Miguel’s muse is making the transition from the runway to the booth with her musical debut.

What happens to a dream deferred? If you’re Nazanin Mandi, the 28-year-old model and pop singer best known as Miguel’s better half, you don’t let it dry up, even as obstacles threaten to put it on the back burner. A vocalist since she “came out of the womb,” Mandi embarked on a career in modeling to pay the bills. Her first foray as a solo artist, at 19, stalled out. Now, with renewed focus and a stronger team at her back, she’s working on her debut album. Her dream is about to come true.

How long have you been making music?
I came out of the womb singing; it’s a huge passion of mine. I did theater growing up, through elementary, junior high, high school. I was a big choir nerd. Professionally, I’ve been recording off and on since the age of about 12. When I was 15, I was on American Idol. I made it to the top 35. I got kicked off because they did background checks and I’d lied about my age—you had to be 16.

That must have hurt.
It was devastating, being so young and making it that far. I thought, “Why can’t they just let me in?” I’ve always been the one to break the rules and I did it there and that was that.

You’ve been working to release an album for a long time. What have you learned along the way?
Not to give up—you can’t let “no” be the final answer. And discipline. Every day, I’m in the gym, I’m doing vocal lessons. I have to always be perfecting myself to be the best artist I can be—for myself and for the people who believe in me. I’m the real deal, not just a face. I want this to be about the music, about performance, about personality.

Are you afraid that, because you’re a model, people will think you’re just a pretty face and not a real artist?
It’s crossed my mind but I feel like it’s all in the way my music and I are presented to the public. If I am thrown into somebody’s face as a threat, then it’s not going to work. But I’m all about [female] empowerment. I’m not trying to intimidate anybody, I’m trying to share my music and inspire. Most of my supporters are women, so I know I’m on the right track with it.

Miguel is executive producing your debut album. What’s it like working with your boyfriend?
When we head to the studio, we automatically turn off relationship mode and go into work mode. If he doesn’t like something, if I’m doing it wrong, if I’m not feeling a song or lyric, we’re 120 percent honest. In order for this to work the way we need it to, we have to put our feelings aside and become business-minded. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

You two must be so comfortable around each other. There’s nothing weird, nothing like, “Oh, I don’t want to say that in front of you.” There’s nothing intimidating about it. All these years, I had to find myself as an artist and it took me a while. I was always too shy to even sing in front of him or say, “I want to do this.” But one day, maybe three years ago, I had a breakdown and he said, “Babe, you have to let me help you. You can do this, you’re a star, and I’m not just saying that because I am your man. I see it, everyone else sees it, you have to see it, and I think it’s time that you open your eyes.” And since then, we’ve been working with each other.

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This article appears in Complex's August/September 2014 issue.