May 17--The Kiyokians have landed.
Faithful followers of local singer-actress Hayley Kiyoko join the ranks of other fans who have proudly named themselves after their musical idols, such as Fanilows (Barry Manilow), Beliebers (Justin Bieber), Swifties (Taylor Swift), Katy Cats (Katy Perry) and Glamberts (Adam Lambert).
The Kiyokians might be smaller in number than those fan populations, but they are no less fierce. They supported Kiyoko financially and emotionally over the past year as she recorded and released her first solo EP, "A Belle to Remember," and are likely to be out in full force on Saturday when the singer performs at the California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard. Look for them in the "KI YO KO" T-shirts.
Pledged to music
Kiyoko, 22, now lives in Valley Village but grew up in the Conejo Valley, graduated from Agoura High School and just finished her first year at Moorpark College. Until recently she's been known more for "ensemble" acting and singing, although she's always been a singular strong character. Acting roles include the feisty guitar-playing high school student Stella in the popular 2011 Disney Channel movie "Lemonade Mouth," and quirky Velma in the "Scooby-Doo" live-action TV movies on the Cartoon Network. She also was one-fifth of the all-girl band The Stunners, which opened for Justin Bieber on his first tour in 2010 and broke up amicably afterward.
Since 2012, Kiyoko, while still attending acting auditions, has focused on her first creative calling: music.
"Music's always been my No. 1," said Kiyoko, who started acting, singing and dancing around age 7 and asked for an agent for Christmas when she was in seventh grade. " I LOVE acting, so I'm still heavily pursuing that," she said, "but right now I have been pursuing and pushing my music."
Kiyoko's six-song EP was released independently March 12. Fans ponied up $12,000 via an online PledgeMusic campaign that Kiyoko began, she said, because "recording in a studio, paying for advertising, band members and music videos take more dollar signs than I ever imagined." Depending on how much contributors donated, they earned goodies like the EP ($8 for a downloaded version, $15 for a CD, $25 for a signed CD), a T-shirt and EP download ($35), a signed script from one of Kiyoko's movies ($50), a "Lemonade Mouth" poster signed by the entire cast ($100), a dance class with Kiyoko ($250) or a school concert ($2,000).
The Pledge Music campaign launched Oct. 16 and was fully funded by Dec. 12.
Here are two of the many online comments from PledgeMusic contributors, who came from around the world:
"TOTALLY PLEDGING WHEN I GET MY ALLOWANCE!!!! By the way, I love your work in Scooby Doo." (Adam Butchart)
"I am the dad of one of your French fans, my 10-years-old girl who discovered you in Lemonade Mouth. Good luck for the rest of your plans and dreams." (Michel)
Kiyoko said she's recorded about 20 other songs in addition to the six on "A Belle to Remember," but wanted to release an EP instead of a full album "to see what songs my fans really connect to, kind of as a sample. I'm really happy with the product. It was a learning process for me, because I really got to discover who I was and who I wanted to be."
Kiyoko has been writing music since she was a kid, "but going from singing and playing on the guitar in your room to going in the studio and being able to create whatever you want, there's a big journey you go through." She describes her music as "indie pop. But when I say pop, I don't like to think of myself as mainstream like Rihanna or Katy Perry. I do gear toward having melodies that are hooky and catchy so they can be Top 40, but it's my own form of mainstream pop."
Before she started recording in the studio, Kiyoko said, her music "was very singer-songwriter, Fiona Apple-y, singing like I was drowning in my own tears, crying about this and that." But for the EP, she went a different direction. "I had never really written up-tempo, happy music," she said. "So it was fun for me to write this EP because it was like, 'Oh, this is what I sound like happy.'"
The EP's title, "A Belle to Remember," also a track on the EP, isn't buried in Freudian meaning.
"I wrote that song after my sister went through a breakup," Kiyoko said. "It was about ... knowing you can be independent and don't need anyone else, that you're a girl to remember. What matters is how you feel as a person and where you're headed. And I thought that was a good overall message."
Kiyoko keeps in touch with her fans via social media. "Twitter's incredible for having one-on-one type of conversations," she said. "And with Instagram you can show them exactly what you're doing."
She's open to suggestions from Kiyokians. "They're the ones who are helping me grow," she said. "Whatever they want I'm going to give them, or at least try to as much as possible."
Kiyoko is humbled by her fans' support. "There's been a lot of moments where I was like, 'Can I just hug you?'" she said.
One thing Kiyokians won't get is a "Lemonade Mouth" sequel, despite the TV movie musical's success. "Lemonade Mouth," based on a novel by Mark Peter Hughes, is about a high school band (called Lemonade Mouth) made up of five misfits who meet in detention. Bridgit Mendler, a good friend of Hayley's and fellow Disney Channel actress ("Good Luck Charlie"), played the group's main lead vocalist. More than 7 million people watched the film's premiere, and the soundtrack ended up No. 1 on Billboard's soundtrack chart.
"A sequel was greenlit," Kiyoko said. "And then they just couldn't find a script they were really passionate about. The movie was a very positive experience for me. It really touched a lot of people."
Moving up and out
Kiyoko now lives in Valley Village after moving out of her parents' Westlake Village home two years ago. Her parents, professional comedian-producer Jamie Alcroft and Emmy Award-winning figure-skating choreographer Sarah Kawahara (Kiyoko is Hayley's middle name) have since moved to Thousand Oaks. She also has a younger brother, Thatcher, and older sister, Alysse.
"My parents kind of forced me to move out to grow up and learn about myself," said Kiyoko, laughing. "We're a very close-knit family. I didn't want to leave. But I was driving to Hollywood every single day and the commute was getting too intense, and I'd be in between auditions and have five hours to kill. Now I'm super-happy."
(View the Hayley Kiyoko @ Strawberry Festival slide show and watch the Hayley Kiyoko sings "Hunting Man"- Live in Studio video.)
At Moorpark College, she's studying ... business, a much-needed showbiz skill. School, she said, "is a nice separation. Because I'm promoting myself, I get sick of myself. I'm like, 'Ugh, enough, I'm over myself.' So school is a great departure for me, because no one knows what I do, and it's very therapeutic."
Kiyoko said she doesn't feel like she needs to make the transition from "teen star" to "more mature star."
"I love that I have young fans, and ... a lot of them look up to me, just to be themselves, be quirky," she said. "So I don't have any goals to change who I am and make sure everyone knows I'm an adult. I'm 22, but I feel like I'm 16. I think I'll always embrace that as I get older."
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