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May 2011 Archives

Celeb Scoop: Adam Hicks
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Here are two things we really love: (1) when they make a movie for young people that promises to be about true-to-life characters and carries positive, empowering themes...and then actually lives up to that promise; and (2) when a young actor is given a chance to show (and surprise people with) just how multi-talented he is.

Lemonade-Mouth-DVD.jpgBoth of those things have happened with the Disney Channel Original Movie "Lemonade Mouth," which is out on DVD this week. If you didn't catch it during the jillion times it ran on TV, we do recommend it. There's something in there for every viewer and of course the music is pretty darn great. The DVD is officially an "extended edition" because of a bonus scene after the end credits, and there's a "Rock-a-long" version with lyrics so you and your friends can back up the band.

And then there's Adam Hicks. Yes, Bridgit Mendler is stunning with those lead vocals and just watching Hayley Kiyoko makes us feel cool, but for us it's Adam Hicks's performance as Wen that really shines. We were excited to have the opportunity to talk to this very sweet and humble guy who, after years of being a child actor, is finally defining himself as a performer and artist.

IML: First of all, congrats on the success of "Lemonade Mouth." The movie is really terrific!

Adam: Thank you so much! It's funny because you do a project, and then you're in a waiting period where the anticipation is crazy. For it to come out and do so well, and to see the responses from the fans has been incredible.

IML: What first attracted you to the film?

adamhicks.jpgAdam: I read the script and fell in love with it. I didn't read the book until after I got the part, but I just love the character Wen. He's a big change from Luther, my character on "Zeke and Luther." Luther is this zany, outrageous comedy-driven character, and to make that transition to Wen, who's quieter and more thoughtful, was an amazing opportunity for me as an actor. The cast of "Lemonade Mouth" was picked so perfectly. A lot of people see us as a band on camera but not a lot of people know that Lemonade Mouth was a band off-camera too.

IML: That definitely shows, and is probably one of the reasons why the movie is so successful. What was the best part of the experience for you?

Adam: The best part of the whole experience was having the movie finally come out! But in terms of the shooting, the best part was Madison Square Garden. My dad compared it to a Rolling Stones concert. We had these 75-foot monitors and a camera that would swoop in on your face and then shoot into the air. It was an incredible feeling with the fans there -- they were hired fans, but the screaming gave me so much adrenaline. I haven't done a lot of performing in front of big crowds before this.

IML: We hear that you helped write three of the songs...

Adam: Yes! I wrote all the raps for Wen on "Determinate," "Breakthrough," and "Highwire." The producers came to me before I even auditioned for the role of Wen and said they wanted me to help write the music for Lemonade Mouth. The first song I worked on was "Determinate." It took about a day to write. They sent it over with the temporary vocalist and then they had a breakdown area with a beat and I got the vibe from the singer and made up my own twist. Right before we left to film in New Mexico, the producers decided to do a bonus track called "Highwire" to use in a bonus scene for the DVD so I got to jump on that also.

IML: What do you think are the most important themes in the movie?

Adam: I feel like "Lemonade Mouth" is really such a well put together script and really gets across the idea of "be heard, be strong." A lot of kids have experienced the feeling of being outside looking in, and trying to figure out what clique they want to fit into, and a lot of people camouflage themselves in the school and don't really try to be heard. They feel like they're young and so their voice won't be heard. But "Lemonade Mouth: represents the underdog stepping through, and the movie lets people know that anyone can follow a dream and make it happen. Another great thing is that the movie went into every character's life, so at the end of the movie the fans really know them. They're not really left with a lot of questions or wanting more.

IML: How and when did you start rapping? Did it come before or after your interest in acting?

Adam: It started in 4th grade. For my 4th grade talent show I did a rap. And then for my 5th grade DARE essay, I did a rap in front of my school. I just liked putting words together. And then there's that element of surprise: I'm a red-haired, freckled kid...I shouldn't be able to rap! It kind of just happened and I took it so seriously, every single day writing music constantly. I used to carry a dictionary around with me and just look at words. It's more like poetry in that way and a lot of people can relate to it that way. I jut worked at it and jumped into acting and loved it and have done that professionally for 11 years now. So until recently I wasn't doing the music professionally. Now, to combine these two things is like a dream come true.

IML: Who are your musical influences as a rapper?

Adam: I love all kinds of music. My dad's from London so he loves David Bowie, the Stones, The Clash. I grew up with that influence while loving poetry and loving all kinds of current music. I just kind of made my own style because I feel like as an artist, the first thing people realize first about you is your style...who you are, what makes you different.

IML: Where do you get your inspiration for songs and raps?
 
Adam: I'm a mad thinker in general. I think about everything, all the time. Especially when I write music, a lot of the influences come from personal experiences or from being on the outside looking in, being that person who witnessed things that stuck with me throughout my life. And also not being scared to share an opinion about something that you know about and want to be heard on. Lyrics are a way to express how I feel in a way that people appreciate.

IML: What were you like in middle school?

Adam: Middle school was crazy for me because in elementary school I was top dog, 5th grade...but coming into 6th grade you're right at the bottom again. I went to a lot of different schools so I was a quiet and shy kid, not really expressing how I felt, like Wen was in "Lemonade Mouth." I relied on a couple of personal experiences for that. I was chill, relaxed, writing music but at the same time just hanging out with friends.

IML: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Adam: I think they'd be surprised to learn that I read every single night before I go to sleep. I'm reading a book right now called "The Black Pearl," I recommend it. It helps me sleep and I've just been doing it ever since I was a kid because I love books. I think reading is how you understand the world.

IML: What would be your dream project?

Adam: I think I'm living my dream project right now! Honestly, it's been shocking and amazing...it's all coming down on me right now. I'm just processing everything and taking it day by day!

IML: Thanks, Adam! Good luck with everything!

Adam: Thank you!



 
Meet tween musical theatre (and YouTube video) star Amanda Roit
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So it's Friday, and goshdarnit there's a certain song that's stuck in our heads even though we kind of don't want it to be. Thanks, Rebecca Black and your 144 MILLION views on YouTube! Thanks a lot!

Amanda Roit by David Needleman_02.jpgWhen we first saw the clip for Rebecca's song "Friday," we started wondering. How many other tweens are on the Web with original songs and professionally made videos? Is it an epidemic? And which of them really have the talent to make it worth watching them? We surfed around and found a video by 11-year-old Amanda Roit from Long Island, called "Stayin' Up All Night." It's another catchy tune about something tweens and teens can relate to, and Amanda has a great voice.

Turns out, Amanda's already a seasoned musical theatre star, having performed in professional local productions of "Hairspray," "The Wizard of Oz," and "Annie." We asked Amanda to tell us a little more about herself and her video.

IML: How did you get started performing. How old were you? 

Amanda: I was seven years old when I started performing. I wanted to sing and act since as young as I can remember...so I began by taking singing lessons and acting classes at seven.  I finally started to audition for plays a couple years later. and began being cast for roles.

IML: When did you know it was something you wanted to pursue seriously, rather than just participating in school productions and stuff like that?

Amanda: I knew performing was something I wanted to pursue seriously the minute I walked into my first singing/acting class; I just knew I was in the right place.

IML: Do you have a favorite role that you've played? 

Amanda: Although I have really enjoyed all the productions I have been in, I really enjoyed playing Annie (in the Broadway musical of the same name).

IML: What's the funniest or just most memorable thing that's happened to you onstage?

Amanda: My funniest experience while being onstage was when I was performing in Annie.  At the end of the show I had to sing with a dog in my hands; during one performance it scratched me and I almost dropped it!
 
IML: What has performing added to your life?
Amanda: Performing is my passion... and it certainly makes me confident and happy.

IML: How did the video for "Stayin' Up All Night" happen?

Amanda: The video is based on my 11th birthday sleepover... and yes, those are my BEST friends in the video, those that supported me throughout all these opportunities.

IML: What else is in store for you this year? 

Amanda: More acting and singing and learning!

IML: Thanks, Amanda. Good luck with the video and everything else!

Amanda:
Thank you!

You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandaroit.com and watch the "Stayin' Up All Night" video here -- another perfect song for a Friday if you've got a sleepover planned! Will it be the next viral music sensation? We'll find out.




Shape-ups...or ship out?
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eatdisorders1.gifHave you seen the TV commercial for Skechers Shape-ups for girls? The one where an animated rock band sings about "Heidi" having "everything a girl wants" in her new Shape-ups, with a backup chorus that sounds a lot like a teasing "nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah" and boys running around dressed as junk food?

What did you think when you first saw it? (And if you haven't, go watch it on YouTube. We can't, and won't, post it here.) Parents are in an uproar over this ad campaign, because Shape-ups are shoes that promise to help grown women tone their legs, lose weight, and generally get fit (which is widely doubted at this point). These parents think the fact that blinged-out versions of the sneakers are now being marketed to tween girls is, well...really disturbing. And we agree.

The president of Skechers says that Shape-ups are just aimed at encouraging girls to be more athletic and active. Do you buy it? Are parents overreacting? Do you feel that the company is just trying to take advantage of girls' natural self-esteem issues to sell sneakers? Are there hidden and not-so-hidden messages in this TV commercial?

We want to know! Tell us your thoughts on our Media Pressure YSI page.

Now that it's spring and swimsuit season may be tempting you to try to "look your best," check out the IML section on Eating Disorders. Even if you don't feel you'd ever be in danger of having an eating disorder, it's helpful to understand the reasons why some people struggle with them.

We also love visiting our friends at Don't Buy It, who have some great info on how to see through media and advertising messages and actually -- gasp! -- make consumer decisions for ourselves.

 
Celeb Scoop: Ayla Kell
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ayla1.jpgShe's a former dancer who's now an actor who plays a gymnast. Confused yet? That's Ayla Kell, who you might know as Payson Keeler on the hit ABC Family TV series "Make It Or Break It"...someone you definitely can't pigeonhole.

Ayla spent her childhood and teen years studying ballet and even performing on professional stages, on top of appearing in TV and commercial roles. These days, when she's not bringing her "Make It Or Break It" character to life, you might find her cooking (she's a certified baker) or working as an activist for homeless families. So yes, she's versatile and a great role model too. We'd roll our eyes if we hadn't chatted with her and found her to be such a sweet, smart, and insightful person! Here's what else we learned about Ayla during our talk:

IML: How are you and Payson alike, and how are you different?

Ayla: I'm similar in a lot of ways to Payson. Payson is ultra-driven, ultra-focused, has blinders on to everything else but what her goals are. And I'm very much like that as well, in that I can totally throw myself into one thing and be 100% about it. I'm unlike her in that she doesn't know where her voice is as a young woman, as anything outside of gymnastics. That's where we're different. I've figured out this nice balance of not letting what I do define who I am.

IML: Does the world of "Make It or Break It" match the experiences you've had in your life as a dancer, in terms of the pressure and competition and relationships?

Ayla: Everybody's personal experience is different. Gymnastics is very different from dance. In any type of competition, you're always going to have people who will try to put you down in order to make themselves higher. That's going to happen in anything; it can be volleyball, soccer, anything. I've seen that in both sides of what I do -- acting and dancing.

IML: What positive messages would you like tween audiences to take away from Payson and the show in general?

ayla_as_payson.jpgAyla: I love that Payson doesn't let herself get distracted, and I think that's an important lesson for young girls to have. It's so easy to get caught up in, "I want a boyfriend, I want to be wearing the best clothes, I want to look like this," when that's not really what it's about. Payson doesn't really care what she looks like as long as she's working toward her goal. I think that's an important lesson that gets put by the wayside in our culture, with the value put on looks. I think it's a different kind of lesson to have with a strong young female character who cares more about goals than everyday things. My thing is gymnastics on the show; my thing in real life was dance. But these ideas can apply to anybody -- someone whose interest in fashion, interior design, running...anything!

IML: As a dancer, what were your favorite roles or pieces that you've danced?

Ayla: I did a dance called "Little Sparrow" in Japan that was definitely one of my favorites. It's a stunning piece about three girls who've all been betrayed by the same man and it's two of the girls warning the last girl not to go into it. So it's an intricate, involved, intertwined piece that's really emotional. It's quite an acting display, not just a dance display. I did it with two girls and on that trip, it was like we were sisters.

IML: What did performing add to your life when you were younger?

Ayla: Performing added a lot to my life. It let me know what I wanted to do from an early age. I knew that I wanted to be in front of people and make them smile, laugh, cry, feel something. It's such a different experience when you're doing it onstage through dance because the audience is right there. Now, doing it for TV, I'm not sitting in everybody's living room acting out the show. I actually love it when strangers come up to me and tell me how much they like the show because otherwise I have no idea!

IML: You're heavily involved with the organization Imagine LA. Tell us more about that!

Ayla: Imagine LA is an organization that deals with the homelessness problem where I live in Los Angeles. It's so easy to see pictures from Cambodia, Africa, anywhere you have such extreme levels of poverty and know we need to help. But you could take pretty much those exact same pictures in downtown Los Angeles and wouldn't have any idea that it's less than 40 minutes from Beverly Hills. There are 8,000 families sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles every night -- not just adults, not just children, but entire families. Imagine LA not only gives them a blanket and food, which is just a quick fix; it aims to give them the keys to success for their entire life. It's a problem all over the world but this is my home, so I'm acting locally. You don't have to go far away to help.

IML: Sad but true that there's poverty everywhere. What can young people do to make a difference in their own local areas?

Ayla: It's so easy to make a difference now because of the Internet. Everybody has a voice because everybody has a computer. One way I got involved when I was a tween was that I started donating my time with my mom. We would go do what needed to be done, whether it be cooking, packaging food, handing out blankets. Time is just as valuable as money, and I know transportation can be a problem if you're younger, but I bet if you're offering to do something like that, somebody won't have a problem giving you a ride. If that's too much as well, just getting the word out about these organizations and the issue of local poverty and homelessness, using social networking tools, is a big deal. So you may not be able to do more than that, but an older sibling or friend or relative may learn about the issue from your information and be able to help.

IML: Who are your role models in life and work?

Ayla: My mother Jane Kell is one of my biggest role models. She's a saint, that woman! I'd say one of my acting inspirations is definitely Katharine Hepburn. "Adam's Rib" is one of the best movies I've ever seen; she and Spencer Tracy are just magical. It had a comedic timing that was different for the time. Beyond her acting work, she was just really forward-thinking for that day and age, and I respect the way she lived her life.

IML: What would be your dream role as an actor?

Ayla: My dream role is to play my grandmother in a script about my grandfather. It's a family story that's quite complex but it would be the greatest opportunity to showcase part of my history and where I am now. The script is already written by my parents. I'm waiting for the right time, obviously I'm not yet old enough to play my grandmother! But aside from that, I'd love to do something totally different from what I do now. For instance, I'd love to do a Marx Brothers style broad comedy...that would be really fun for me.

IML: It's so cool when people do something unexpected and then really nail it! We hope you get that chance. Thanks for chatting with us, and good luck!

Ayla: Thank you!

For more information about Imagine LA, visit www.imaginela.org.




Anti-Bullying Campaigns: What works, and what doesn't?
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Thumbnail image for bully2.jpgRecently, we got an email from an IML'er named Ellora, 12, who asked us: "Bullying is a huge issue and you hear all the time about people committing suicide. Why do people still do it?"

Ellora, that is possibly the best question we've heard in a long time. We wish the answer were simple, but it's not. Sometimes just thinking about that question, and the fact that people will be asking it for years and years if not forever, makes us really sad. But then we thought about the reverse of the question, which would go something like, "Bullying is a huge issue. What gets people to STOP doing it?"

Everyone's trying to make that happen, right? You've probably seen tons of anti-bullying PSA's and had people come speak at your school, or read articles and books and blah blah blah blah blah. So we'd like to know, is any of it WORKING? Was there anything that made you say to yourself, "Wow, I did something that was wrong, and I'll never do it again," or "OMG, the next time I see someone getting teased, I'm going to stand up for him," or "You know, if someone forwards me an embarrassing pic of someone, I'm not going to pass it on."

Maybe it was part of a school campaign or something you saw, read, or heard. Or maybe it was a situation that happened in real life, the kind of thing that nobody plans. If you've bullied in the past and changed your ways, IML would like to know; you can post your story on our I Bullied Someone You Said It page. If you've found the courage to stand up to a bully, we'd like to hear about that too on the I Stood Up To A Bully page. We want to know what you think works and, more importantly, what DOESN'T work (because it seems like there are a lot of anti-bullying efforts out there that are ineffective).

The more we talk and think about the issue, the closer we'll get to being able to answer Ellora's question. We hope we help people do that a little on IML. Recently we watched the new video of AHMIR's cover of "Perfect," which sort of gave us chills (it was shot by a teen and includes real teens who have been bullied), and we think that does it too. Check it out.




Meet teen singer-songwriter Michaela Wallace
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If you're an aspiring pop star, it seems there's a new recipe for getting at least 15 minutes of fame (and if you're lucky, a whole hour or maybe even a real career): Shoot a video of yourself performing a cover of a megastar's current hit song. Put in on YouTube. Mix, stir, and wait for the megastar to Tweet about your video and then invite you to perform at a concert. Instant sensation!

michaela_wallace.jpgOr, you can do what Michaela Wallace, a 14-year-old from Monett, MO, has done: Write your own songs, and write them about things that come from your own life -- things that other tweens and teens can relate to. Put them online so a music professional can discover you and work with you to record a four-song EP. THEN go ahead and become a YouTube splash!

Last fall, the video for the first single from this EP, "Justin Bieber's Girlfriend," exploded online and life hasn't been the same for Michaela. We think she may stick around for a while, and we were glad to get the chance to chat with her at this early stage of a potentially long career. 

IML: It's been a few crazy months for you! You're probably sick of talking about "Justin Bieber's Girlfriend," so we'll start by asking you about the other songs on the EP.


Michaela:
There are two other songs on the EP that I wrote. One is called "Boys Boys Boys" and the other is called "Don't Make a Sound". "Boys" is about you know...boys...and how I'm only 14 and I don't really need to get serious with a boy, but they are a part of my life. "Don't Make A Sound" is about a guy I liked, but he had a girlfriend, so I couldn't tell him that I liked him, and he never knew.

IML: Ugh, that's tragic! These sound like situations that other tweens and teens can connect with. Did writing these songs allow you to work through your feelings about those situations?

Michaela: Definitely. Writing a song about something allows you to let out your emotions about it.

IML: How old were you when you first started playing music?

Michaela: I started singing when I was maybe 3 years old, just singing in church and to TV shows and things like that. I started piano lessons when I was about 8 years old. I started playing guitar when I was 9 or 10. That was when I really knew that I wanted to get serious about music.

IML: What was it about guitar that really clicked for you?

Michaela: I just liked the sound of it, it felt right. And it feels cool!

IML: The video for "Justin Bieber's Girlfriend" looks like it was very fun to shoot. Tell us about that experience!

Michaela: It was really exciting to shoot the video. I'd never done anything like that before. I got to try on a bunch of clothes to figure out what I was going to wear, that was a lot of fun. I got to get my makeup and hair done. The scenes with the cutouts were the most fun because we did that in public where there were people around and it was funny to see their weird stares!

IML: What are your thoughts on YouTube as a way for young artists to get themselves heard? Do you think some people have unrealistic expectations if they put up a video?

Michaela: I mean, anything is possible. There are a lot of people in the world. It's not like you're going to put up a video and you're instantly going to be famous. You have a one in a million chance. But because anything is possible...why not try?

IML: Who are your musical influences? Whose career would you like to have?

Michaela: Taylor Swift is my idol. She is in charge of what she does. When she's on her tour, she runs everything and it's her way. She isn't like a robot, people aren't telling her exactly what to do and how to do it. She just has really incredible fans and she's living the dream life.

IML: How do you feel about the possibility of becoming famous? Having a real music career. Does it scare you? Do you feel like you'll lose the chance to have a normal teenage experience?

Michaela: It kind of scares me. I don't want to get so caught up in it that I never get to see my friends or family. But it's just really something that I want to happen. It's a big dream of mine. If it were to happen, I would definitely make sure that I stayed myself and that I always get to see my family as much as possible, to have as normal a life as possible while it's all happening.

IML: Would you like young listeners to experience when they hear your music?

Michaela: I just want them to know that it's okay to be yourself and to express how you feel. Anything is possible and if you follow your dreams, they just might come true!

IML: That certainly seems to be happening for you! Thanks so much for giving us the chance to get to know you better, and good luck!

Michaela: Thank you!

You can learn more about Michaela at www.michaelawallacemusic.com and check out the notorious video here below!





One day + forever
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Last night's news about Osama bin Laden brings up some interesting things for us.

The most important, of course, is that a really, really bad guy has left the planet. Future crimes and violence and senseless deaths have hopefully been prevented. Families of terrorist victims can get feel some closure. Maybe now, for a short time anyway, the world will be a bit safer.

It's also a little coincidental because just days ago, an IML'er wrote to us to say that our section on 9/11 was totally outdated, because most of the tweens on our site are too young to remember it -- or may not have even been born yet! If that's you, then all this emotion surrounding Osama bin Laden may feel kind of weird. Obviously, it's not often that someone gets killed and millions rejoice (we hope it's once in a lifetime for all of us that there's a person who deserves that). But the events that changed the U.S. back in 2001 may just be something you read about in school or hear about from family members; maybe you feel like they don't affect you.

When we first started working on our "September 11th" section years ago -- it was around the 1st anniversary -- we really wanted the information to be "evergreen," meaning it would still be useful in the future. Looking at it now, we feel like we did that. We focused on the positive side of things and some of the advice, like the pages on tolerance and facing your fears, is important even unconnected to the terrorist attacks.

So today, we invite you to check out this section and maybe it will give you some better perspective on today's buzz:

Feeling Freaked Out
Maybe you're not afraid of new attacks, but this info applies to anything...especially natural disasters.

Media Madness
It seems like every week there's something upsetting that's all over our TV's, phones, and computers. Here's how to manage the blitz.

Celebrate Diversity
Oh, how we wish this would be beside the point 10 years after the attacks, but we're not sure it ever will be.

Sam and Harry's Story
If you want to know what it felt like to have your world really rocked by these events, meet Sam and Harry.

We DID update the You Said It page associated with this section; come on by and share your thoughts on how the world has changed since 9/11/01.