KAPAA — Pearl Michel is the happiest when she is making music.
“Music makes me feel a way I don’t feel when I’m doing anything else,” she said. “Vocals and piano are my main instruments.”
Michel, a junior at Kapaa High School, has been playing the piano since she was 4-years-old and has been writing her own songs since she was 12.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the music scene, and I used to idolize signers,” she said. “I once told my mom I wanted to be just like Beyonce.”
Michel’s father, Henry, remembers when the National Anthem could be heard around the house.
“I heard her singing the National Anthem, and I asked her what she was doing, and she told me she was practicing for the half-time show,” he said. “She was already thinking ahead.”
Michel got her start in songwriting by writing parodies of pop songs. One, called “I Popped my Tire” was a parody of “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys.
As a high school student, Michel pursued her singing and songwriting talents by signing up for the music tech, or songwriting class, taught by Catherine Lei Paleka.
Michel signed up for the class as a freshman, which was the first year the class was offered, Lei Paleka, performing arts director for Kapaa High School, said.
“Her voice is very easy to listen to,” Lei Paleka said. “The art of singing has been lost because people try to get attention (with auto-tune). She stands out; she’s the female version of John Mayer.”
Recently, Michel’s talents caught the attention of teachers at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Berklee’s alumni include John Mayer, Natalie Maines, from The Dixie Chicks and Ben McKee, of Imagine Dragons.
Last month, Michel found out she was accepted to the five-week summer performance program.
To audition, Michel sent in a video of her performing two songs, one she wrote herself, called “It Would’ve Been You,” and “Worthy,” by Jacob Banks.
“I was really excited when I found out I got in,” she said.
As part of the program, which begins in July, Michel will be taking singing and songwriting classes, as well as a music business elective.
This is the first time in 20 years that one of Kapaa High School’s music students have been accepted to the program, Le Paleka said.
“It’s my job now to make sure her music theory knowledge is up to par with what she will be facing,” she said.
But the program comes at a $8,000 price-tag. That price doesn’t include airfare.
Because of the hefty price, Michel’s father set up a GoFundMe account for her, and he is looking at getting funding from non-profit groups like The Lions Club.
As of Tuesday, the GoFundMe account had a total of $1,250 worth of donations.
“She’s going, no matter what—even if that means we have to sell a car,” Henry said. “We’ll do whatever it takes.”
Henry, who took a leave of absence from his job as a deputy principal in Kuwait to be with Michel as she was going through back surgery, said the money wouldn’t be a problem if he had is administrative job.
“But I teach surf lessons now,” he said. “If I had my other job, it’d be easier.”
Michel, who has lived on Kauai with her mother for 10 years, was diagnosed with severe scoliosis, and underwent major back surgery in December 2014.
It took Michel about three months to fully recover, and she still has two metal rods in her back.
“It really changed me,” she said. “It was a hard time, so I had to mature faster.”
But songwriting helped her get through it.
“It was a sort of therapy,” she said.
Songwriting is her go-to when she’s sad, Michel added.
“I consider music a therapy; I always feel better after I write,” she said.
Michel, who considers herself a better songwriter than a singer, wants to pursue a degree in songwriting at Berklee College of Music.
“I know I’m going to love it over there,” she said.
More info: gofundme.com/hcwfb2ys
To see Michel’s audition to the summer performance program, go to: http://bit.ly/23YTc5T