News Column

Local 'Talent' hopefuls ace early auditions

July 14, 2013


July 14--TWO CONTESTANTS FROM HAWAII -- a young singer and a dance trio -- are making their way through the early auditions for NBC's "America's Got Talent," which airs 8 p.m. Tuesdays and 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

Twelve-year-old Ciana Pelekai and The Hype dancers have advanced to the Las Vegas rounds after successful auditions in Chicago and New York City, respectively.

Ciana is making her second appearance on the nationwide talent show after first competing as an 8-year-old singing the R&B chestnut "Rescue Me."

The Aiea Intermediate School student returned this year after the show's production staff saw her audition on YouTube. This time around, not much background information was offered about her on the broadcast, as she was part of a group highlight segment. What matters, however, is that she won over the celebrity judges with "Something's Got a Hold on Me," originally sung by Etta James.

Ciana said she started with singing lessons at age 6, and has loved songs as far back as she can remember. She takes inspiration from her older sister, 16-year-old Teiliana, who appeared in preliminary rounds of NBC's other talent contest, "The Voice," this year.

Ciana has already made her mark locally, winning the grand prize and top female vocalist award in "Brown Bags to Stardom." In 2010 she appeared on the syndicated "Maury" show as one of the year's most talented kids and sang the national anthem at a Los Angeles Clippers game.

"When people first hear me sing, they say, 'Oh my gosh, you sound like an adult,'" she said. "When I was younger, I was really, really nervous. I don't think I was prepared because I didn't know what was going on around me. Now I know what to do."

Ciana's mom, 38-year-old Misha Pelekai of Maili, knew her daughter was disappointed when she didn't continue through the "America's Got Talent" competition four years ago.

"I kept telling her, 'Don't give up,'" she said. "She quickly wanted to keep going, saying, 'Can I try out again?'

"Ciana loves to perform, and she's so different when she's singing. Some of the comments by the judges pointed out there was such a drastic difference between her speaking and performing."

The Hype dancers of the Academy of Hype, an offshoot of Waipahu's Hypersquad dance studio, also got the attention of the show's producers thanks to a YouTube video, but the first-timers took a more dramatic route to Las Vegas.

"We decided at the last minute that since the three of us practice the most and stay after rehearsals, we'd fly out to New York the morning of that day's auditions," said Josh Ulep, 25, who goes by the nickname "Hazmat." Other members are Mikey Ruiz and AJ "Headache" Pak.

The trio devised a clever hip-hop interpretation of "Singin' in the Rain" the night before leaving. For the group's Las Vegas performance, which was taped for later broadcast, the members had to change their routine with only two days' rehearsal time left when their first-choice song was nixed over an issue with the rights.

"We're used to working under pressure a lot," Ulep said. "While we all dance hip-hop -- break-dancing and popping -- I'm trained in ballet and jazz dance. We like to add more theatricality to our routines.

"Our chemistry works because we're all really good friends," he said.


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