Jasmine Trias is a singer-entertainer and former American Idol finalist. Before taking part in a Smithsonian/Zócalo “What It Means to Be American” panel discussion supported by the Daniel K. Inouye Institute, entitled “Does Hawaii Have America’s Strongest Sense of Identity?” she spoke in the green room about Broadway musicals, stage fright, and finding a switch that would make people happy.
Where and when did you learn to swim?
My dad enrolled my brother and I in swimming lessons when we were seven or eight. My dad is a surfer, so he wanted to make sure we knew how to swim.
Do you surf?
I’m not a good surfer, but I can surf. My dad is definitely better.
When are you at your most creative?
When I’m on stage and I’m performing and I’m singing and I’m trying to express myself through music.
What was the first song you remember singing as a kid? Did you sing aloud at home when you were growing up?
I did, and my parents actually captured it on the old-school VHS video cameras. As a kid, my very first memory of singing was “Tomorrow,” from Annie. [breaks into the chorus] I think my mom made me watch that movie like a billion times as a babysitter, so that’s kind of stuck with me ever since.
Do you like musicals?
I do, but I didn’t actually start getting into them until recently when I went to New York for the first time, and I saw The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I was just blown away and so inspired. So every time I go to New York, I watch as many Broadway musicals as I possibly can.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve would probably be mess. I try to be organized and neat and tidy.
Did you have a childhood hero or heroine?
I would probably say Annie, because I watched that movie so much. I just loved how she stood up for herself and all of the other orphans. And she was really brave and had just a lot of courage in that movie. She really inspired me.
Was it scary the first time you got up on a stage?
Oh, yeah! It was terrifying. But you know, it was funny: When I auditioned for American Idol at 16, it was terrifying and nerve-wracking, but because I was so young it’s like ignorance is bliss, so I just kind of went for it. Now that I’m older, I feel like I’d be more terrified now than I would be to have done it at that younger age. But still, it was like being thrown into the lion’s den.
What superpower would you most like to have?
I think it would be to make people happy, like a switch to get them out of a bad mood or get them out of a rut.
Which person, living or dead, would you most want to have a beer with?
I would love to have a glass of wine with Whitney Houston. She was actually one of my biggest idols, growing up, and it’s just really sad that she’s not around anymore. She had one of the most incredible voices that we’ve ever gotten the opportunity to hear. She’s just someone that I wished I would’ve seen perform in person.
Was there a teacher or professor or voice coach who really influenced you?
Neva Rego. She’s one of the premier vocal coaches here in Hawaii. She actually teaches more like an operatic technique, a bel canto technique. And it was kind of strange for me at first to learn vocal lessons in that way, because I’m more of a pop singer. She kind of opened my mind to how important technique is, and how to make your voice strong in order to give your career longevity, and really making sure that I take care of my instrument.
What do you like best about being from Hawaii?
Everything, really. You know, I didn’t really appreciate being from Hawaii until I left. Because when you’re born and raised in paradise you have nothing else to compare it to; paradise is normal. It wasn’t until I was on the mainland, auditioning on American Idol—and especially in that environment, it’s so cutthroat—that I realized, “This is different!” And that’s when I realized that being from Hawaii is pretty special. I guess I’m the kind of person to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I think a lot of people are like that.