When we left off, Malia had caught the eye of Barry Manilow and had even won a Manilow Music Project Scholarship. We had to ask…
“How did you go from marketing intern and USC music student to now we’re hearing your songs all over the radio?”
She laughs, as if to indicate that it was not as simple as it sounds.
“Well…it definitely took a minute! Even to this day when I look at where I’m at, I’m so, so grateful to Garry (Kief) because I wouldn’t be able to be where I am without him. Barry taught me so much performance-wise, but then I learned how to build a team of people from working at STILETTO (the management company owned by Garry Kief, Barry’s manager).
“He would say, ‘You have to be with these people twenty-four/seven and if you’re on the road it’s just as important that you like the people you’re with as it is that they do their job well. That blew my mind because you always hear about people in the music industry who are mean but they’re really good at what they do and sometimes you have to deal with them being a jerk. That’s not the case at all, though, and I really took what I learned from Garry and that’s how I worked on formulating my team.
“I was at USC and I was in their a capella group. When I was a senior I found out this songwriter, Ross Golan, had been in the group about 15 years before me. Ross had just written “My House” for Flo Rida, “Same Old Love” for Selena Gomez, and “Dangerous Woman” for Ariana Grande was coming out the weekend that we had this 20th-anniversary celebration.”
Golan spotted Malia’s talent at the a capella party and asked for her tape. He saw her again soon when the acapella group was asked to sing at the BMI awards, where he and friend/producer J Kash won more awards than they could carry.
“I was so busy with school and I was the choreographer of the group too, so it didn’t even hit me how important this (performance) was until I got there. I looked out in the audience and Taylor Swift was sitting there by Carole King. Then, I was walking up to do my solo and I locked eyes with Jason Derulo and it all hit me right then, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really, really important! I can’t just fake my way through this!’ I had to make sure I was being the truest form of myself as a singer and artist.”
The pressure of performing for a room full of superstars was no match for Malia, who wowed Golan and Kash.
“Ross (Golan) was there with J (Kash) and he basically never left the stage because he was winning awards the whole night. After the show, Ross said J wanted to meet me and he offered me a publishing deal.”