Manika has been compared to Britney Spears and Katy Perry early in their careers, so it’s no surprise that she was discovered by Frank DiLeo, Michael Jackson’s long-time manager, and television personality, revered vocal performance coach CeCe Sammy. Her last single, “Just Can’t Let You Go” – a pop song with and edgy vibe – featuring Lil’ Twist, made her a Top 40 popstar. Manika brings a fresh and positive experience to the music scene.
Before her music career took off, Manika wrote and published a children’s book, “The Exciting Adventures of Boo.” She donated the proceeds from the book to the SPCA animal shelter. She is also the headlining singer on the Girl Scouts of America music tour. Manika takes a break from her tour to talk about her music, charitable works that are close to her heart, and what she has planned for the future.
How did you get started in music? Do you come from a musical family?
Manika: My whole life I’ve always been singing at school and on my own. I actually taught myself piano and guitar. Ever since preschool, I was one of those people who was really shy in person but when I was on stage performing and doing music, I felt totally at home. People would go up to my parents and say, “Is that your daughter? She is so different on stage.” It’s really always been a part of me.
You are the headlining singer on the Girl Scouts of America music tour this year. How did you get involved with this tour?
Manika: I was a Girl Scout. I heard about the 100th anniversary and they sent us some dates and asked if we wanted to come perform. I said definitely. It evolved from there. We have one in Washington where there are going to be 200,000 Girl Scouts from around the world who are all going to be together in one place and a few million more via webcast. I’m also going to Miami, Atlanta, Japan and a few others. It’s the official year of the Girl Scouts.
What’s the toughest part about touring?
Manika: The toughest part for me is the crazy hours. One time we had a performance that got out at 11 p.m. and we had to pack and get to the airport, fly somewhere and perform the next morning. Where the schedule gets real hectic like that, it wears you out a little bit.
You’re the newest face for the NOH8 Campaign in the fight against cyber-bullying. What drew you to this cause?
Manika: Every day I’m really active online and sometimes my fans write in on how someone is bullying them online. I see it so much and I see how it can really hurt someone. Some of my friends were going through this in high school and people tried to bully me too. I think it’s really important because there is no reason for it, so I want to help put an end to that.
Tell us about the other charitable works you’re involved in.
Manika: I did some work for Habitat for Humanity where we got to build a house. When I was 15, I wrote and published a children’s book, “The Exciting Adventures of Boo,” and I would go around every weekend to different events and I would sell my books. Two years later I raised $15k selling my books and donated it to the SPCA animal shelter.
You have distinct fashion style, like the styles in the ’80s. Who are some of the people who influenced your style?
Manika: I love Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and Michael Jackson. I like bright colors, funky stuff. Sometimes I like to pair a designer top with Forever 21 bottoms. Yes, I love the ’80s and since I wasn’t around in the ’80s, I have to enjoy it now. I also like to make things more modern and younger.
You’re working with Travis Payne, the choreographer for the “This Is It” tour. Do you hear stories about days with Michael Jackson?
Manika: Yes, all the time. It’s so much fun working with him. He’s such a great guy. When I first started working with him and Frank DiLeo, I was thinking, wow, the last person these guys worked with was Michael Jackson. He was one of my biggest influences. One thing I really like about Travis is he shows you how to make every move your own. And yes, they both tell me stories about Michael.
I was recording once in the same studio where Michael recorded “Bad.” Frank told me a story about how they had a room built for Michael’s monkey Bubbles above the recording booth so he could feed him while he was recording. It’s really awesome hearing stories about Michael.
Who are some of your favorite singers or bands?
Manika: I listen to everything from pop to rock to hip hop to classical. My main influences would be Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, Pink, and Arrowsmith. And Michael Jackson. What I love about him is when I watch back performances is the style he had, the technicality, and the passion in his eyes. Not only did he have great clothing, but every move he’d do he’d put is own unique style to it, which I love. I love Beyoncé too…she’s incredible.
If you could perform with anyone in history, who would you choose?
Manika: That’s a tough one. I would say Beyoncé. Live, she’s incredible.
What would your fans be surprised to learn about you?
A lot of them are surprised when they find out about my book and I graduated a year early as valedictorian from my high school. I think it’s important you apply yourself academically.
When you are not touring or recording, what do you like to do for fun?
We go to the cinema or hang out at home and play board games. I love board games. Or sometimes we go to the theme parks like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, or Six Flags.
Are you working on any new projects? Any tour dates coming up?
Manika: Right now I’m in rehearsals because my second single “Take a Little, Give a Little” is coming out real soon so be on the lookout for that song. It has more of a dance beat to it. We also are planning some other tours soon.
Check out Manika’s official website for a tour schedule and the latest news.