Local Tia Carrere up for a Grammy

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Tia Carrere collaborated with childhood friend Daniel Ho on "Hawaiiana," which is up for a Grammy for Best Hawaiian Music Album. Photo by Simon Wakelin

Long known mainly as an actress, Carrere comes full circle with her love of singing.

By Laura Tate / Editor

She was dancing with the stars, but now Tia Carrere is dancing in the streets with glee over her recent Grammy nomination for the album “Hawaiiana,” which she collaborated on with childhood friend Daniel Ho, already a two-time Grammy winner.

“I was blown away,” Carrere said about the nomination, explaining that she learned about it when a reporter from her native Hawaii called while she driving through the mountains to take daughter Bianca to singing class. “I almost drove off the mountain! I was amazed. A lot of legendary people were nominated.”

Singing has long been a dream of the actress, more widely known for her roles in “Wayne’s World” and “True Lies.”

“I always sang, it always has been my passion, my love,” Carrere said. “It’s where my heart lies.”

The Hawaiian beauty put her dream into action with “Hawiiana” after teaming up with Ho for a benefit concert performance for World War II Filipino veterans. The two had so much fun they decided to work together again.

“It was so much fun [working with him],” Carrere said, “[We have] an easy rapport and enjoy working together.”

With urging from Ho, the two decided to do all the Hawaiian songs they loved from their childhood.

“It’s almost a lullaby to my daughter,” Carrere said, explaining that Hawaii is “such a big part of who I am, and she had never been there.” (Carrere and husband Simon Wakelin, took Bianca, 2, to Hawaii recently.)

Ho, who plays the slack key guitar, or ukulele, on the album said laying down the instrumental part was easy. “Tia’s vocals are beautiful,” he said, “every breath, every word. My job was to just stay out of the way.”

(Ho has been nominated for another Grammy as well, for his album “Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar.”)

Not all the songs on the album have Hawaiian roots. Carrere did a rendition of “Song” by Karen Carpenter, which she found out was originally written for the children’s program, “Sesame Street.”

“It’s a beautiful, inspirational song,” Carrere said, adding that she would like to perform it one day on Sesame Street, and that it “[all] comes back to being for children, the record [“Hawaiiana”].”

Although she’s now up for a Grammy, Carrere’s career path to stardom started not with singing but acting, when she was discovered in a food mart in Hawaii. She was offered a part in a surf movie, and then came to the States where she soon was working regularly on television series and then garnering parts on film.

Her role as Cassandra on “Wayne’s World” utilized her voice talents, she sang a number of songs on the film’s soundtrack and afterward she released her own album called “Dream.”

After “Wayne’s World,” she went on to star along with then-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in “True Lies” as well as in various other movies. More recently she appeared on the hit reality show “Dancing With the Stars.”

“I never thought of being an actress,” she said. “I always wanted to be a singer in a nightclub or a hotel lobby.”

As for the future, the actress/singer/model/mom, while waiting for the writers’ strike to resolve so she can get back to work on “Nip Tuck,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Back to You” in which she has recurring roles, is working the Grammy circuit to push that nomination to a win.

And keeping busy driving her daughter, her proudest achievement she said, to singing classes.

Carrere and Ho will perform songs from the album “Hawaiiana” live on KPFK (90.7 FM) Friday at 11 a.m.