It's been six years since the singer (born Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao) hopped in a car with her family and took a 12-hour drive from Miami, Florida, to North Carolina to audition for a show called The X Factor in hopes of becoming a superstar, the one she is today.
Long before she scored a spot on that coveted TV show, which eventually led to placement in the pop group Fifth Harmony upon suggestion by Simon Cowell, Cabello was a shy, sweet girl who wouldn't dare to step foot into the spotlight. She was new to the United States after immigrating from Cuba with her mother, Sinuhé Estrabao, when she was just six years old. And while she recalled the experience as "terrifying" in a first-person essay for Pop Sugar Latina, she's always remembered that "our dreams were bigger than our fears."
It's a powerful quote that Cabello still lives by today. It wasn't easy breaking away from her massively successful girl group in 2016, but she knew deep down that better opportunities were on the horizon. And just two years later, Cabello has exceeded everyone's expectations, including her own. The past year has been a whirlwind time for the singer, now 21, who released her first solo album, Camila, in January. Since then, she's been unstoppable and is now the one to watch out for at awards shows.
Fans of Cabello's can easily pinpoint the song that skyrocketed her solo career, and fittingly, it's the one that was inspired by the place she holds near and dear to her heart: "Havana."
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, ET takes a deeper look into the brunette beauty's breakthrough year, and how she once again faced fear in pursuit of her dreams.
The Fifth Harmony Breakup
The pop world was first introduced to Cabello in 2012 when she auditioned for season two of The X Factor. After having massive success with the formation of One Direction,Simon Cowell saw the same potential in a group of five girls who all originally auditioned solo: Cabello, Normani Kordei, Ally Brooke, Dinah Jane and Lauren Jauregui.
After years with 5H, Cabello began to establish herself as a solo artist apart from the group by collaborating with stars like Shawn Mendes for "I Know What You Did Last Summer" in 2015 and Machine Gun Kelly for "Bad Things" in 2016. It wasn't long after the latter that Fifth Harmony announced via Twitter in December 2016 that Cabello was departing the group for good.
"Be courageous in the pursuit of what makes your heart pound and what makes you come alive with purpose," Cabello shared in her own statement at the time. "Our happiness is our own responsibility. We only have one life and we never know how much time we really have."
"We don't carry money, trophies, social media followers, fame or success with us," she added. "We carry the memories that made us feel alive and the moments that made us fall in love with life. New chapters are scary, but conforming to what's safe and looking back with regret is even scarier."
Cabello Goes Solo
Released in May 2017, "Crying in the Club" marked Cabello's first solo single following her exit from 5H. She co-wrote the catchy pop and dance track with Sia and Benny Blanco, telling Billboard, "It had a message about healing through the power of music. That theme was a key part of what I wanted for my album."
Unfortunately, the song didn't take off as well as Cabello and her team anticipated. Though her loyal fans loved it, it only peaked at No. 47 on the Billboard 100, and Cabello, therefore, decided to omit it from her album. But that didn't stop the dreamer from moving forward.
Her Debut Album, Camila, Soars
With a little refocus, Cabello decided to give the songs on her album a more Latin-influenced sound, and clearly, it paid off.
"I didn't assume that a girl from a manufactured pop group was going to have this level of talent," Cabello's manager, Roger Gold, admitted to Billboard, while discussing what it was like listening to the solo tracks for the first time. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing."
Originally titled The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving, Cabello's first album, Camila, was released in January. It impressively debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and hit a billion streams in barely a month. On top of that, Cabello's Cuban anthem, "Havana," was the lead single off the album, slaying worldwide charts and receiving major praise from music critics. But according to Cabello, "nobody wanted to make it a single" at first.
"They said that radio would never play it, that it was too slow, too chill," she recalled. "It just taught me a huge lesson: screw whatever's 'going to work' -- you just have to go with the thing that you feel is the most you."
Cabello Joins Taylor Swift on Tour
And going with her gut is exactly what she continued to do, which eventually landed her a spot on Taylor Swift's coveted Reputation tour in May. Cabello was personally asked to be one of the opening acts (along with Charli XCX) after befriending the singer through mutual friend Hailee Steinfeld.
"For me, it's a dream come true," Cabello told ET on the red carpet at the iHeartRadio Music Awards in March. "When I first met [Taylor] four years ago, I was like, 'I really love you.' I was like, 'Man, I really look up to you. You really inspire me.' She was one of the people that made me wanna start songwriting, so it's really amazing."
Never Be the Same Tour Kicks Off to a Great Start
One month before saying yes to Swift, Cabello embarked on her own tour, Never Be the Same, her first as a solo artist. She was able to perform with Swift in between the European leg of her tour.
Cabello had another major milestone moment on the night of July 31, when she performed her first-ever arena show. "Thank you so much Mohegan sun, that was breathtaking," the singer wrote on Instagram at the time. "So many moments where in my mind I was like, 'You need to take this moment in.' #NeverBeTheSameTour."
"Every single show is special and feels so intimate and raw," another post read. "Thank you for coming, singing the songs, crying, dancing, and escaping with us! you are what makes every night so special 💜."
Cabello -- who has said on social media that the Never Be the Same Tour "represents such an important part of my life" -- kicked off her Mexico shows last month. During one of the concerts, she was joined onstage by a number of Latin superstars, including Noel Schajris and pop duo Jesse & Joy. But the "best and most special moment" of all, she says, is when her papá, Alejandro Cabello, came onstage to sing with her!
"My dad has always had such a nice voice and we've both always been obsessed with karaoke and music and singing!" she explained on Instagram. "Before I go to the stage my dad always tells me 'to kick butt, FLACOVICH!' Yesterday I said 'let's kick a**" I love you dad."
While it's no doubt Cabello has had an amazing first year as a solo artist, her success was solidified even more when she took home two of the most coveted Moon Person Awards at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards: Artist of the Year and Video of the Year for her hit song, "Havana."
"I feel like I've just gotten to know myself really well this year," Cabello told ET on the red carpet. "Besides the amazing things that have happened in my career ... I just feel really appreciative of being able to, like, live and I feel like I just know what's important in life right now. So, I'm just really happy and I feel very -- I don't know, I feel like really in touch with my emotions. Which is good."
Following the show, Cabello also melted our hearts when she took to Twitter to reshare a message she originally tweeted in 2012 that read, "#VMA2012 I wanna be there SOOOOOOO bad you don’t understand #someday."
"YOURE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS SMOL CAMILA BUT: IN 2018 MADONNA IS GOING TO GIVE YOU AN AWARD FOR VIDEO OF THE YEAR AND YOUR ACNE WILL CLEAR," she wrote in response to her younger self.
YOURE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS SMOL CAMILA BUT: IN 2018 MADONNA IS GOING TO GIVE YOU AN AWARD FOR VIDEO OF THE YEAR AND YOUR ACNE WILL CLEAR https://t.co/H8IbhaA2EO