MIHM-You started your career as a singer in Japan and released 3 singles, tell us about that…

CAI-When I was 17, I was scouted to go to Japan to become a J-pop star. I wanted to finish high school, so I did then I packed up and moved to Tokyo. Education was really important to me, so while I was recording songs and touring and performing on TV, I also attended a wonderful international university, Sophia University. I was attending school with people from all over the world and that was such an incredible experience. Being that I was a girl from Hawaii, this experience really helped to shape my view of the world. Meanwhile, I was dancing and singing and performing all over Japan. I released 3 singles; one of them was produced by the Kenny Loggins Project. I was fortunate enough to work with Nathan East—a very well known bass musician, and some incredible producers who also worked with Kenny Loggins. I had a great time in Japan as a Pop star. But it was also a strange experience. I learned quickly what fame is. I remember, the day after I debuted on a very popular show called Yoru No Hit Stajio (Night Hit Studio) hosted by Mari Yoshimura, I was shopping in a popular district in Tokyo called Harajuku. The store I was in had a picture window. I looked up from shopping because I heard a commotion outside and wanted to see what it was. Well, the whole picture window (and it was a large one) was filled with faces of young teenagers looking at me and screaming and pointing. I had no idea what was happening. It was scary actually. The security team moved the crowd away and my friends and I were able to make a getaway but it was really a strange experience. It was truly “Overnight”…my life changed overnight.

MIHM -What inspired you to pursue a career in dancing and how did you start your career on television?

CAI-I have always loved to dance. For me, I had a bit of a troubled childhood – filled with problems – I think everyone has challenges as a child. Anyway, what I realized was that when I danced, I was free. Dance has always been about self-expression for me and I have loved to express myself freely when I dance. There is nothing like it. I cannot express the feeling I feel when I dance. Dance is a language that goes beyond language and it has the vocabulary to express all of who I am and what I feel. Words and spoken language to me are very limited in what they are able to express. When I was scouted to go to Japan, I had already done a few jobs in Hawaii. I danced as an opening act when Menudo came into town, and had been part of a group that performed at a local club. We had so much fun, we’d choreograph our own shows and make our own costumes and perform in small clubs in Hawaii. Then I won a talent search with my best friend, Tina Horii. Soon, after I went to Japan…While I was a J-pop star, I also continued my dance career. I was a dancer on the show Yoru No Hit Stajio. It was fun, to dance with all the acts on the show. It was a live television show and there is nothing like that kind of adrenaline. And actually throughout my career, I have been drawn to live shows. The first big job I did was not a live show but it was a fun show. I was one of the original fly girls on In Living Color. It was a great job for me. I enjoyed the choreography we did, it was a mixture – a hybrid of hip hop and Jazz and was a unique show. In Living Color was groundbreaking with its multi-cultural cast and sensibilities. In fact, we recently were awarded by the TV Land Awards the groundbreaking show Award. The cast had a reunion of sorts on stage and it was wonderful. That show was my job for a long time and I really enjoyed it. Soon after, I wanted to pursue other things so I had to leave In Living Color to follow that dream – the big dream for me was to tour with Madonna and that dream came true shortly after I left In Living Color.

MIHM -How old were you when you started dancing?

CAI-I was three years old when I started dancing. I did creative movement and then I did some hula which is a Hawaiian Dance. When I was older, around 12, I really got into Jazz. I loved it. Then I started going out to clubs and hanging out with street dancers – poppers and lockers. I never cared much for ballet or tap. But I took them. I really enjoyed the freedom of movement in Jazz and I enjoyed the cultural storytelling aspect of the Hula.

MIHM -You have been dancing for a-while and have danced with great performers like Prince, Madonna, etc, can you tell us about those experiences?

CAI-I never danced with Prince. But performing with Madonna was quite amazing. It was THE GIRLIE SHOW and we toured Europe, Japan, Australia and South America. It was a wonderful experience and perhaps the pinnacle of my career in many ways. I was featured on that tour….I was given the great honor of opening the show by coming down a 50 foot fire pole in a Cirque du Soleil/stripper type of performance. I trained with a pole dancer and a circus trainer to prepare for that unique entrance and learned a whole new skill. It was pretty incredible to do that. Also, it was really my biggest dream to perform with her. I made friends for life on that tour and I got to see the world and do something that had never been done before. I shaved my head bald for that tour as well, and really pushed my creative and physical boundaries. It was invigorating to be challenged like that while performing with my favorite performer and having her trust me. I was given a lot of responsibility on that tour. She trusted me to make sure she was okay and that meant a lot to me. Also, people have no idea how intoxicating it is to perform live for 180,000 people. When that curtain came up and I was on that stage and that audience went wild, I have to say, there has been nothing like it. Even today, being on DWTS where we are live to sometimes over 20 million people, it is a completely different experience than performing live and sharing the energy of that moment with 180,000 other people. We had an incredible band as well and were fortunate enough to be playing with some legends in the music industry. One of them, I’m still working with on DWTS, Louis Conte. He was the percussionist on The Girlie Show and is the percussionist on DWTS.

MIHM -Who have been your biggest mentors in your career?

CAI-I have been lucky. I’ve had a few good mentors. One of them was Madonna herself. She taught me a lot about hard work and how it’s all about the work you put into something. She is one of the hardest working women I’ve ever met. Then, there was a director by the name of Don Weiner. He gave me a lot of advice in my career and helped me to grow out of just being a choreographer. He gave me advice and shared his stories with me. Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick (The producers of American Idol ) are also mentors who taught me a lot and gave me a lot of opportunities in this business. And of course, there was Jeff Margolis who used to direct and produce the American Music Awards. He was a true leader who taught me about production and organization and how to lead. I’ve been very lucky to have these people in my life.

MIHM – You are the founder and President of EnterMediArts, Inc., a video production company?

CAI-When I went back to college – I was 27 years old. I had already released three pop records in Japan, been on an Emmy award winning television show, In Living Color, and toured with my favorite artist, Madonna. I had choreographed some shows and was in some films as well, but I really felt like I had accomplished all my dreams. As a dancer, I wanted to do a TV show and a tour. And I did them. I have always had clear goals…and when I had accomplished them, I wanted to go back to school and get my B.A. I wanted to finish what I had started earlier in Tokyo when I went to the International University. School and education have always been something I love. I went back to school at UCLA and majored in World Arts and Cultures. I studied ethnographic filmmaking along the way and learned how to edit and shoot video. It was after I graduated that I realized I really enjoyed editing. So, I began to edit choreographer reels. There was no one really doing this and I felt I could do it well. So, I started editing these people’s reels and gave them some really great marketing tools. Because of my background, I knew what kind of product they needed to be successful. I think those reels helped a lot of choreographers get to where they are today so they could showcase their true incredible talents.

I also started some documentaries on House dancing and some cultural documentaries but they were more for my own satisfaction. I’ve always made a living from being a performer or as a choreographer/ director so I never needed the company to be financially successful. It was more for my creative freedom. I needed that so I created that company, EnterMediArts. The catch phrase was “where entertainment, media and the arts exist as one.”

MIHM -Define what success means to you?

CAI-Success means a lot of things to me. Mostly, it means happiness and the ability to provide for my family and loved ones. I have a very strong nurturing spirit that likes to help people and I’ve learned that there are so many ways to provide this for people. There is emotional support, financial support, creative support and I think that success is being able to provide that for the ones I care for and love.

My career path has allowed me to do a lot of things for myself as well. To me, success is also having the opportunity to try new things – to face fears and get out there in life. I have been able to do a lot of things that have been very exciting. This is my great adventure. I want to live life to its fullest. I have tried most things that come my way just to challenge myself. Some things have been great, and some things have been not so great. But all moments I will savor one day and cherish as memories.

MIHM -What advice do you have for new dancers/actors breaking in the business today?

CAI-Know your business. Remember, that it is a business. Dance can be for the love or for the artistry, but if you want to make a living doing it, then know how it works as a business and get smart about it. Do your homework and do your work. Take classes, attend seminars, and get to know what’s out there and what the trends are. Take classes with the choreographers who are working so you can know their styles and let them get to know you. Take the classes that satisfy your own creative urges so that you are a fulfilled person when you audition. When you are a full person, you will shine. Your energy is a part of the package and how you feel about yourself will show through, so do what it takes to feel good about yourself. You want to walk in and give them no other choice than to notice you. Be special. Be your best. Know what you are auditioning for and show up prepared. Get professional headshots done, have your marketing materials done. And find an agent or a manager who really believes in you. Don’t let someone take your money who doesn’t really want to see you succeed.

Remember that they are making money off of your talent – but at the same time, you need them to tell you where the auditions are, get your name out there and push for you when you need an extra bit of help. It’s a relationship that works both ways. Keep a line of communication open with them without taking up too much of their time. And if it’s not working quickly, move on and find someone who does believe in you, and gives you honest feedback and constructive criticism to help you achieve your dreams.

MIHM – What makes you feel more accomplished: dancing, singing, or acting? We heard you like action roles, is that correct?

CAI-I feel best when I dance. But I like all of it. Ultimately, I will have to sing again. It’s something that still scares me but still is such a huge part of who I am. I want to sing a duet with someone one day. I have a low alto voice, and I write music, so we will see how that comes up in my life. It usually comes when it’s the right time. I have found that if I work hard, the universe is very kind. As far as acting goes, I’d love to do an action role one day…or do a musical on stage. I think that would be really fun. People forget that my background is more performing with singing and dancing than it is speaking. But what makes me feel most accomplished is producing. I produced a pilot for ABC with Krista Vernoff last year. It was called Grace and it was a wonderful project about a choreographer who was driven to a point where his family life suffered a little because of his artistry. Our lead character was my alter ego, I’d say. If I was born a man, I would have been Michael Grace. It was a wonderful way to release some of the creative visions I’ve had over the past few years. We did these incredible dance sequences that were a projection of his imagination – a dance in water, a dance with broken glass and an incredible piece with wind…mixed with some street dancing scenes and some intense rehearsal scenes. It almost killed me because I was producing this Pilot while I was shooting DWTS and I’d go to the edit bay and work till 3 in the morning after doing a show at DWTS. Sometimes I’d show up to meetings in my evening gowns because I’d have to come right after work. It was fun and draining, but I’ll do it all again because I’m developing other projects now. I love television and producing. I developed last season at NBC and I’m developing again. It’s like auditioning – you have to keep trying and eventually, you’ll get it right and it will be successful. I am currently developing with Bruce Cohen (Academy Award Winner) and we have some really fun ideas for drama that we are fine tuning.

MIHM -You have been a judge on the show Dancing with the Stars for several seasons, tell us about this great experience…

CAI-It’s been fun but it has also been challenging. I have always had a fear of public speaking. It makes me crazy sometimes. But DWTS has allowed me the opportunity to share my dance experience while facing my own fears. This is always a good thing. Life is about challenging yourself. And DWTS challenges me as a person. It has also allowed me to be a part of the dance revolution in America and it’s been so great to see people falling in love with dance. I’m grateful to DWTS and other dance shows like So You think You Can Dance – which you may not know that I was a part of when it first started as well. These shows have brought dance to the main-stream conscious and that is a good thing.

It’s not always easy to say what you mean in such sort 15 – 25 second soundbites…and sometimes I have had to take a lot of heat for what I have said or for what Bruno or Len have said. And I have learned that you can’t please everyone. You just have to be true to yourself. No matter what you say, someone will be upset by it. This is a sad but true fact I have learned while being on TV. But it’s good because there is a big lesson in that. And it’s a good lesson. Follow your heart and stand true.

MIHM -What are you working on right now, projects? Tell us about you online series Crib Cat on Youtube and your work with animals please.

CAI-Crib Cat is my passion project. It’s an internet series that I created with FishBowl Media. It is a cat named Kit (whose voice may sound familiar) who lives in a really posh crib. (“Crib” means forever home in cat speak). She is a feline matchmaker who profiles cats who are currently in no-kill shelters who are in need of forever homes. It’s a fun light show that has meaning. So far we have had two successful adoptions out of our first 11 episodes (eleven cats). There are many more cats to find homes for, but we are on our way to helping all of these wonderful cats find their forever homes. I like to focus on special needs cats but we feature all types of cats. They are real cats who really are looking for their forever homes. We do it in a fun and hopefully entertaining way…the set is adorable and eventually we will be doing crib cat merchandise with proceeds going to help the animals. Crib cat is also a step towards fulfilling my true goal which is to create a foundation for animals in need. For now, I will focus on the homeless animal crisis. As the economy continues to plummet, people are truly feeling the effects and are suffering. But when people suffer, the animals suffer more. And we are seeing more and more cats and dogs being dumped, thrown out of moving cars, and left behind in terrible inhumane circumstances. It’s quite terrible. But there is an animal rescue community that I am actively involved in, we are out there trying to save as many as we can…My foundation will help raise funds and create programs to help these animals and the people who help them. And eventually, there will be a sanctuary. It has always been my dream to build an animal sanctuary on a beautiful piece of land and give them space to live out their lives with love and the beauty of nature around them – as they were meant to be.

MIHM -What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in show business?

CAI-I would be working with Animals. No doubt in my mind.

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