Little Girl, Big Voice
Waianae’s Ciana Pelekai has sung on the Radio City Music Hall stage and recently was crowned Miss Hawaii High School America — and she has loftier goals in mind
Miss Hawaii High School America Ciana Pelekai of Waianae is a 14-year-old freshman at Aiea High School with dreams of becoming a professional singer one day.
She’s been singing since she was 4, but the world really got to know her when she appeared on TV’s America’s Got Talent in 2009 and again in 2013, made it to the quarterfinals and performed at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
More recently, she was in the news for her impressive audition for the lead role in Disney’s new film Moana. She received a second callback, and is still waiting for results of the casting.
Meanwhile, Disney invited her to audition for a recurring role on Austin & Ally, and even provided her an opportunity to Skype with one of its acting coaches, John D’Aquino.
“I was excited I got to work with someone famous,” says Pelekai. “He was the president on Cory in the House.”
Pelekai, who has been taking singing lessons at Applause! Performance Academy in Wahiawa since she was 7, also performed the national anthem at an NBA Los Angeles Clippers game at Staples Arena, sang at a UH basketball game, performed on the Maury Povich show and much more. She also was a winner of Koko Marina Center’s singing contest and her school’s recent talent show.
And while she loves to sing and perform, especially in front of a large audience, Pelekai is especially proud of her new pageant title because of the opportunity it provides for her to spread a message against bullying.
“I’ve been bullied,” she shares. “In elementary school, these two girls would call me names, and every time it happened I would get hurt and cry. So I finally told my parents and they contacted the principal, but it didn’t stop. They would call me loser, spoiled, sometimes they would call me dumb because I have ADHD.
“Then in intermediate school, there were these girls who would always pick on me and cause trouble. A couple of girls even wanted to fight me, but I would back away.”
In addition to ADHD, Pelekai believes some of the bullying was a result of her being in the spotlight, which she has come to accept. “I knew if I got on TV, I’m going to have some haters — that’s just how it is,” she explains. “I know how it feels to be bullied, and I would like it to stop. And the pageant’s national platform B.R.A.V.E. (Building Respect And Values for Everyone) and anti-bullying campaign can help me do this.”
Pelekai admits she still experiences some bullying today, but knows she’s not the only one. She believes bullying and drugs are the biggest problems teens and children face every day.
She credits singing for helping her deal with all the negativity in her life, as well as helping her to stay focused, including in school, where she’s currently earning straight A’s.
“When I’m sad, I just sing,” she says. “I love being on stage, and I like that I get to share my talent with others.
“My dream is to be a professional singer and to be a great role model. I also would love to live in Hollywood, be rich and famous, and have my own concerts like Beyonce and Bruno Mars.”
Pelekai, who is of Hawaiian, Filipino, Irish and German ancestry, got into singing from older sister Teiliana, who now lives in L.A. and recently tried out for The Voice, making it through two (non-televised) rounds before being cut.
“Teiliana would perform around Hawaii and get all these gigs, so I asked my mom if I could try because it looked fun,” recalls Pelekai. “So I did, and my mom was like, whoa, where did you get that voice from?”
Pelekai’s mom Misha is a senior clinical analyst for Hawaii Pacific Health, and dad Derrick is a military senior chief in the U.S. Navy. She also has a younger brother, Derrick Pelekai III.
As for her role model, she says it’s Grandma, Nancy Howard, who is her No. 1 supporter.
“Right now, she’s going through breast cancer,” says Pelekai. “She wants to be my No. 1 supporter, so I make her my No. 1 supporter. But it’s hard for her to see me because she’s in Vegas.”
This July, Pelekai will go on to compete for Miss High School America in Orlando, Fla. In May, she will speak to kids at the State Speech Festival at Blaisdell Arena. Her message will be about bullying, overcoming obstacles and never giving up.
“If someone is bullying you, tell your parents, your counselor, tell someone,” she says.
“For me, I had a rough time because it wouldn’t stop even when I told my parents and they told the principal. So I just had to go through the year and tried my best to ignore it and not let it bother me.
“Don’t let people put you down. If someone tells you that you suck, don’t believe it. Just keep on doing what you’re doing. Those people just need to learn how to be nice to others. Treat others the way you want to be treated.”