Four years after competing on The X Factor, Bea Miller is finding her voice and taking control of her career.
Now 17, the rising star – currently on the road with Selena Gomez opening for her Revival Tour – released her new single, “Yes Girl,” on Friday. A moody pop-rock anthem in the same angsty vein as Tove Lo and Lorde, Miller shows a mature departure of a child star coming into her own.
“I had a lot of people in my life telling me what I needed to be doing and what direction I need to be going in. I was just getting really stressed out, and I found myself saying yes to a lot of things that I really didn’t want to,” the singer says of the inspiration behind the new track. “There’s that saying of being a Yes Man, and I was kind of being a Yes Girl.”
Equipped with a renewed sense of self, “Yes Girl” emerged from empowering songwriting sessions with co-writer Ilsey Huber.
“I wrote this song to remind myself that I can stand up for myself and be passionate about things and have an opinion – and that it’s not wrong,” Miller adds. “I figured out if I put happiness in myself, that, if it comes from myself, I can be happy. If I tell myself I can accomplish things, I can do them. I’m excited for my fans to see how much I’ve grown.”
PEOPLE caught up with the singer on growing up in the spotlight – and the strong women whom she’s grown up with along the way.
1. She graduated high school – a year early!
After Miller appeared on X Factor, she and her family moved to California for her to pursue music, and she began taking online classes.
“It felt more like college where you can pick your classes and do it on your own time,” says the singer, who adds that because of her sporadic, involved writing and touring schedule, would “be doing school from midnight to 3 in the morning, whenever I could do it.”
She even worked with the program’s head so she could take on a heavier course load to finish early.
“I worked really hard, just so I could graduate a year early – because it’s hard to tap into school in the morning for a few hours before going into a writing session,” she says. “It was hard to manage all of those things, but I wanted to graduate high school, so I decided to make it work.”
2. Britney Spears helped her become ”comfortable” in the spotlight.
When Miller, just 13 at the time, was on X Factor, her coach was none other than pop icon Britney Spears. In addition to mentoring Miller and prepping her for performances, Spears helped the up-and-comer make peace with some of her anxieties about fame.
“I used to be afraid of … not being successful, but of people knowing who I was, because all I ever saw was people in magazines, and people would talk about all the artists and being in the public eye – I was really scared of that,” says Miller.
But, watching and working with Spears quelled her fears.
“It was cool because when she was just with us, the kid contestants, she was really funny and just super normal,” says Miller. “That was an eye-opener for me: You can stay yourself, and you can live just a normal, happy life. And that really helped me feel more comfortable, like I won’t lose myself.
“She’s a really inspiring person because she’s been through a lot, and she’s still a really good person.”
3. Some of her idols have become her friends.
Demi Lovato was another one of the coaches on the season Miller competed – but just a few years later, they became colleagues when Miller went on tour with her in 2014.
“I’d only seen her from a distance on X Factor, and she was really nice. I actually listened to her music – I still do – but at that time, I was a super-big fan of her music, and it was really cool being on tour with her,” says Miller.
During and after their time on the road, though, their bond grew deeper.
“At one point on the tour, she went out of her way one of the nights – I think it was the second night – and when I came offstage, she was standing there, and she had taken the time to listen to my whole set. That’s just the kind of person she is,” says Miller. “She’s one of the most amazing people in my life, and she is definitely the kind of person who’s there for you when you need something.”
The same might come to pass with Gomez as they share a stage this summer.
“I’ve always been into Selena and looked up to her. But I loved when artists finally get to create what is really true to them and what they’re passionate about, and I think that Revival captured what Selena had been going through the last few years,” says Miller.
4. She and fellow X Factor alums Fifth Harmony are finding success on the charts – but she doesn’t look at it as a competition.
“I’ve never felt competitive towards them at all. We were really close on X Factor, and they were like the only other really young people around, and they’re awesome people, and I always enjoyed being able to talk to them,” she says.
Over the years, Miller – who competed on the same season as the “Work from Home” singers – has remained friends with the girl group.
“I still see them now quite frequently, and it’s always been the same dynamic: We’re excited for each other, and I’m proud of them. They’re doing really well.”
5. She’s working with some serious hitmakers.
Get ready to start hearing Miller everywhere.
Ilsey Juber, her co-writer on “Yes Girl,” has some impressive songwriting credits – from Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey to Beyoncé. (She co-wrote “All Night,” a highlight off Queen Bey’s latest visual album, Lemonade.)
And Julia Michaels, the 22-year-old pop wunderkind behind some of the biggest hits in the past year – Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself,” Justin Bieber‘s “Sorry” and Gwen Stefani‘s “Used to Love You” – is another recent collaborator.
“I write with Julia sometimes, and I know how much she listens and how good she is about helping capture what you’re feeling and putting it to song,” says Miller.