Have you heard of the singer Manika (pronounced Ma-NEE-ka)? First of all, she is super-pretty, but also super-smart and super-inspiring. Manika was discovered by Frank DiLeo, a.k.a. Michael Jackson’s manager! She recorded her first song when she was 16 years old. She has also written a book and raised $15,000 for her favorite charity, all by herself and before she even graduated from high school! Talk about Kid Power! Read on to find out more about this amazing teen.
Q: Did you know then that music was what you wanted to pursue as a career?
Manika: Yes. I did. I’ve always loved music ever since I can remember. It was funny. When I was young, I was so shy, but when I went on stage I was the complete opposite and no one would even believe that it was the same person because I would be so shy like I wouldn’t even talk to anyone. But then on stage, I’m just like out there like singing and having so much fun. So it’s just always where my heart’s been – music, yea.
Q: You are a songwriter and a prose writer. Why is writing so important to you?
Manika: For me when I’m writing, I just like. . . first of all, my first drafts, I just write stream of consciousness – just let whatever comes out, come out, you know. Then I go back and edit it. Certain things that you just can’t express in real life when you’re going through, you can always express it through paper or through music. So that’s just how I find my escape.
Q: You have written a book too, The Exciting Adventures of Boo. Tell me about that.
Manika: Oh my gosh! Yes, it is ten different stories – a 144-page children’s book – and each story, the main character Boo, who’s a dog, he goes through different adventures and he learns, at the end of the story, a lesson. These are based on the ten most important lessons that I learned growing up. Actually, I wanted to like, you know, really teach these lessons to children and I was thinking, “How can I do this?” And I was like, “Let me make it into a story.” Then I actually wrote it down, and I created the book.
Q: And then you gave all the profits to the Nevada SPCA animal shelter.
Manika: I would actually like every weekend, from when I was 15 to like when I was 17, I would go up to these different events, set up my booth and just all day be out there selling my books. And then two years later, I actually raised $15,000, and I donated it to the SPCA animal shelter.
I would also go around to the kids in all the schools in the Clark Country District and I’d read stories from my book. And I would also give them writing workshops, like let them know that they can write too. Also I talked to them about the SPCA, and, you know, just about taking care of animals. I also read to some cancer patients in hospitals and stuff and that was just really touching for me.
Q: It just amazes me, a teenager like you coming up with that idea and really making it work.
Manika: Thank you. Some kids think like they want to, but they just think, “I can’t make a difference,” but you really can. I mean, you know, look at me. I just kept working at it, hard work, and then, you know, two years later I raised $15,000 for the SPCA animal shelter. You just gotta do something with it, you know? Don’t just stand there. Do something.
Q: You were valedictorian at your high school.
Manika: Yes. The theme of my speech was how to take advantage of unexpected twists that life may bring you because sometimes when something comes up, people normally just take it as negative, but you can actually turn it into a positive. Like for me, when I was a junior, they told us that this was the last year of our school. It was shutting down. And I’ve been going to that school ever since I was in pre-school, and I was like, “What am I going to do? I’ve never been to any other school.” And I actually decided to take on four semesters of classes in one quarter in order to graduate [early]. Most people were just like, “I’m done with this. I’m done with this school. Whatever.” But for me, I took what I was given – the situation, the unexpected twist – and I went through it. I saw the positive. So it actually helped me. Being able to graduate early allowed me to be full-time in my music and my writings for the next year.
Q: Your heritage is such an interesting mix. Do you have family traditions from each heritage?
Manika: I am a lot of things. I am Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Filipino, and my mom actually grew up in the Philippines until she was about 16. So one tradition that we always have on all the holidays . . . everyone gets together and we all cook different foods, and it’s really nice because we have all these different types of food. I think really mostly just like when we get together on holidays and just cook all these different types of foods that we love. It’s really nice. [Laughter.]
Q: How would you advise a kid who doesn’t like reading why it’s important to read?
Manika: Start off with something that’s just purely a really fun book, just a really nice book. Like, I love the Harry Potter series. Start off with something that’s really exciting. And I mean, people might say, “Oh, I’ll just watch the movie,” but it’s really not the same. They can’t like get you into the minds of the characters like when you’re reading it. And it’s really great just to expand your vocabulary. It just makes you more of a learned person overall. So I mean, just start reading. Start with something fun.
Great advice. Let us know what you think of Manika in the Comments!
Interview by Marie Morreale