By Diane Ako
Musician Ashley Lilinoe shares her love through her music - a clear, soulful voice accompanied by acoustic guitar that stirs the heart. At 21 years old, this accomplished singer/ songwriter is now meeting a national audience as one of the contestants on American Idol (FOX).
"The producers found me online, because I post my music videos. They asked me to audition, but the first couple times I ignored their emails because a television competition just didn't resonate with me. It's not my calling," she remembers. "The third time, the producer said, 'I believe in you and want you to try out.' I felt his heart and I decided to do it. What have I got to lose, right?"
She's right; she has nothing to lose and everything to gain. When the show debuted in mid-January, her Facebook page went wild. "I got hundreds of notifications every five minutes. It was crazy," she laughs. She's definitely on a bigger stage now.
Lilinoe also learned about the business of show-biz. "Presence is important. I saw how I was portrayed through the process. I also realized being myself is exactly what I needed to do. I stuck to my true self."
Who is the true Ashely Lilinoe? The born and bred Kaneohe girl is a stunning mixture of eleven ethnicities: Predominantly Filipino, but also Native Hawaiian, Native American, Swedish, and Chinese.
Her last name is Swedish: it's Soderberg, and Lilinoe is a stage name, derived from part of her incredibly long Hawaiian middle name. "It means 'the misty lei that lays upon the flower of the heavens.' Lilinoe is 'fine mist,'" she enlightens.
"What I really am, though, is universal. I don't connect with just one culture," she clarifies.
Lilinoe grew up in a musical family in Kaneohe. "We live on a lane with lots of families, and when someone comes out to celebrate something, we'd all go out and play music. I'd be in the garage watching, and then I'd practice what I heard. My parents, my angels - they guided me to practice. My ear was my teacher," she recalls.
She was about six when she first picked up an ukulele. At Castle High School, she started playing the guitar.
"I love how music makes me feel and how it can make others feel. Everything is a song: The ocean, the environment, the blue sky," she breathes as she looks up at the clear lazuline sky of a Honolulu winter.
In fact, it's the Earth that inspires her through its wordlessness. "I'm learning to unlearn traditional songwriting techniques. It doesn't have to be 'verse, chorus, bridge. It's not necessary. My heart says to listen to the silence."
She is lovely and thoughtful, gentle and poised. She seems unconcerned about fame and fortune, instead focused on a metaphysical goal of unconditional love for self and others, living in the moment, surrendering to life. She strikes me as wise beyond her years.
Lilinoe says she needs the silence more than ever in the overwhelming "aftermath" of American Idol. It was a high-intensity, non-stop experience. "I'm still observing with my heart. There are no words to describe it right now," she decides.
"Yes, it opened doors for my career. More importantly, it opened doors to peoples' hearts, to let them connect with me and see there's another human being like me in this world," she smiles.
Actually, she says she didn't really know what her music sounded like until a year ago. She was too busy playing gigs to stop and listen to herself, and then it was a powerful moment for her. "What I have to share - my love - is so great. It's a lot of power. I was afraid of it, and I'm still learning to gently introduce it to this world," she announces.
This means she doesn't have a regular gig. Not that she's lacking for offers, but she's spontaneous and has certain preferences. For instance, "I like playing where children are allowed. I like to entertain at places where everyone can be together," she expands.
"I love children. I love how they inspire, stretch my imagination, and guide me to my heart," she says. "I am a child. They remind me to love, to play."
Play is how she answers the question, What do you do for a living? "I flow day to day. Music provides me the monetary exchange, but I surrender to life."
As for the practical questions, she shrugs. "I'm know I'm taken care of greatly. I've given the amount I need, which is small. I'm a minimalist and an alchemist; I will recycle and upcycle things. My Earth Mother will take care of me, my friends support me. I'm always provided for."
Lilinoe's typical day is... atypical. The commonality is that it usually starts without a jarring alarm clock, and with the luxury of a slow rising from bed. "I greet myself, I greet the new day, and I welcome what comes."
As you may be able to guess by now, Lilinoe eschews labeling her music with any one genre. For purposes of print, she acquiesces to give me some kind of description: neo-soul/blues/jazz/R&B/funk. However, she prefers to call it "soul-filling music." If you hear her sing, you'll understand.
Lilinoe has no plans set in stone for the future. When I ask where she sees herself in five years, she chuckles. "Five years? I don't even know what tomorrow brings."
She does, however, know this: "I honor myself deeply. I show up for life, and I navigate life through my heart. I live by feeling, and if it feels good, I do it."
While her calling may be as a musician that sings emotion into people's hearts, she says her soul-mission is "to return to self. To be into my heart so that I can truly hear the voices who call for help."
Lilinoe leaves me with a parting thought for you all: "Wherever I am, everyone is my family."
American Idol airs Wednesday and Thursday nights on KHON2 (FOX).
Lilinoe's website: http://www.ashleylilinoe.earth/
Other coverage of Lilinoe: http://khon2.com/2016/01/14/meet-american-idol-hopeful-ashley-lilinoe-from-kaneohe-3/
Update: Lilinoe was eliminated on the January 28, 2016 episode.