would be a dream come true for me.
DN: What is a song that you would want to record in the future?
SS: More Disney songs — my dream my entire life has been to be a Disney princess. I think both of us would love to do more Disney and Broadway.
MS: “Time to Say Goodbye,” by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. I just love that song. Personally, I’d love to tackle “Nessun Dorma” at some point. That is a tough song. It’s like “Bring Him Home.” I’ve been quasi-recording “Bring Him Home” for like eight months now because my musician perfectionism is kicking in and I’m just never good enough. That might be something that I would love to tackle at some point, too.
DN: What is something you’ve learned this past year?
SS: I’ve learned how big and small the world is. There really isn’t that much that separates us. We think that we’re all so different and the world is such a big place, but really, we’re all more similar than we think and connected in some way.
MS: The biggest thing I’ve learned is how important it is to be intentional with your life. It’s good to chase your dreams and to shoot high and to work hard, but it is so important to just be uber-intentional about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It’s become so much more important for me to continue to learn and re-learn that over the last year, especially. And luckily I have good people around to help me.
DN: What do you hope to accomplish in your second year?
SS: Being able to perform more. I think a lot of restrictions will be lifted and we’ll be able to go out and perform a lot more, and maybe do a tour sometime in the next couple of years. We really want to travel and perform.
MS: We’ve made an effort to have our songs be inspiring and uplifting and wholesome, and so to use that music to go out and touch people and connect with people will just be amazing. The few opportunities that we’ve had have been so special. That’s the magic with live music, is that it really has a way of touching the soul that not really much else can. It just pierces our souls and breaks down our walls and defenses. We really look forward to performing this next year.