Singer and TV Star AJ Michalka
Nothing to Prove: From the Stage to the Screen, AJ Michalka Stands Strong in Her Faith
Written by Mei Ling Starkey
Amanda Joy “AJ” Michalka is best known as half of the duo 78violet (formerly Aly & AJ) with her older sister Aly. The singing-songwriting sisters are also actresses and have been performing since a young age. They’ve done church play productions, shows on the Disney Channel, movies and eventually a reality show together on MTV called Aly & AJ: Sister Act. Recently, AJ issued a single and video from her upcoming film Grace Unplugged, called All I Ever Wanted, and Risen caught up with the now 22-year-old to talk about tough conversations with friends, not conforming, and making faith your own.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in Southern California
Risen Magazine: What did your faith journey look like growing up?
AJ Michalka: I grew up in a strong Christian family with a very good background. It was amazing and I wouldn’t change it in a million years. When I got older and I was more in tune with who I was, and more knowledgeable about the Lord, and who I wanted to be as an adult, I started getting more involved on my own. I developed my own convictions. It wasn’t because of my mom or dad or traditions of going to church. It was my own personal conviction. Each person really has to search for that inside. We have so many opportunities. The Lord gives us so many chances and you either find it, or you don’t. I grew up in a church in Seattle, Washington, that was amazing. There were 3,000 people and I would perform there. My sister and I would sing duets when we were younger and that’s how we grew up. I will never forget those moments. But then I made it my own choice and personal conviction. It is really important when you are growing up to make sure you are not doing something just because your parents have taught you that it’s the right thing, but that you actually want to start a relationship with God.
Risen Magazine: When it comes to keeping a strong faith in Hollywood, what does that look like for you?
AJ Michalka: It is hard no matter what you do. Hollywood is often portrayed as this incredibly crazy, sinful wasteland. I think it is filled with temptation and sin, but it is also similar to the world we live in. That’s everywhere. Whether you are in this industry or not, it is so important to surround yourself with people that are going to help you stay on the right track and not lead you down a road of destruction and sin. [In my movie, Grace Unplugged,] Gracie abandoned what she grew up with because she was so confined and needed to develop who she was and figure things out. That’s okay that she did that. She’s human and she grew up in a world where she felt like she didn’t belong. She needed to forge her own path and I just appreciated the fact that she came back around. I have so much respect for her as a young girl that at 16 years old, she is able to rise and fall at the same time. She really does make it back home. Her vulnerability in that scene where she is apologizing to her family and her friends is really what made me want to do the film. I feel like it is really hard whether you are in this industry or not. You have got to surround yourself with people who are going to steer you in the right direction and to put God first. Staying in the word [the Bible] is so important. Every year, I start a new devotional and I read it every day. It is really what keeps me grounded in my faith. You have to put God first and then center him in it all.
Risen Magazine: You mentioned how you have to surround yourself with friends that are headed in the right direction. What advice do you have for those that have some friends that have wandered away from God?
AJ Michalka: I think we are all nervous to be upfront or real with people. We often walk on eggshells because we don’t want to be the bearer of bad news. But I really think that we are on this earth to be messengers. I feel like you can approach friends or even people that you don’t know that well without pushing yourself on them. There is a fine line that you have to find. But if you pray about reaching out to a friend that has gone astray, in the long run, it will be better the situation, not worsen it. It does depend on your relationship with that person and how you approach it. But if you come from a good place and your intentions are pure, you can’t lose. If it’s a friend that you love and care for, even if it takes them a while to come around, they will be able to look back and see that your intentions were pure. They will make it around. It just might take some time. I think it is important to speak up. You can be loud about your faith without pushing anything down people’s throats. We are here to love everyone. It’s important to share especially with a friend that has gone astray.
We need to be the messengers we were sent here to be and not worry about having to prove ourselves to another person just so we can be called popular.
Risen Magazine: In the film, when Gracie lands her contract, she is forced by her agent to change her image; from the clothes that she wears to the boy she dates. What words do you have for our readers who feel pressured by others to be something they are not?
AJ Michalka: I think that so many of us are constantly seeking the approval of parents, co-workers, or friends and really there is only one opinion at the end of the day that matters and that is the Lord’s. I feel like instead of acting differently or pretending to be something that we are not, let’s spend this time on earth – since it’s so quick – actually loving who we are and knowing that the only person we need to please is the Lord. Even he will love us no matter what. I think it’s important to not conform. We need to be the messengers we were sent here to be and not worry about having to prove ourselves to another person just so we can be called popular. I think it’s really important for us to remember that we are soldiers for Christ and we need to witness to people and not try to see who has the best outfit, or the better job. At the end of the day, we don’t need to prove ourselves to anyone.
Risen Magazine: A lot of young people aspire to be actors or singers, what is the one thing you wish someone would have told you?
AJ Michalka: I wish someone would have told me the amount of times you’ll hear “No,” before you hear, “Yes.” I feel like that is the trend with everything you do. Sometimes we are expecting it to be easier. We work hard at our craft and we don’t necessarily reap the benefits. We assume they will come. The biggest thing I have learned is that it’s not about the yes or the no, it’s about where we are going to end up. The one thing I would have loved to hear before going into this industry is to be prepared for a lot of denial before it’s a yes. I’m actually okay with that because the only yes I need is from him [the Lord]. The process has made me who I am, a strong, confidant person.
Risen Magazine: You have an older sister [Aly] who you sing with and have starred together in a number of projects. How do you keep that balance between working together and having fun together as sisters?
AJ Michalka: The balance really comes naturally. It is always something you can work on with siblings. You should always be real with each other if something hurts. You should be communicative and conversational with your siblings rather than get upset about something, letting it fester and then explode. My sister and I have always been really good at staying in constant communication. We go to church together, we pray together and the Lord has really been our center. My sister and I don’t ever feel like we are a burden to each other or we’re sick of each other. Even though we are working together and do much of our personal lives together, we still have our individual outlets. We have our own friends and our own activities. We have things that separate us, but we have the Lord that connects us and because that bond is so strong, it doesn’t ever really affect us in a negative way.
Risen Magazine: In what other ways do you both use your gifts and talents to give back to others and why is this important to you?
AJ Michalka: It’s really important because people need love and people need to be acknowledged and nurtured. Whether it’s a charity you are involved in or something you want to donate time to, lend your name or money to, it’s important to find something that convicts you personally. It shouldn’t be something you feel obligated to do. Aly and I love to work with groups that are serving children. It may be visiting a hospital or putting on a concert for a group of kids, but we have had that same mentality. I love children and I can’t wait to have children of my own when I’m older. I feel like it’s important to connect with your audience, whether they’re your fans or not. It’s important whether you’re a celebrity or not to give back. It’s great to have that feeling of satisfaction of helping someone else and that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Risen Magazine: You have a new album out. Where do you get your inspiration from for your music?
AJ Michalka: A lot of it is personal experience. Some of the music from experiences that our friends have gone through that we have gone through with them. A friend will come to me with something and I am automatically put into a certain mood. I feel like the deeper your moods are the better it is to write. We’re never specific with whom the song is about or who it is aimed towards, but a lot of it is a personal diary to who we are and who our friends are. There are some other world issues that we are moved and inspired to write about. A lot of it is relationship based though things that Aly and I have experienced. Whatever motivates us is what we write about. If it pushes that trigger, we know it is time to get out the piano or the guitar and start writing some lyrics.
Risen Magazine: You girls are so musically talented! You started your career at the young age of four and have had to make some sacrifices along the way. Looking back on your childhood, is there anything you regret or feel like you missed out on?
AJ Michalka: I’m sure there is something that I will think of later, but there isn’t anything that sticks out to me. I guess the most obvious thing was that my sister and I were home-schooled for high school and I didn’t get to experience real high school. That is probably not something I will look back and get upset about. We lived such an interesting life and were so blessed to go on the road and be on tour. We met people from all different walks of life. We learned about other people, so I don’t feel like I really missed out on a lot because I got to experience so much that I wouldn’t trade. I wouldn’t ever want to replace that life and start over. The cool thing is we started singing so young, but when we actually started performing professionally, we were older. It was cool falling into the business knowing it was something we wanted to do. Aly and I started a band when we were younger. We never thought anything would come of it. We knew we loved performing, playing instruments and singing and that was it. When it became professional, we were excited because we realized we would be able to reach people in a deeper way than just playing in our living room. To me the biggest blessing is how our career just developed in a natural way.
Risen Magazine: Ten years from now, what do you hope to be doing?
AJ Michalka: I wish for many things when it comes to my career. But first and foremost, it would definitely be being happily married and having healthy children. I would love to grow a rock solid family similar to what my parents have done.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Fall 2013