Zhavia Ward grew up surrounded by music and her family supported her aspirations from day one. Ward picked up her love for music from her mother, who’d sang lead in a metal band called Xenoterra. And when it came time for Ward to choose her own path, there was no question she’d follow in her mother’s footsteps.“I’ve definitely been working on my craft since I can remember,” Ward says. “There was never a moment where I was like, ‘I think I’m going to do this.’ I just knew that this is what I’m supposed to do and I’ve always felt that way. I’ve been singing ever since I could get a word out of my mouth.”

Photos by Robert Pho

Photos by Robert Pho

It wouldn’t be long until Ward got her big break in music, as she was cast in the first season of Fox’s “The Four: Battle for Stardom.” At just 16 years old, Ward could make an impression on not only Sean Combs, DJ Khaled, Megan Trainor and Charlie Walk, but also on the millions of people watching at home. It’s hard to imagine now, but Ward almost turned down the opportunity of a lifetime. “At first, I didn’t really want to do a show,” Ward says. “When I was younger I was definitely interested, but as I got older I strayed away from that idea because I wanted to try to make it by putting out music. Obviously, that’s really hard to do.” With her mom’s encouragement, Ward eventually decided to give the show her best shot. “The Four”put Ward on the map while teaching her that only the strong survive in this business. “[Being on the show] was definitely very intense,” Ward shares. “It’s a whole different world from what I was used to, and TV is very demanding. I had to try my hardest and practice, even when I didn’t have any sleep and my voice was tired. A lot of the time on the show my vocal chords almost had nodules, so it was really hard emotionally, mentally and physically.”

Despite the many challenges the teenager encountered during the show, Ward proved she had the mettle required in the cutthroat entertainment industry and she became a finalist. Shortly after, she signed a deal with Columbia Records and in no time released her first single, “Candlelight.” Still riding the wave of her newfound success, Ward used her debut single as an opportunity to take things back to a time when she expressed real doubt in her career. “‘Candlelight’ was a song I’d written a couple of years before I even went on the show,” Ward says. “It’s about a time in my life when I felt like I didn’t have any opportunities and my dreams weren’t going to come true. At the end of the day, it was about how I saw the world from my perspective. And if I could change my mindset, then I could change my world and where I ended up. I had to be positive about my situation, keep pushing and fight for what I wanted.”

Photos by Robert Pho

Photos by Robert Pho

And fight she did. Ward appeared in Diplo and Lil Pump’s single “Welcome to the Party” for “Deadpool 2.” Not long after that first big collaboration, she was given another life-changing opportunity—recording a cover alongside Zayn Malik for 2019’s “Aladdin.” “When I found out Zayn had asked me to sing ‘A Whole New World’ with him, it was really crazy because I was a big fan of his,” Ward shares. “I think he’s an amazing artist and it was amazing for someone of that caliber to recognize me as an artist. The fact that Disney was down with the idea of me singing that, I didn’t really think they would pick someone like me, especially with all my tattoos.”

Ward isn’t wrong that it’s out of the ordinary for Disney to go for a heavily tattooed artist to perform a song for one of their films. Especially someone who started getting tattoos as a teenager. “Ever since I was a kid, I always knew that I wanted to be covered in tattoos,” Ward says. “That’s what I always dreamed of. The moment I was able to get a tattoo I just went for it and got my first tattoo on my hand, which is a black and yellow rose. I got it for my mom and it was definitely a painful place to get tatted for the first time.”

Because her parents are both heavily tattooed, Ward wasn’t afraid to go big and bold. After tattooing her hand, Ward added a number of sizable pieces to her collection including various black-and-grey portraits on her arms, lettering across her lower stomach and a Grim Reaper on her bicep. But the piece that arguably gets the most attention is the large cross on her chest and neck, which was inked by the legendary Robert Pho. And if you didn’t already think she was a badass, allow Ward to change your mind. “The first day we did my chest for 12 hours and then the next day he kept adding and we did another 12 hours,” Ward says. “I came back a couple of months later and he finished my neck. The whole process probably took 36 hours in all. It was really painful, especially since during that time I was having health problems. I guess I had appendicitis and didn’t really know it. I was literally throwing up every couple of hours and it was really bad. But I’m glad I did it because I will not do that again.”

Photos by Robert Pho

Photos by Robert Pho

Ward did her research before getting this tattoo and she selected a master to craft the stunning piece. But that doesn’t mean she’s only allowed world-class artists to adorn her body with permanent designs. Just like her mother supported her dreams by introducing her to the music industry and encouraging her to go on TV, Ward helped her mama to follow her passion. “My mom is interested in learning to tattoo and I let her practice on my leg,” Ward says. “She did a ‘Pink Panther’ but it’s not done yet.” It’s not every day you hear about a mom tattooing their kid, but at the same time, the Ward household was pretty far off from most of our “normal.” Then again, who the hell wants to be normal?