On the brink of megastardom, the mesmerizing and oh-so-talented, singer, actress, dancer and fashion maven, Kat Graham gushes about her charmed life, lessons learned, love for her craft, and the lyrics behind it all. Her infamous role as the Vampire Diaries’ bewitching witch isn’t the only thing leaving us spellbound.
The glowing morning light filled what looked more like a heavily adorned walk-in closet than a Waikiki Hotel Room. Brilliant pieces from The Blonds, Mara Hoffman, Marco Marco, Gasoline Glamour and a slew of other designer illusionists covered every square inch of the enchanted room- this is where the magic happened. The delightful Kat Graham was perched in the makeup chair getting the finishing touches of glitter on her lids while her stylist, Brett Alan Nelson continued to fill the room with studs, jewels, spikes and stunning heel-less shoes. I greeted the lovely Kat with an “Aloha” and immediately realized her twitter fans were right; radiant. She smiled and graciously revealed how happy she was to be in Hawaii. Okay, yes, it is paradise. But I have a suspicion that even if we were the in middle of the desert, she’d be just as appreciative… and just as charming.
Our girl talk began with visions of waterfalls and luaus and extended into culture and travel, topics this half Liberian, half Russian vision knows a great deal about. Kat was born in Geneva, Switzerland, speaks a whopping 5 languages, and grew up going back and forth between Europe and LA. Now filming her hit show (with a cult like following) she flits between LA and Atlanta. That is, you know after all, where all the ‘vamps’ hang out.
It wasn’t always sorcery and fangs for this young beauty. Kat, who debuted her career at the age of 6, has always made entertainment (and success) her business. Her childhood was filled with bright eyed Barbie and Pop Tart commercials, hosting the Disney Channel series, ‘Movie Surfers’, appearing on television shows such as Joan of Arcadia and the Lizzy McGuire Show, and playing Jackie in the movie, ‘Parent Trap’. Her teenage years welcomed dance performances for Lil Bow Wow, Missy Elliot, Jamie Foxx and Pharrel. You can also see her in music videos for John Legend and Akon. And who could ever forget her flirty Fanta commercials as she twirled around as the Strawberry Fantana girl. Kat continued to sharpen her skill and grow her love for acting as she landed roles on shows such as CSI: Las Vegas, The OC, Malcom in the Middle, Strong Medicine, Hannah Montana, and on the big screen as the lovable Jaime in ’17 Again.’
“I have glitter in my veins!” she confesses with a laugh. If you look up the modern definition of a triple threat, you’ll find Miss Graham’s pretty face staring back at you. “I never knew a time when I didn’t want to perform. I’ve only known all three: singing, dancing and acting.” She’s not only easy on the eyes, her voice is literally music to your ears. Her voice even delighted the ears and captured the admiration of music superman, Will-i-am as he featured her on the hit song, ‘I got it from my Mama’. At only 19 years old, she completed an action packed world tour with the Black Eyed Peas. “Although everything that could go wrong, went wrong… the tour was amazing. We visited a country a day. And it showed me what kind of impact music has globally.” It was opportunities and challenges such as this, that made Kat to be the self sufficient, fearless young Hollywood starlet she is today.
This singer has a voice. Not just a melodic voice, but one of power and passion. She has a message for this generation, for the young visionaries making their way in this world. With Kat, there’s this ambition to be more and to go deeper. She’s not interested in the easy or winning the approval of the masses. She’s on a mission to be true and honest with herself as an artist, human being, and actor. Through her lyrics and words, she seeks to inspire others to stand for the same thing. Listen to her music- you’ll hear it. Her anthem. Her tenacity. Her drive. Her songs, although a bit tongue-in-cheek, with titles like, ‘Sassy’ and ‘I want it All’ always speak of independence and female empowerment. She recently signed to Perez Hilton’s Perezcious Music label, and opens up on how he’s been such an inspiration to her, “He’s an advocate for fearlessness and no regrets. He lives his life with a sense of self worth and agrees with what Rupal once said, ‘What other people think of me is none of my business.’ I love that.”
Perez isn’t the only powerful presence in her life. Kat went on to share how influential her mother has been along this journey, helping with life and creative decisions. Kat’s loving (and incredibly debonair, if I do say so myself) boyfriend / travel partner who was sitting quietly in the room at the time of this interview, politely interjecting whenever he had an idea of how they should spend their first time in Hawaii. “I surround myself with people who inspire me. For me, humility is most important. I always tell myself, Live your life the way you would even if you didn’t have the fame.”
Amazed by this incredible multi-tasker, 9 years my junior, I ask her how she’s accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. Her answer: “In quiet moments, I’m just a 21 year old girl. I have to surround myself with people who will believe in me even when I doubt myself. Growing up in the industry, you become very familiar with peer pressure, to drink or do this or do that. In Hollywood, people don’t like hearing no. You have to be prepared to be the odd man out. I still deal with it.” If only all young Hollywood enthusiasts could take that truth and live it out. So many people are swayed away from their true calling, especially in the entertainment industry; not Kat. Even with all the trappings of a high-gloss life- the widely popular tv show, the lead in the film Honey 2, the hit single, the fiercely glamorous music video equipped with a real tiger, the designer clothes, her doll-like features and red carpet poses- she continues to remain humble as she explores a new side of her multifaceted life. She’s a doer when it comes to her causes. And she’s using her place in the industry to make a difference on a global level.
“With support from the fans, I’ve created a fundraiser with The Water Project. There’s too many people that die every day from preventable causes. I don’t want to sit around and do nothing. I want to make a change.” And change she has made. Kat’s first fundraiser collected over $5,000 and their wells are now being built to help give communities around the world clean water. Angels in East Africa is another organization Kat has teamed up with and together will be making a trip to South Sudan with the mission to rescue child soldiers.
Kat is excited about joining Opportunity Nation in their ‘Mentor Chat’ series. The young star will be speaking and taking part in Q&A’s on creating a career path you love and overcoming adversity along the way. “When I first started the show, (Vampire Diaries) I had to make a choice whether to go a route of a simple actress that everyone loved, or I could be myself. I realized I was different. I wanted to be me, different and all. If I’m gonna loose anything that I’ve worked so hard for, I’d rather be me and put myself out there.”
I’m sure I, for one, am glad she chose to be herself and push away any temptation to conform and, in turn, neglect part of her identity. It takes great strength and courage to be you in this world. Truly, fully, confidently, you. So I ask this super girl, “Your character has magic powers… What is Kat’s magic power?” She looked off for just a moment and returned my gaze with certainty, “I have an acting coach out in Georgia named Christina. She says if you’re good at what you do, you can heal people. You can take pain away from people. I play a character who fights for what she believes in. My super power is… to heal.”
With spellbinding ease, Kat Graham dances her way through every obstacle, dare, and imaginable endeavor life offers, making it easy to imagine this 21 year old has much more magic to conjure up. With thousands of letters arriving to her inbox from fans all over the world, each one proves to be a source of inspiration and strength for Kat. “It reminds me of why I do what I do. It keeps me smiling.” “Anything else you want the world to know?” I ask. With a coy smile, she assertively replies, “They can discover it along the way!”
Words by: Jessica Hoffman
Photography: Harold Julian
Hair & Make-up: Christa K. Wong
Wardrobe: Brett Alan Nelson
Graphic Art: Hugette Montesinos