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Contest sends Hawaii duo to Grammys
BY GARY CHUN / firstname.lastname@example.org
A couple of Hawaii teenagers are currently enjoying a weekend in Los Angeles, thanks to being one of the top finalists in the “MusicCares Teens! Make Music” contest, sponsored by the Grammy Foundation in conjunction with Drugfree.org.
With the Grammy telecast happening on Sunday, Feb. 10, 18-year-old Colby Benson of Mililani High School and 14-year-old Haley Michelle Kagimoto of Punahou School (with Haley’s mom Robin as chaperone) will be treated, as part of their prize package, to a special backstage tour of the stage setup at the Staples Center starting Friday, Feb. 8, as well as peek in on artist rehearsals.
“I’m a huge fan of Ed Sheeran,” Haley said of the performing Grammy nominee today, Feb. 7, by phone in a joint interview with Colby from their room at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. “We also hope to see Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Maroon 5, and fun.”
At the time, the girls didn’t know if they were going to attend the Sunday evening ceremony in person, but were still excited to be in L.A. to receive their award certificates at a special luncheon, recognizing their second place song, “Change Who We’ll Become.” (The other winners include the first place “Psychological Cool Guy” by Utah high school senior Vinny Cavalcanti and junior Nick Miller, and third to Illinois senior Hannah Rand for “Starting Over.”)
The contest asked aspiring teen musicians to create original music that either accurately depicted drug abuse or celebrate healthy and inspirational living.
With Colby and Haley’s song, it can be argued that both criteria was met. Colby was mainly responsible for the bright pop melody and chord arrangement, with the two co-writing the lyrics addressing the dark, consequential side of drug use.
“We knew the song was going to be very serious,” said Colby, “but we wanted to be uplifting, too.”
“My mom’s friend is a drug counselor,” Haley said, “so I heard about the contest through her. I wanted to give it a go, but I didn’t want to do it by myself, so I called Colby, who I know is an amazing songwriter.”
After starting writing using the Skype video connection, they finished it up at a sleepover at the Benson home.
“We got it in just under the deadline,” remembered Colby. “My dad, who played drums on the song, was finishing up some final edits, including vocals that we had to re-record during those last days.”
The two girls originally met four years ago as students of local singer-actress Kristian Lei — Haley also trains with longtime vocal teacher Neva Rego — and they have already accumulated quite the individual résumés.
“Ever since I was 9 years old, I was never afraid of being on stage,” said Haley. “I started off in hula and then went on to singing. In 2012, I was the first place teen winner on ‘Hawaii Stars’ and first place for middle school in ‘Brown Bags to Stardom.’”
Colby started singing at 10 and in 2006 placed first in the “Hawaii Stars” keiki contest. And she’s no stranger to L.A. When she was 15, she made it to Hollywood Week on “American Idol,” but was cut right before the group round of competition.
“I auditioned online on MySpace, and when my dad and I got to L.A., it was really crazy,” she said. “It was my first time experiencing something that huge, so I didn’t know what to expect. But, eventually, I want to try out again.”
In the meantime, she’s playing with her older and younger sister, plus a close friend, in an all-female band named Crimson Apple. The band will play Feb. 23 at the Hard Rock Cafe in Waikiki, the venue that helped get Colby and Hailey their hotel accomodations. Crimson Apple last played there in November as part of the regular Sunday afternoon “Youth on Stage” concert series.