In many ways, Dylan Jenét is a typical 16-year-old girl. She likes to go shopping at the mall and trick-or-treating with friends. “I am just the average girl who likes to sing,” she says. But unlike Jenét, the “average” teenager doesn’t share a record label with Stevie Wonder, who also happens to be the executive producer of her first album, expected to be released later this year through Universal Republic.
The Mountaukett Native, known as “DJ” for short, is incredibly accomplished for someone so young. She started singing national anthems at the age of 4, and sang as a soloist for President Obama at the Democratic National Convention, as well as at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball. She was the No. 1 artist selected out of more than 11,000 candidates to be featured by the Daily Unsigned, a leading website recognizing the best unsigned talent in the world.
At 13, Jenét won “Best Pop Recording Artist of the Year” at the 13th Annual Native American Music Awards — the youngest NAMA winner ever. And when she was 9 years old, she landed the role of Young Nala in Disney’s Broadway Production of “The Lion King.”
The former Miss New York State Junior Pre-Teen Queen (oh, yeah, there’s that, too) has also been recognized for her philanthropic work with the Urban League and NAACP.
Although she grew up in the Hamptons, on New York’s Long Island, Jenét now lives in Northridge, California, with her mom, dad, two brothers and sister. She actually found a few moments in her whirlwind schedule to talk to ICTMN about her incredible good fortune.
How did you get discovered?
I have a Facebook page, like all teenagers do. And Kimberly Brewer, who is a good friend of Stevie Wonder, was looking for undiscovered talent and she found me through social networking. She did a song with me and showed it to Stevie, and after he heard it, he wanted to sign me.
What’s it like to work with Stevie Wonder?
Oh, it’s amazing. He’s really, really funny. And super, super nice.
When did you first know that you could sing?
My parents said that when I was 3 years old, I would sing along with the commercial jingles perfectly on key, and my dad said, “Oh, she can sing!” I don’t really recall any of this. The earliest memory I have was trying to eat Play-Doh.
You are so accomplished already at such a young age. If someone asks you what you do, what do you tell them?
I’m a singer. Singing is my first love. But I’m just a girl living in America, trying to chase my dreams. I am also working on a movie right now. I got cast in the lead role. Sadly, I can’t tell you anything about it. But next time…
How does being Native American play into your songs and performances?
Being Native is a big, big part of my life. I always go to Pow Wows, and I won a NAMMY. I always try to stay true to my heritage. I am working on an album right now, and I’m trying to bring some of my culture into what I do. They took our category [Best Native American Album] off the Grammy’s, so I’m trying to bring it back. I mean, Native music is here — don’t forget about us!
Tell us about the work you are doing with other talented teens.
I’m the spokesperson for TeenSation, an organization that showcases, recognizes and supports talented teens. Sometimes it’s difficult for talented teenagers to figure out the best ways to focus on a career. So I am in the process of creating my own record label called “TeenSation Rekordz,” a label run by teens, for teens. Because Stevie Wonder believed in me as a young teen and signed his name to represent me musically, I’m going to carry on his tradition to help bring other talented teens into the entertainment world.
We heard you are also working specifically with Native teenagers.
The Rez 2 Rez Foundation is just an idea in my head right now that I want to concentrate on when I’m able to. It’s an organization focusing on Native teen issues, on and off the rez. Sometimes I have been looked at by friends on the rez like I’m not a real Native because my tribe doesn’t have a reservation, or that a lighter-skinned, straighter-haired Native is more Native than me. It’s a communication and learning thing for all of us, and I would just like to be able to be a part of bridging that gap.
For more information on Dylan Jenét, visit reverbnation.com/dylanjenetcollins.
Here’s a video of the then-13-year-old Dylan Jenét performing at the Native American Music Awards in 2011: