To get a glimpse of how budding artists climb the showbiz ladder to success in the new millennium, Pollstar talked with Manika, who’s only 18 but already has a world of experience under her belt.
Following in the steps of Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, Manika has been making plenty of new fans on this year's “Shop Til You Rock” mall tour. However, Manika’s journey to success started before playing next to food courts across the land. She won the “Outstanding Performance Award” three years in a row at the National Performing Arts Festival in New York City and published her first children’s novel, “The Exciting Adventures Of Boo,” when she was only 15.
She also has several of the music industry’s major players firmly in her corner with former Michael Jackson manager Frank DiLeo co-managing her with U.K. “Pop Idol” vocal coach CeCe Sammy.
On the songwriting side, she’s working on several tracks for her upcoming album with Tearce Kizzo and Francci, whose credits include Keyshia Cole, Patti Labelle, Adina Howard and Jo Jo. The duo also wrote Manika’s “Just Can’t Let You Go,” which includes a guest performance by Lil Twist.
Pollstar recently caught up with Manika while she was at Disneyland celebrating her 18th birthday. She’s smart, friendly, bursting with enthusiasm and ready to conquer the world through her music.
How did it all begin?
I’ve always been singing, songwriting and working at it. Finally, a friend kept telling CeCe that she had to meet this girl. So she introduced me to CeCe and we really clicked. We started working together and she introduced me to Frank DiLeo. Now they’re both managing me. It’s so surreal. I’m working with the same people who worked with Michael Jackson. Like Travis Payne, the choreographer for the “This Is It” tour. A person can be really intimidated because these people worked with one of my favorite idols. They’re really great people and they’re super-talented.
Does DiLeo tell you stories about working with Michael back in the day?
Yes, all the time. I recorded some of my songs in the same studio Michael recorded Bad. It was really cool. He was telling me all the stories there. They had a room for [Jackson’s chimpanzee] Bubbles in the studio.
How do you balance the life of a recording artists with being a teenager?
It’s kind of hard sometimes. I’m always busy and I don’t get to hang with my friends as much. They always text me, [saying] they miss me. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s really great. My friends are so supportive of me, especially since I’ve moved to L.A. They’re like, “When are you going to be back in Vegas? We miss you.”
Did growing up in Las Vegas and being surrounded by the showbiz life make it easier when it came to handling your own career?
Yeah. Every weekend we’d go to the Strip and see different shows, see how people perform. We live about 10, 15 minutes away from the Strip. If you want to go where there’s a lot of action, shopping and shoes, you just drive for a few minutes. Then you go back to your neighborhood where it’s calmer and not quite as crazy.
Were your parents musical?
My mom loves to sing. Karaoke every night at our house.
Was it your idea to launch a music career or did your parents suggest it?
I was really shy when I was in preschool. But once I went on stage I just exploded. People were like, “Is that the same girl?”
But my parents were against me getting into show business. That was the last thing they wanted me to do. But when they saw me performing on stage and saw that my heart was truly into it, they became completely supportive.
How’s the Shop Til You Rock tour going?
It’s so much fun. I’ve done two shows so far – Alpharetta, Ga, and Tucson, Ariz. It’s been going really great. Last year it was Demi Lovato and Cody Simpson. This year I’m the only girl. Not only do you get to perform but you get to hang out with the bands.
Do you and your managers look at the careers of those who came before you and analyze the high and low points?
Definitely. I look up to my idols, like Michael Jackson. I really admire Beyoncé. She’s amazing, too. You can learn things from those who came before you.
What’s the toughest part of having a music career?
Sometimes it gets really tiring, especially when I’m traveling a lot. The awesome part is when I’m recording, on stage, meeting my fans. But the tiring part is where you have to get up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight, go to another city, perform, then catch a flight that night to somewhere else. But it’s working for me. This is what I love doing – performing and making music.
Singers have commented that flights, with pressurized cabins and changes in altitudes, can be tough on voices. Do you have any tricks for taking care of your voice?
I always do my vocal warm-ups, whether I’m singing that day or not. Drinking hot tea is good for your voice. Drinking lots of water is good, too.
“This is what I love doing – performing and making music.”
What are some of the things you avoid?
It’s not bad for your voice but right before you sing, don’t drink anything cold. When you do vocal warmp-ups, it warms-up the voice so you can sing. But when you drink something cold, it defeats the purpose.
Did these tips come from CeCe and Frank DiLeo?
CeCe is the vocal wiz. She knows everything. If I ever have anything with my throat, she knows what to do right away.
You’re not only performing, but you’re doing other things as well, like interviews or making promo appearances. How long is your typical workday?
It really depends. Sometimes I just have a show in the evening. Other times I have meetings, I go down to some radio stations and then I have a show in the evening.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you see yourself strictly as a music artist or do you hope to branch into films and television?
Music is definitely my first love. I see myself hopefully going into arenas. I’m an all-around creative person and I also love acting. I definitely want to go into television and films. I like all types of different roles. It’s really fun if I play roles really close to myself or ones that are totally opposite.
What are you listening to these days?
Michael Jackson, Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Aerosmith. There are different things about those artists that I really admire. With Michael Jackson it’s his life performances and the intensity he puts into it. The passion is part of his music. Aerosmith – the loud guitars. Pink, Alanis Morissette, they’re not afraid to say what they want. I love listening to them.
When it comes to performing with other artists, which one would be your wildest dream-come-true collaboration?
Beyoncé . She’s incredible. I watched her live and she’s just amazing. You can see the passion she has for the music. She has such amazing vocals.
Everybody asks you about your music. What something that’s important to you that no one ever asks about?
It never comes up, but I graduated a year early as valedictorian from my high school.
How did you balance your education with your career?
I did my senior and junior years in one year. Down the road I plan to go to college, but right now I’m focused on my music.
One last question. What’s your favorite ride at Disneyland?
Probably California Screamin’. I love that one.
“I was really shy when I was in preschool. But once I went on stage I just exploded. People were like, ‘Is that the same girl?’”
Manika’s upcoming stops on the “Shop Til You Rock” mall tour include Aug. 13 in Spokane, Wash., at the North Town mall, Aug. 20 in Atlanta, Ga., at the Perimeter Mall, Aug. 27 in Paramus, N.J., at Paramus Park and Sept. 10 in Mankato, Minn., at River Hills Mall. For more information, please visit Manika-Music.com.