Category: Interviews

Ananya Birla crusades for better mental health and becomes India’s first Platinum artist in English

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Ananya Birla is a rising pop-star from India. She is the first artist to achieve Platinum status in India with english-language songs (“Meant To Be” and “Hold On“) and recently released a third song called “Circles“with Universal and Island Records UK — which also just went Platinum! She has worked with Afrojack and Mood Melodies, shared the stage with Coldplay at Global Citizen, and gained over 40 million views on her Vevo. She splits her time between London and Mumbai.

She also runs a mental health initative focused on young people. After battling her own mental health issues while studying at Oxford, Ananya launched Mpower – which works towards dispelling the stigma associated with mental health illnesses and provides care in India.

Let’s find out more about her career and how she overcame her past struggles in our Q&A below!

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Hi Ananya, nice to e-meet you. Before we get into your work as a singer, entrepreneur and mental health advocate, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a singer-songwriter from India. I spend about half of my time in the US, and the other half in Mumbai. I love travel, guitar, yoga and spending time with my friends, family and puppy Skai.

I run a mental health initiative in India, MPower, which provides treatment and campaigns to get rid of the stigma around mental illness. I also founded an organization called Svatantra when I was 17, which lends money to women in rural India to help them start businesses and become independent.

Great! US audiences might not be very familiar with you yet…so can you fill us in on some of your notable work and achievements in the music industry?

I spent a while gigging and doing open-mic nights around London when I was at college, before I released my first single at the end of 2016 with Universal Music. Since then, I have released three more songs, worked and performed with amazing artists around the world, and reached over 100m streams.

Last year, I became the first home-grown artist to go Platinum in India with an English song, which I have managed to do three times now with my songs Meant To Be, Hold On and Circles.

What are the biggest differences between being an artist in India and the US?

Bollywood music kind of rules the music scene in India, and other genres like pop, hip hop and rap can get squeezed out. It can feel like artists are pushed to fit-in and be the same as everyone else, whereas in the US people embrace musicians that are new and different. I love that there is so much talent here, working on all types of different music – there is something for everyone.

What is Mpower all about and how does it help people?

I battled with my mental health when I was at university in the UK. It was a really tough time and it was made worse because I was too scared to talk to anyone about the way I was feeling, thinking they might undermine my ability or see me differently.

I was very lucky to eventually get the support that I needed. But when I returned to India the issues around mental health seemed even worse. Because of the lack of awareness and investment, it is so difficult for people there to get help.

I created MPower because I wanted to change that by campaigning and providing care for people living with mental health issues who are too often ignored or discriminated against. We have built a world-class care centre and we also run big awareness-raising music concerts, which bring together thousands of people from all over India.

MPower is focused on India, but the message is a global one – we need to stamp out the stigma around mental illness.

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How can people take advantage of what Mpower has to offer?

Although mental illness is just as common as physical illness, it is surrounded by shame and fear which isolates people when they need support the most. With Mpower, we want people to feel that it is OK to not be OK sometimes. And for them to know that there is help available should they need it.

When people are struggling they can either come to our amazing care centre, speak with one of our team members on the phone or even reach out online. Increasingly people are getting in touch with me or the organisation via social media which is great because it is so accessible, especially for young people.

We are still in our early stages, but already we see more and more people opening up about their mental health without feeling misplaced shame. We plan to continue to expand across India, opening centres and engaging with more schools and colleges to teach them how they can support people who are struggling.

Why do you think mental health issues are seemingly increasing among young people?

I think young people today are under a huge amount of pressure – from their parents, communities, schools, and from themselves. It can leave people feeling like they’re never quite good enough.

Social media also plays a big part. It can give you unrealistic expectations and lead you to compare yourself to others. It’s sad that whilst we have social media and the internet and we’re communicating and connecting digitally all the time, our generation seems to be feeling isolated and lonely, perhaps more than ever before….

It’s still the case that huge numbers of teens with mental health issues are suffering alone and in silence. But, I think that people are starting to get more confident about coming forward, identifying how they are struggling, and seeking help. It is so inspiring to see more and more people speaking out and ‘owning’ their mental health.

At Oxford, you experienced panic attacks. What exactly did panic attacks feel like when you were experiencing them?

I experienced anxiety and panic attacks whilst at school in England. It’s a combination of emotional and physical feelings and everyone experiences them slightly differently. For me, it was overwhelming fear, a pounding heart, shortness of breath. There were days I felt too overwhelmed to leave the house.

How did you get better?

The first step in getting better was accepting that there was a problem. Once you do that, you can begin to understand the issue and find methods to help yourself. For me, things like deep breathing, regular exercise, yoga, spending time with my friends, and taking a digital detox were helpful.

Once I had acknowledged it, I was able to talk about it with people close to you. It is tough to open up at first, but sharing something you’ve been keeping to yourself for a long time can feel like a weight has been lifted. I also came across friends who had experienced similar things which made me feel less alone.

If it is available to you, talking to a professional is the best possible way to equip yourself with the tools to manage these issues. There is a wonderful sanctity about therapy. And, whilst it can be daunting to open up to a stranger, having an outside opinion and the security of confidentiality can be extremely reassuring.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced so far as an entrepreneur?

When I launched Svatantra at 17, the finance industry was dominated by experienced, middle-aged men. Even my own team was much older than me! I had to prove that I was willing to learn, and that I had a strong enough vision to see it through and get back on my feet if I made a mistake. I reinvented myself daily, getting tougher, stronger and more committed to making Svatantra the business it is today and delivering a positive impact.

And what do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?

All my songs are so personal to me and are generally based on own experiences and I think my fans recognize that. Nothing makes me happier than when I get a message from a fan who says that they connected to my music and that it made something that they are going through a little bit easier. That feels like the biggest achievement to me.

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You were born to a wealthy family. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have of you because of that?

Some people assume that my life might be easy and that I don’t have challenges or worries. I have been very lucky to be born in to a family that has achieved a lot, but it doesn’t mean that it has been a totally smooth ride. Particularly, growing up came with all the usual emotional and social challenges; the self-doubt, the feeling ‘not good enough’. Plus I had the pressure of living up to what my family has done, and having people I didn’t even know constantly questioning my decisions and direction.

I have always wanted to be independent and carve my own path. I get so much emotional support and love from my family, and that’s all I really need.

If you could go back in time and give only ONE piece of advice to your teenage self, what would you say to yourself?

Have confidence in your ability, take risks, and listen to your heart.

Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you?

I am totally obsessed with sneakers!

Biggest pet peeve?


Favorite food?

Hummus. On everything. All the time.

Secret fear?

Losing a friend. My last song Circles was a celebration of friendship, I truly believe it is the most magical and powerful force in the universe.

What’s the last movie you watched, and give me a review…but you can only use TWO WORDS for the review : )

Bohemian Rhapsody – Iconic and Inspiring

The one thing I cannot live without is__________.


Most embarrassing moment IRL you wish you could do over?

I have a habit of tripping over at the worst times. I can be a bit clumsy! This included an awkward fall at some big event in India in front of a pretty prominent audience which included former UK Prime Minister David Cameron…

What else are you working on or have coming up next?

My next single is out in January and then my EP a little later in the year, which I am working on right now in LA.

Could we get a selfie of whatever you are doing at the moment? It’s something we ask to keep it real for the fans!

ananya birla selfie

Follow Ananya:

Scarlet Grace from ‘Holmes and Watson’ Q&A

Scarlet Grace (@thescarletgrace on Twitter) just turned 16, but this English teen’s already got an impressive resume as a theatrical actress, having played young Eponine in Les Miserables London and Tessie in the UK TOUR of Annie. Her film work includes small roles in “Paddington 2” and “Milk,” but this Christmas she appears in her first major supporting role on the big screen, playing Pickle in the new Sony Pictures movie “Holmes and Watson” alongside a huge star cast: Will Ferrell, John C Reilly, Ralph Fiennes, Kelly MacDonald, Hugh Laurie, Rob Brydon and Lauren Lupkus.

We asked Scarlet a few questions so you get to know her better. Scroll down for the Q&A!

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Hi Scarlet, nice to e-meet you (and happy 16th birthday BTW)! Before we get into your work as an actress, tell us a little bit about yourself outside of show biz.

Hey there! Thank you for interviewing me! 🙂 Thank you for my birthday wishes! I had a fun birthday! Well…… I’m a 16 year old actress based in the UK! I love anything to do with acting, singing and dancing; it’s practically my life! I even attend a full time Drama School in London, which I travel to everyday to study drama, film studies, photography, and all basic core subjects! When I’m not acting on the stage or screen, I love to spend time with my friends and family and shop! A LOT!!!

Great! You have a role in the upcoming movie Holmes and Watson. Tell us about your character and the film itself.

Holmes and Watson is a comedic take on Sherlock Holmes! Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play the iconic duo, using their brilliant minds to stop the evil genius James Moriarty from assassinating the Queen of England!

I LOVED playing the role of Pickle. Such a fun character to play due to how cheeky and mischievous she is! She’s such a challenging role to take on which is the best part about her! Pickle’s personality is quite different to mine, due to the era in which the film is set and her role in society, enabling me to experiment with her as a character and play her in my own way! I’m so excited for the film to be released and for the world to meet Pickle

Why do you think teens are going to want to watch it?

Well, all teens love a good comedy, and Holmes and Watson is just that! I think people of all ages will want to watch this film because it’s super entertaining and it’s never been done before! When most people think of Sherlock Holmes, they’d think of a serious drama, but Holmes and Watson is the complete opposite, with two of the most well-known comedic actors in the industry playing the most hilarious leading roles!

What was the best part about filming it?

The best part about filming was definitely being able to work alongside an incredible cast and crew. Everyone on set was honestly so nice, and I know that I’ve made some life-long friends!

Any funny moments on set you can share?

Working on a comedy film, there’s bound to be tons of hilarious behind the scene moments, it’s impossible to choose! Since we were playing filthy street urchins, we had to pick-pocket quite a lot throughout the film, so we used our skills in pick-pocketing to sneakily steal things out of the crew’s pockets and wait for them to notice! It was so funny! We always gave it back though. haha!!

What has been your most memorable show biz moment so far?

One of the most memorable show biz moments for me so far has to be when my team in Annie were chosen to perform at West End Live back in 2017! I played the part of Tessie in Annie at The Piccadilly Theatre in London. West End Live is a huge show in Trafalgar Square, with a number from every Musical in the West End performing! Our whole team were so excited to perform in front of a whopping 10,000 people! It was such an incredible experience, the crowd were buzzing as we sang Hard Knock Life, it’s a moment I’ll never forget!

Why exactly are you an actress? It is a tough job, so what is the payoff for you personally?

There are so many reasons as to why I’m an actress! I would like to say I have a huge imagination, which I use to put myself in another character’s shoes to fully take on a role that may be similar or completely different to who I am! I guess the reason why I love acting is because I’m able to tell a story through becoming another character, and living that person’s life! And the buzz which you feel from an audience member or the public, watching you in Film or TV is incredible! Just to know that you’ve delivered a story or a message to someone is such a great feeling and they’ve understood it, is the best feeling!

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced so far in this industry?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far in this industry is becoming very close to getting a role and then not hearing anything! But that’s just the name of the game; everyone faces rejection in their life time! But you just have to pick yourself up and go for the next role! I think everything happens for a reason, and when one door shuts, another one opens!

And your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment is definitely landing the roles I’ve been fortunate to play so far! I’m extremely grateful that I’ve been able to perform in 2 West End Musical Productions in London in-front of live audiences, 2 huge WEST END concerts in front of a 10,000 audience and a Nationwide Tour travelling the country and lots of other works I’ve loved……. but my all-time favourite would have to be working on set in Holmes and Watson, surrounded by hundreds of people working together for the same outcome! I’m just so thankful that I’ve had the experience to work in both theatre and film!

You split your time between London and Florida, right? For each location, tell me what you like most and least.

I love the U.K and the U.S! They are so different though, so there are definitely a lot of pros and cons for both! The UK is where I’ve been brought up, and I’ve lived here my whole life, surrounded by my family and friends! But I do spend vast amounts of time in Florida where we have had our family home for around 7 years now and we also have friends and family in the States and the U.K. It’s hard to choose but I really do love the U.S, to me it’s such an amazing country full of so many opportunities! I love the weather also in Florida!

If you could pass one law that everyone on the planet had to follow without question, what would it be and why?

Mine would be to make bullying illegal in any form at any age, as I’ve seen and been subject to it at some point and have seen first-hand the emotional problems it can create and the effect it can have on the individual.

Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m an absolute shopaholic!!! Whenever I walk into a shop I like, I literally want… everything! It’s hard to control myself. lol!

Biggest pet peeve?

Definitely when I’m eating or drinking something and someone asks to have some too!!! I’m such a germaphobe; I hate sharing my food or drink with people!!

Favorite food?

My favourite food is probably ice-cream! Any flavour literally! My favourites are chocolate, honey comb, and mint!

Secret fear?

I’m super scared of rats or mice! When I get the train to school sometimes they have little mice on the platform, and I pretty much scream at every one I see!

What’s the last movie you watched, and give me a review…but you can only use TWO WORDS for the review : )

“Good Will Hunting”; the film was powerful and outstanding! Plus I love Leonardo Dicaprio. 😉 Shhhh!

The one thing I cannot live without is__________.

The one thing I cannot live without are my dogs Poppy and Bella! I love them more than words can describe!

Please take a selfie and send!

scarlet grace holmes and watson

Find Scarlet online at


Free2Luv’s Unstoppable Tour de Force Cirque Highlights and Interviews

@Free2Luv, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting bullying, hosted the fundraiser Unstoppable Tour de Force Cirque at the Regent in downtown Los Angeles November 3rd. The event featured a team of young cirque artists including aerialists, jugglers and contortionists as well as plenty of young Hollywood celebrities and influencers united to speak out against bullying, share their stories, and give advice to others who are experiencing bullying.

Interviewed on the Free2Luv Unstoppable red carpet: Josh Richards, Nathan Triska, Curtis Newbill, Ava Michelle Cota, Janeshia Adams-Ginyard, Dr. Gloria Chance, Dalton Cyr, Norton Leufven, Kennedy Madison, Serena Laurel, Briana Roy, Georgia Bryan, Sunnie Pelant, Jocelyn Hunt, Nash Abrahams, Ava Long, Emerald Gordon Wulf, Royal Grotta, Chris Garcia, Miah Green, Julianne Collins, Lola Raie, Kate Polsfut, Britten Healey, Levi Petuela, Jason Drucker, Ryan Drucker, Kate Tomlinson, Takaya Abdou Lloyd, Kash Hovey, Danielle Palmer, Faith Ziegler, Kristi Tucker, Adrian Dev, Kayden Grace Swan, Rory Ogden, Isabella Leon, Megan Skiendiel, Stephanie Gonzalez, Jaydyn Price, Grayson Kilpatrick, Abrielle Cummings, Kobe Gosselin, Anderson Zane, Justin Price, Hunter Payton, Brodie Chadhury, Journey Slayton, Savannah Liles


Ethan Paisley – remarkable teen auteur shares his passions, inspirations and more

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If you haven’t heard about Ethan Paisley, take note. This 18-year-old filmmaker has already had two films selected at Cannes Film Festival, given a TED talk, and won the “Best Young Director” award at the Young Entertainer Awards. These are just a few of his accomplishments, which you can read more about on his website.

As evidenced by the Q&A we did, which you can read below, Ethan is thoughtful, well-spoken and driven…and it is great to see a teen with such passion for his work. If he keeps it up and manages to avoid Hollywood’s many traps and vices, he undoubtedly has a very bright future ahead of him as a creative force in this industry. Excited to see where his talents and persistence take him!

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Now onto the Q&A.

1. Hi Ethan, nice to e-meet you! Before we get into your work as a filmmaker, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello! I’m an 18 year old writer, producer, student, wannabe dancer, dim sum connaisseur, and all-around freakshow. I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area but now I’m based in LA. I currently produce for PaperChase Films, one of the minds behind The Kindergarten Teacher (available on Netflix), and I’m also pursuing a BFA in Creative Producing at Chapman University.

2. Great. For people who don’t know you, tell us how you got into making movies.

I started as an actor when I was really young. I was also exposed to YouTube when I was really young. So when I was competing to book TV shows, I gave up and decided to make one of my own online. This is where I self-taught filmmaking and augmented my talent for pairing creative thinking with marketing and public relations strategy. After I harassed every production company and student film production in San Francisco to let me be an extra, PA, whatever, I decided to make my first feature film The Art of Escape at 14 years old. The failures and successes that came from that project, and how I handled them, helped me identify my passion for working in the capacity of a producer.

3. Which film of yours are you most proud of, and what makes it stand out to you most?

Today, the slate of content I’m working on is extremely diverse in terms of genre and story which is very exciting to me. I will have a better answer in six months … that said, to date, my baby is my short film Indelible. Indelible stands out because it is the most distant from my personal life experience but also the most personal at the same time. It’s a film about a PTSD stricken war vet who time travels back to the war front to overcome his trauma. I have no relationship to the military, PTSD, or the sci-fi genre, but I do have experience self-isolating based on my fears of what others will think. This is what the protagonist in my film does, and the consoling message that comes from this in the film is that there will always be people who care. Further, this film was made by 50% women and men, and there is a ratio of 3:1 people of color we see represented on screen. It was a really rewarding experience!

4. Is there anything you have created which makes you cringe a little? What is it and what’s cringey about it?

Cringe is my middle name! My friends tell me I’m too hard on myself but I disagree. Every film is a learning experience, and it’s important to embrace the cringiness everytime as painful as it might be. The best example is a movie I made in eighth grade called Saladcide, and yes you read that right. I made a movie about salad getting revenge on America for it’s obesity crisis. My goal was to make the worst movie possible and hopefully grow some sort of cult following around it. I was going through a time when I was really into parody movies and bad comedies, because they demonstrated that filmmaking was possible from any angle. This was a great learning experience in putting something out there and not caring what anyone would think, which is a practice I still take very seriously today.

5. Why exactly are you a filmmaker? It is very tough work to make films…so what is the payoff for you personally?

I’m a filmmaker because I revel in the process. As a producer, you have to love people, organizing people, and leading everyone towards something greater than themselves. I find great community in this process. Personally, I have to live, breathe, and die on community if it means being happy. That’s the payoff: it makes me happy!

6. What’s your overall goal – like what do you want to achieve long term as an artist?

I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now and continue to tell better and better stories. I’m still finding my voice as an artist and that’s what I want to focus on doing. Hollywood moves so fast and success is so temporary. What excites me now is getting to know myself better as an artist. I just started college. Who knows what kinds of stories I’ll be telling four years down the line and what my goals will be then!

7. Which is your go-to camera to shoot with? Why?

As a producer, that’s something I discuss with my director. I don’t go near cameras unless it means renting or returning them to a facility that lends them out. Anything around tech intimidates me.

8. What’s your favorite “bad” film (like Plan 9 from Outer Space)?

On Rotten Tomatoes it’s bad but in my heart it’s gold: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is really one for the books in my opinion. Everything about it is so extra and fabulous. It’s set in New York City. And Lindsay Lohan sings, dances, and acts in it. What’s not to love?

9. And favorite film overall?

It’s a gamble between Rosemary’s Baby and Howl’s Moving Castle. I love stories that are fantastical, surreal, and challenge societal norms.

10. Which filmmakers or creators do you look up to most?

Sofia Coppola, Frederico Fellini, Roman Polanski, Hayao Miyazaki, Ingmar Bergman, and anyone behind the latest HBO mini-series’ or Black Mirror.

11. What does your production company name, Take18, represent?

This is the production company I made in high school, and Take18 was meant to represent how everyone who worked within the company was under 18. Now we’re all over 18 doing different things but the name still sticks! On one of our feature films Point 453, we actually had a party during one of our shoots for hitting 18 takes on one of the shots.

12. What’s the biggest challenge you have faced so far in this industry?

Staying on your own path, not comparing yourself to others, staying patient, and being selective about what you work on. In other words, slowing down. Especially now with social media, everyone is always sharing something, and it really adds to the pressure of the grind that Hollywood promotes. It’s not always true that hard work pays off, and it’s much more important to me now to create one good thing that yields a large effect rather than a bunch of little things that may or may not do anything in the world. These are the lessons I’m learning everyday.

13. And your biggest accomplishment?

Learning the distribution process and connecting four films to worldwide distribution is definitely my biggest accomplishment. My two feature films The Art of Escape and Point 453 are available for streaming in 86+ countries worldwide on platforms including Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play. Two of my shorts Indelible and Wilted were recently acquired for distribution by KQED and Distribber. It’s an arduous, painful process but I got to travel to Cannes, LA, New York a lot for sales meetings last year. Next year I might be going to Hong Kong for FILMART and I’m thrilled but also daunted.

14. If you had the power to write, direct and star in your own movie with an unlimited budget, what would you call it and what would it be about?

I really want to work on Big Little Lies or anything written and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. So when he wants to make his first feature he should hit me up!

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15. Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m an introvert and I crave my alone time. I’m also a cross country runner and I run about 3-5 miles everyday. I’m getting into meditation lately and taking more time for me.

16. Biggest pet peeve?

Too many to count. People repeatedly kicking the seat in class, people who make weird noises when they sleep, leaving me on read, the list goes on …

17. Favorite food?

DIM SUM! Or Sushi. I love Asian cuisine with a burning passion.

18. Secret fear?

That everyone secretly hates me and that I will never be as successful as I want to be, and that I will be single for the rest of my life 🙂

19. What’s the last movie you watched, and give me a review…but you can only use TWO WORDS for the review : )

A Simple Favor: Beautiful Joke.

20. The one thing I cannot live without is__________.

My phone. Yep. I said it.

21. Most embarrassing moment IRL you wish you could do over?

Everyday is an embarrassing moment! No for real, I’m a total mess. I wish I could redo everytime I’ve messed up in a meeting or on a date because obviously that might change the course of my life for the better. But I have faith that everything happens for a reason.

22. What else are you working on or have coming up next?

Right now I’m pitching two hilarious TV Shows with some fabulous writers attached, I’m in pre-production for a couple features, and I’m developing some really exciting scripts with PaperChase. I’m sworn to secrecy on most everything but follow me on social media @ethanbpaisley for more updates as they come!

23. Could we get a selfie of whatever you are doing at the moment? It’s something we ask to keep it real for the fans!

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Follow Ethan Paisley:

Beautychickee Christina Marie TEENA Skincare Launch Party Exclusive Interviews!

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Popular YouTube beauty guru Christina Marie, better known as @Beautychickee, has just launched her skincare line with her “Clar-i-ty” facial cleanser. To celebrate, the 19-year-old threw an exclusive party at the posh Mondrian Hotel in L.A. for a few of her friends and fellow influencers.

TWK’s Keira Pena got the exclusive scoop, interviewing Christina and a few of her VIP guests. The vibe was amazing and so was the food, with passed crab cakes, flatbread, and cucumber slices topped with hummus complementing a robust charcuterie spread (that’s a fancy word for sliced cured meats, like salami). There was also a great dessert table with dipped strawberries, raspberry-topped cupcakes, macarons, and pink gummies and M&M’s, among others. Pink was definitely the theme!

We are looking forward to seeing what’s next for BeautyChickee!

Appearing in the vid besides Christina Marie: Ally Hardesty, Kiara Marie, Olivia Cara, Adyel Juergensen, Isabel Bina, Alara Bowsher, Brian Frank

Follow Christina Marie (BeautyChickee)

Follow TEENA Skincare

Ava Cota: Former Dance Moms Star Builds Her Own Empire at Age 16

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Ava Michelle Cota (@avamichelle2002 on Twitter) seems to be on a mission. At just 16 years old, the “Dance Moms” veteran is absolutely killing it on the creative front as not only is she a professional model and dancer, but she also has a forthcoming EP as well as a sporty/chic collaboration clothing line, “AVA x JMS” with talented designer Jonathan Marc Stein. She also has plans to tour the US teaching master classes at various dance studios that will be open to all levels of dancers. This is a lot for an adult to take on, let alone a teenager!

All hasn’t been roses for Ava however. Standing 6 feet tall, she’s experienced extensive bullying because of her height, and was even dropped from Abby Lee Miller’s squad because she was “too tall.” She is committed, however, to turning this into a positive by spreading the message of self-love and body positivity wherever she can.

We got the chance to interview her so you get to know her a little better and hopefully get motivated to pursue your own dreams with as much passion as she does. Scroll down for our exclusive Q&A with Ava Cota!

ava michelle cota dance moms2  All images: Ava Cota

Hi Ava, nice to e-meet you! Before we get into your new projects, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hey! I am a 16 year old, dancer, singer/songwriter, model and actress! I grew up in a really small town in Michigan but just recently relocated to Los Angeles! I absolutely love what I do and love my fans so so much!

Okay! So you are widely known as a dancer from Dance Moms of course, but not many know you sing also, and will be releasing your debut EP soon. What made you decide to transition to singing, and are you nervous about how your music will be received?

I have actually been singing since I was very little but it was something that was always kind of on the back burner. I always loved to sing but songwriting is really new to me! It was amazing to find another way to express myself. These songs are very personal to me and I cannot wait to share!

Tell us about the EP and what the process of writing it and putting it together was like.

Like I said songwriting is something that is new to me, but most of my songs are about what I have gone thru in the past year or so. Most of them came when I was just overflowing with emotion and needed a way to get them out. But now being able to hear songs that I wrote become a whole production that could be on the radio is so rewarding!

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As if that weren’t enough to keep you busy, you also have a new clothing line coming out right? Please tell us all about it!

Yes I do! I am collaborating with Jonathan Marc Stein, a designer I met at LA fashion week a couple years ago! It is a sporty/chic line, kinda my everyday style mixed with a little more couture!!! I cannot wait for everyone to see it!

Did they come to you with designs for you to approve, or did you draw stuff yourself for the line? How does that work?

Jonathan and I sat down and made many sketches and mood boards, I’ve gone to the fabric store and have been a part of the entire process! Whenever I’m collaborating with someone I want to make sure that I am hands on. I have learned so much during this process, it has been an amazing experience

Do you still talk to the girls from Dance Moms? If so, who do you chat with the most?

Yes I do! It’s awesome because a lot of us moved out to LA together. I talk to Nia, Maddie, Mckenzie, and Jojo probably the most! I am so happy for them and proud of all of their success! I’m so glad we can be out here supporting each other!

Are you still carrying any bitterness from being cut from Abby Lee Miller’s dance squad for “being too tall?” To get hit with such a negative blow regarding your appearance at such a young age must have been terrible—so what helped you deal with it?

I have definitely grown a lot as a human since then. I do not have any bitterness towards Abby and honestly wish her well. Yes, it was very difficult hearing these things at a young age, but social media was probably the worst. I had a lot of people attacking the way I looked but also just attacking me in general because I was a competitor. This was really hard to go through, but I found that self-love was the thing that helped me through it all. Also finding the people that love you and support you and surrounding yourself with them has been a huge game changer!

What was the biggest lesson you’ve learned from being on that show?

If you love something then go for it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, are not good enough, or don’t fit into the mold they have created in their heads. If you love something enough you can do anything. The experience on Dance Moms made me so so strong.

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And the most rewarding part of the whole experience?

I am so thankful for the experience! It really opened my eyes to what is out there. Being from a small town I didn’t really understand what I could do with my talent and the things I love. I would not be where I am at all without the show.

You are a crusader for anti-bullying causes and self-acceptance. What do you think is the single best way for teens to guard themselves against the negative effects of bullying—because let’s be honest, there will always be mean people around and you cannot really stop the whole world from saying hurtful things.

I totally agree. It’s hard, because a lot of people say block out the haters but from my point of view that is impossible. As humans we take in every word that someone says about us and blocking them out is just not dealing with them. The thing that helped me get through this was finding self-love. It is an amazing thing, once you have this you are confident enough in yourself to know that those comments don’t matter because you are perfect just the way you are.

Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you.

I absolutely love to cook and I am a complete foodie!

Biggest pet peeve?


Favorite place you’ve traveled to and why?

I actually haven’t been out of the country yet, which Is something I really want to do! But some of my fav places here are Catalina Island, San Diego and Boston!

Favorite food?


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Favorite TV show?

Friends, Orphan Black, Marvelous Mrs. Mazel, The 100 and Vampire Diaries! Can’t pick lol

Most attractive thing in another person?


Most embarrassing moment IRL you wish you could do over?

I went to a dance competition and competed when I wasn’t feeling that good and puked on stage. Could prob do without that incident lol

Besides all we already talked about, what else do you have coming up?

Hopefully some new acting projects 😉

Could we get a selfie? 😍

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Que 9 and Brooklyn Queen Interview and Try Not to Laugh Challenge

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Detroit has two rising teen stars you need to check out. Rappers Brooklyn Queen @brooklynqueen03 (“Keke Taught Me How to Do It”) and her best friend Que9 @que9bmb (“Sophomore EP”) are currently performing together on the FACTS Tour and stopped by TWK to ask some questions they’ve always wanted to know about each other — and play the TRY NOT TO LAUGH CHALLENGE! Guess who wins, lol?!

Brooklyn Queen


Que 9


Paxton Booth from Coop and Cami Ask the World Interview

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Paxton Booth (@Paxton_Booth on Twitter) stars alongside @RubyRoseTurner @LotusDakota and @OliviaSanabia on Disney Channel’s new show Coop and Cami Ask The World. The show is about two siblings who have a popular streaming channel that crowdsources opinions from millions of followers to help them make most of their day-to-day decisions.

Paxton plays Ollie Wrather, the younger sibling of the duo. He started acting at around 2.5 years old, and loves to perform his own stunts. He also does BMX tricks and boasts a 1000-strong Hot Wheel collection! He is a David Bowie fan, and also makes time to support animal rescue organizations as well as numerous other charities.

We asked this 8-year-old rising talent about his background and his role on Coop and Cami Ask The World. Read on for the Q&A!

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Hi Paxton, nice to e-meet you! Before we get into your role as Ollie on the Disney Channel series Coop and Cami Ask the World, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started acting.

Hello! Great to be here! Well, I’m 8 years old, and born and raised in Southern California. My mom and dad said I started talking at a very young age and was never shy, so they thought it was a good idea to try to book some commercials. It snowballed from there into about 30 national commercials, many co-star roles, a few films and now a series regular on Coop And Cami Ask The World – and I’m still going!

Thank you! Now, please tell us what the show is about, and about your character Ollie.

Coop and Cami Ask The World is a fun family show about a single mom and her four kids growing up in today’s digital world. The two middle kids, Coop and Cami, have a live stream show called “Would You Wrather” where they ask their followers for help with everyday problems or which silly stunt they should do.

I play Ollie Wrather, he’s the youngest of the family. He’s a super fun character to play because he says whatever is on his mind. Ollie has no filter! He is also the “test pilot” for the Would You Wrather show, so that means I get to do a bunch of fun stunts!

What’s the best part about being on the show so far?

Definitely working with some really cool people! Not just the cast, but the crew too. We also got to shoot some promos at Disney World and that was super rad. My family got to go too, so we spent a ton of time riding rides and eating delicious food when I wasn’t shooting.

Can you tell us any funny behind-the-scenes stories that have happened while filming Coop and Cami Ask the World?

Without giving too much away, there was a birthday scene where there was a pink cake in the living room. I had to ride a large animal named Peanut into the living room from the kitchen. Instead of stopping on his mark, Peanut went right for the cake and started licking it! I didn’t try too hard to stop him because he was so cute and was really enjoying it.

You have been riding BMX bikes since age three, and you have performed some of you own stunts as an actor. Where do you get your adventurous personality from?

My dad is the one who pushes me to try dangerous stuff and my mom is the one always trying to get me not to do anything dangerous. Sometimes she just walks away shaking her head when we are trying new tricks out on our bikes.

Who would you most like to work with in show business and why?

There are so many people I’d love to work with, but number one on my list is Tim Burton. He has such a creative mind. I love the way he twists stories and the way he shoots them makes you feel like you are part of the story.

If you had the power to write, direct and star in your own movie, what would you call it and what would it be about?

Wow, that is a lot of responsibility! But I would love to have that challenge someday. Maybe something like ‘Son of Beetlejuice,’ kind of like Son of Frankenstein. You can’t remake such a classic movie like Beetlejuice, but you can always add on to it. I would love to play the part of Beetlejuice junior, but Michael Keaton would have to come back and play the dad for sure!

Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you?

I don’t know if this is a big surprise, but I have a big shoe collection. Shoe shopping is so much fun! I’m not talking about just tennis shoes, but different and unique shoes. When I’m shopping I like to think outside the box. Lately I’ve been into creepers, but they only really make them for girls. But that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t think fashion should have genders, it should all be universal. I’ll rock pink shoes any day!

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Biggest pet peeve?

I’m only 8, but I spend a lot of time in LA traffic. People who drive slow in the left lane drive me crazy! I watched this show on YouTube called Canada’s Worst Drivers and I learned some of the traffic laws. The left lane is for passing!

Favorite food?

I really like dark chocolate, but my favorite food of all time is chicken pot pie. Not just any kind, it has to be my mom’s homemade chicken pot pie.

Favorite video game?

Right now I’m super into Forza Horizon 3. I can’t wait to get the new Horizon 4! Car racing games are my favorite.

If you could have one super power, what would it be and why?

Slappy from Goosebumps has the power to bring things to life, but he uses it in a bad way. That would be an awesome super power to have, but of course use it for good. I would love to make all of my Hot Wheels come to life and start racing around the house!

The one thing I cannot live without is__________.

It’s hard to pick one. When I go out of town for just the weekend I have several bags, because I have lots of things I can’t live without, like chapstick, hand sanitizer and my stuffed animals. But if I had to choose just one it would be my robe. On my days off I spend my mornings doing school work in the kitchen in my warm, comfy Scooby Doo robe.

Most embarrassing moment IRL you wish you could do over?

I don’t get embarrassed too easily. I think that is part of acting. Being a good actor is being able to laugh at yourself.

Selfie time!

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Watch a complete episode of Coop and Cami Ask the World here:

High School Nation Tour’s Mimi Saballa Q&A!

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Teen singer Mimi Saballa, is headlining the 10th annual High School Nation Tour (@HSNTours #highschoolnation on Twitter) along with rapper @TheRealSilento (“Watch me”) hitting various cities throughout the month of November. For those who don’t know, the High School Nation Tour is a traveling music & arts festival that travels to  high school campuses across the country providing students with free entertainment.

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Mimi’s got an album coming up in spring ’19 from Empire Records. and cites Cardi B. and Bad Bunny as musical influences. Her video for “Crazy” with Krayzie Bone and NomaD has over 700k views on YouTube (scroll down to watch), and she has just released another track called “Light Weight” availble here:

She’s busy, but we got the chance to email her a few questions for a quick Q&A while she’s on the High School Nation Tour. Here’s her answers!

Hi Mimi, nice to e-meet you! Before we get into music, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Hi my name is Mimi I’m eighteen and from Hawaii, and I’m a singer. I’ve been singing for about two years, I started off singing island music, I’m just now making my transition to more main stream music.

Thank you! Now tell us about the High School Nation Tour and how you got involved?

I’m currently on the High School Nation Tour and we’re doing 25 shows in 13 cities. Through some good connections I got a spot on the tour.

Where will you be travelling to – and which city are you most excited to visit?

I’ve been to Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, Virginia, and South Carolina. I’m most excited for Atlanta and Texas.

I know you just started the tour—but what’s been the best moment so far?

The best moments on tour is meeting all the students.

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Who would you most like to work with in show business and why?

I would like to work with Drake because I’m a big fan and his music is very popular with the culture.

If you had the power to write, direct and star in your own movie, what would it be about?

I would make a documentary of where I’m from featuring other local people, letting others see into our lives where we’re from.

Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you?

I think people would be surprised to know all of my ethnicities: Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, and Portuguese.

Biggest pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is little sounds, like tapping or shaking.

Favorite food?

I love noodles any type of noodles.

Secret fear?

I’m deathly terrified of lizards.

If you could have one super power, what would it be and why?

Teleportation because I would like to get places quickly.

The one thing I cannot live without is__________.

my family.

Most embarrassing moment IRL you wish you could do over?

During my first label meeting with Interscope and Universal Music Group I ripped my pants.

What else are you working on or have coming up?

I just released my new single Lightweight and, I have my EP dropping soon and my first show back home in Hawaii.

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Could we get a selfie of whatever you are doing at the moment? It’s something we ask to keep it real for the fans!

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Mimi Saballa Instagram:
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Meet Sophie Thatcher – Interview plus Gunpowder & Sky’s DUST “Prospect” film review

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Sophie Thatcher is the star of Gunpowder & Sky’s DUST new film, Prospect, slated to open November 2nd. The film follows the path of a father-daughter team as they search for riches on a dangerous, toxic planet — and whose mission turns deadly very quickly. We got the chance to ask Sophie a few questions about her role in the movie — check her answers below — but first a quick Prospect film review.

The film opens with young Cee, played by Sophie Thatcher, and her father Damon, played by Jay Duplass (“Transparent”), preparing to descend to the planet they are orbiting in their rickety space pod. The father’s plan is to collect extremely valuable amber-like gems known as Aurelacs. These gems are found in large root- or termite mound-like structures, and have to be carefully extracted lest they self-destruct in a bath of acid. The pair set course for the mother lode — a large deposit of Aurelacs known as the “Queens Lair.”

After they recover one stone at an old dig on the way to the main site, two ne’er do wells (one played by Pedro Pascal of “Game of Thrones” and “Narcos” fame) happen upon the father and shake him down for his treasure. A couple of bad decisions later, and this encounter changes from a scavenging  expedition to a quest for survival and escape — one where teenage Cee has to use all of her wits and determination to try to make it back to her shuttle and rejoin the mothership.

This movie is, atmosphere-wise, like no other film I have seen before, truly otherworldly but grounded in reality — if that makes any sense. Production design is fabulous, from the realistically-lived in capsule whose rickety instruments are covered in gritty, grimy breath, oils from fingertips and palms, and who knows what else. Wardrobe, hair and makeup convey a feeling that everything and everybody in this film needs a good hot shower. There’s plenty of little details to appreciate, especially in the space capsule. Particles of dust float around and there’s a barely perceptible layer of ice on the window which they could have skipped, but didn’t. The 8-track aesthetic of just about every switch and mechanism further lends credibility to the world created here by the filmmakers.

The film is described as a sci-fi western, but it also has a strong steampunk vibe. None of the weapons fire lasers, but projectiles from rather primitive-looking weapons. This coupled, with the flimsiness of the suits everyone wears in order to breathe on the alien world, raises the stakes of every shot discharged and every step taken for that matter. Little protects the characters from a tear or rip which would lead to a quick death — and when you compound with bullets and high speed foot chases through an environment full of brambles poised to ensnare breathing tubes –you end up on the edge of your seat.

My biggest complaint is the off-putting poetic dialogue used by a few characters. Its hard to follow and a bit melodramatic and goofy, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Other than that–this is a movie I definitely recommend and I hope it finds its audience as a cult hit.

As evidenced by her acting in Prospect, plus her unique personal style, Sophie Thatcher has the potential to be absolutely huge. Excited to see where her career takes her!

Now let’s get to the interview! p.s. Is it just me or does she bear a resemblance to Emma Watson?

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Hi Sophie, nice to e-meet you! Before we get into your role on Prospect, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m an actor, musician, artist and a Chicago native!

Thanks! You have an extensive theater background, having studied since age 4 and with performances in The Diary of Anne Frank and several others in Chicago. How was this, your first film, a different beast?

It took me a while to transition from stage to screen because I was used to the repetition of doing a full show every night. In contrast to theater, film is shot scene by scene and I never realized there was so much time waiting around on set! Ahh! But this process helped me to grow with the character. I was drawn to the natural aspects of the film world.

What helped you manage the pressure of being a newcomer, yet carrying the film as the lead character?

The whole cast and crew were very kind and made me feel safe and that if I made a minor mistake, it wasn’t the end of the world. Everyone was so warm and made me feel comfortable. Zeek and Chris trusted me with the character and that helped me gain confidence.

How did you book the role—traditional audition process or something different?

I was sent the sides from my agents and manager and put it on tape, then recorded the callback myself. After that, they flew me out to Seattle to see the workspace, meet the directors and work through a couple different scenes. I remember feeling like I had bombed the audition somehow, but an hour later they invited me back to the workspace to tell me I was cast. I remember feeling relieved and tremendously excited.

Why do you think teens are going to want to watch this movie?

I think it’s rare to have such a powerful young female lead in a film. I hope that young women, or any outliers in society can be inspired by Cee’s character trajectory.

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What was the most memorable part about filming it?

Definitely the night shoots. It really messed up everyone’s sleeping schedule so we were all suffering together. I was exposed to a bunch of the cast and crew’s looney side and we all formed a tight bond.

What was it like to wear that space suit and helmet – any claustrophobia? Was it crooked on purpose or did it just slip to the side like that?

The first week of filming was stressful because they were still working on the helmets, and I felt like I could barely breathe. Of course they fixed that and once the helmet was on, it helped me dive into the Prospect universe. I fully became Cee.

The clothes you and your dad wear on the ship look very lived in, almost like you guys were directed to sleep in the clothes for a couple days and show up to set without doing your hair. Am I close to the mark—or were the hair and wardrobe people that good?

The hair and wardrobe people were exceptionally talented! They often kept to a very minimal makeup look on me- or sometimes they would add under eye circles as the story progressed and Cee’s circumstances became more difficult.

Why do you think fellow teenage girls are going to like your character, Cee?

I think a lot of teenagers can relate to a bunch of different aspects of Cee. First, I’m sure kids can relate to the feeling of being an outsider in one way or another. Also Cee uses music and books as an escape. I, and I’m sure many other people my age can heavily relate to this.

Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you?

I have a twin sister who’s an artist! I also make music too and someday would like to focus on that more.

Biggest pet peeve?

People pleasers and wishy washy people.

Favorite place you’ve traveled to and why?

I adore New York City and all the possibilities and artists that live there. I would love to move there one day to work on music and art.

Favorite food?

Sushi or any kind of Japanese food.

Favorite book?

Just Kids written by Patti Smith (my biggest inspiration) and Heart of Darkness written by Joseph Conrad.

Most attractive thing in another person?

Creativity and individuality.

Most embarrassing moment IRL you wish you could do over?

The first time I was kissed I couldn’t stop laughing because I was so nervous, so he ended up kissing my teeth.

What else are you working on or have coming up?

I have a few projects up in the air! Would love to focus more on music and art too and put some stuff out there into the world!

Could we get a selfie of whatever you are doing at the moment? It’s something we ask to keep it real for the fans!

Me, drinking my morning coffee

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Sophie Thatcher Instagram:

Watch the original short film on which the new full-length movie is based: