When her Westfield High School drama teacher asked everyone what they wanted to do in life, Kristina Perez was baffled.
“Everyone else had it all planned out,” she recalls. “So I just said, ‘I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want to do!’” And she was remained true to her words.
Perez is, first and foremost, a singer. Throughout her years in the Westfield school district, she was a member of Bella Cora and Concert Choir at WHS; participated in their musicals, which included Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and was captain of the Varsity Cheerleaders. She was also a member of New Jersey’s Rock ‘N Roll Chorus, an elite a cappella group that sings around the country.
Now a music business major at Albright College, Perez juggles her studies with her blossoming career. The singer's debut single 'Forever,' produced by the African-based producer Jayso, will be released this fall. This Christmas, she will be traveling to Africa to perform with a top rapper there.
Perez’s mom has had a huge impact on her career, and she has also been the student of a number of dance teachers and other mentors including Brenda K. Starr and Don Lawrence, who has worked with big names such as Christina Aguilera and Bono.
“They’ve really been lighting a fire under me,” she emphasized. “It’s nice to have someone say ‘you’re good and need to keep going,’ because a lot of the time everyone’s telling you to stop and only like, two people are telling you not to . . . hopefully in the next few years I’ll be a star, singing in stadiums. But I don’t want to set limits for myself.”
More than anything Perez said she would want people to know about her is that she's "a cool person."
"I feel like I’m one of the first artists not to have a persona on stage—when I get up there it’s just me,” she said.
But for the young woman who spent the night before this interview partying with Akon at the Empire State Building, life wasn't always this glamorous. In fact, she said, she faced many of the same challenges kids battle today.
“I was bullied a lot in middle school,” she said. “I’ve been singing all my life, but I started taking it seriously in sixth grade. The first time I performed was at Fine Arts Day [at Roosevelt Intermediate School]—I sang ‘Beautiful’ by Christina Aguilera, and afterwards I remember my guidance counselor came up to me and said, ‘What are you doing here?!’ After that, people realized I was good and they started to respect me. It became a defining part of me.
“[The bullying] affected my confidence massively, and for a long time I contemplated quitting singing because I didn’t feel good enough and I even started to bully myself—I probably became my own biggest bully. But I surrounded myself with people who loved and cared about me and I realized that this is what I’m supposed to do, and I can’t give up.”
Her message to those who currently suffer from bullying or have been bullied, is that, “people who bully usually have insecurities of their own as well, and at the end of the day people who mind don’t matter, and people who matter don’t mind. One of my little ideas I always tweet about is ‘fly your freak flag’; we’re all crazy, fun people in our own ways and life is more fun when you’re just happy with who you are rather than unhappy with who you’re not . . . watch how fast things can change and watch who you bully.”
A major goal for Perez is to inspire people and affect them with her songs. She stressed that she would love it if a fan could come up to her one day and say that her music touched them and helped bring them through.
“I don’t want to just go out there as one of the numbers,” she said. “There’s nothing else that lights my fire or gets me excited like the music industry. It’s too much fun to give up! As long as I’m singing and not in a box, I’m good.”