Former Hawaii girl to star in 'Bratz' movie
By Diane S.W. Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Diane S.W. Lee
Mark Parrish planned to take the family when he heard that the Broadway musical "Phantom of the Opera" was coming to Honolulu 13 years ago. He bought the soundtrack, playing the CD in the car during family outings — a way to familiarize his family with the operatic tunes and orchestra arrangements before the show.
On one morning drive to his daughter's preschool, a powerful, soprano voice echoed "Think of Me" in his ears — as if the leading actress Sarah Brightman sat next to him.
He turned to the backseat, where his daughter Janel, then 5 years old, had her eyes closed and mouth wide open, singing along with the duet.
Mark Parrish remembers the moment as if it were yesterday.
"She was singing along in perfect pitch," he said. "At 4, (I knew) she wanted to perform, but at 5, I realized that she had a pretty good singing voice for such a young age."
Janel Parrish showed an enthusiasm for Broadway musicals and displayed a knack for performing in shows — she won a statewide singing contest at the age of 6, followed by her debut in theater as Little Cosette in "Les Misérables" on Broadway and Honolulu.
As a teen, she and her family moved to California so that she could pursue a career in movies and music.
Now 18, she will make her film debut in a movie that brings the wildly popular fashion dolls the Bratz to life.
She also has a solo album, distributed by Geffen Records, in the works.
"It's insane," said the former Kane'ohe resident about her life, now swamped with media interviews, photo shoots and studio recordings.
She's on the road traveling, promoting her upcoming movie across the U.S. and abroad in the U.K., where fans root for her; screaming, cheering and chanting her name.
"I see myself everywhere now; I see myself on buses, magazines and billboards," Parrish said. "I feel like I'm somebody now, but I still feel like myself — a little island girl from Hawai'i."
It's been nearly four years since she left the Islands, and she finds that she still misses her family and friends.
"I still consider Hawai'i my home, but for doing what I want to do (acting and singing) I have to be in L.A.," said Parrish, who visits at least once a year.
AN EARLY START
Mark Parrish recalled his daughter performing at the age of 4 on the steps of their Kane'ohe home, dressed in a different outfit every day, singing songs she made up into a red toy microphone.
"And that was the first hint that my wife and I had that it seemed to be in her blood that she wanted perform," Mark Parrish said. "That was the start of it all, and then she wanted to listen to musicals all the time."
When other kindergartners sang nursery songs, Janel Parrish belted out songs from musicals like "Annie," recalled Carol Nishita, a music teacher from Moanalua Elementary School.
Nishita, 50, said Janel stood out from her peers.
"I remember her well, because she came to kindergarten full of smiles," Nishita recalled. "You could tell she was exposed to a lot of music at home and she had some training with her voice. She kinda stood out with her personality and charisma."
Mark Parrish said his daughter was clearly talented, but she had to show a strong desire and work ethic.
"This was her dream and she seemed to have some talents; we never pushed her, but we encouraged her," he said. "The desire and work ethic had to equal the talent level; otherwise we wouldn't have moved."
"I've always loved musicals, it was definitely my inspiration," Janel Parrish said. "Within the next five years, I would love to do Kim in 'Miss Saigon,' but hopefully it comes back to Broadway."
But despite her ambition, it was hard making the move from Hawai'i to California, where she had to adjust to new places and faces, and transitioned from going to public school to being home-schooled.
In Hollywood, casting directors didn't quite know what to make of her. Her hapa ethnicity of half Chinese and half Caucasian made it difficult for them to place her in television shows and match her with families.
"I was getting discouraged because I was really close to getting a part (but didn't)," she said. "I thought I made a mistake in moving from Hawai'i to L.A."
Her father, 56, and mother, Joanne, 55, offered her support throughout the years.
"I think that's just the reality of the way that it is, the Asian or hapa culture is never going to be mainstream Hollywood," Mark Parrish said. "I think you just have to be that much more ready when the opportunity presents itself, because there's not going to be as much opportunities for Asian or hapa or as many parts as it would be for Caucasians."
But when Janel hit 17, everyone liked her look; it was different, she said.
A SONGWRITER, TOO
As a young actor, Janel Parrish says she feels a connection with her "Bratz" character, Jade, who is creative and outgoing, fights peer pressure, learns to be true to herself and lives out her dreams and aspirations — many things Parrish has dealt with growing up as a teenager.
When Parrish discovered she landed a leading role in the movie, she screamed. "And I went out and bought my doll — I have about four Jades now," she said.
The part showcases her many talents: "It was just a dream role; I got to sing, dance, act and perform," Parrish said.
The story is about four young women, who come to represent honesty, camaraderie and friendship, she said.
"I just love the message of the movie, and I never expected a song that I wrote was going to be in the movie," she said.
When the credits roll at the end of the Lionsgate film, Parrish's music video "Rainy Day," will play. On it, she sings and plays the piano. Parrish wrote the song for the finale, and says it's based on real-life experience — heartaches and messy breakups with ex-boyfriends.
Parrish said she's not planning to date again anytime soon. She's working on plans for her solo album. And she's focused on promoting her movie.
While the Bratz dolls have been criticized by some parents as seeming too sexual for a toy aimed at elementary school-aged girls, Parrish's father said the film is meant to appeal to all ages — children and adults alike.
"We're aware that some parents have felt that the dolls are not as wholesome as Barbie dolls," Mark Parrish said. "Any parent who sees the movie is going to be pleased: It has a great message for kids, humor, emotions, and action that all kids will enjoy, and I think parents will not object."