Meeghan Henry’s rise to stardom

Pop singer Meeghan Henry stands in front of Founders Hall, where she takes classes as a political science major. Meeghan is considering law school, depending on how her music career progresses in the future. / photo by Alison Rodriguez

Pop singer Meeghan Henry stands in front of Founders Hall, where she takes classes as a political science major. Meeghan is considering law school, depending on how her music career progresses in the future. / photo by Alison Rodriguez

by Ruby Emery
photography by Alison Rodriguez

Smoke floats over the audience. Bright lights hit the stage. She grabs the microphone as lyrics race through her mind. “Here we go,” she whispers to herself as she glides to center stage. Many would succumb to nerves in this packed house, however the spotlight feels like home to Meeghan Henry. She is at a live performance in Hollywood alongside her pop group, Girl Radical. Tomorrow at 7 a.m. she will be in class.

Meeghan is what some would call a modern day “Hannah Montana”—a political science student by day, a pop singer by night. Meeghan is not yet 20, but she has already accomplished an unfathomable amount. She models and acts professionally and was crowned Miss Teen Asia USA in 2011. She has appeared in countless commercials for companies like McDonald’s, Blockbuster, Home Depot, Disneyland and Nike. These days, she has submerged herself in the music industry, working alongside JC Chasez, the former ‘N Sync member who created Girl Radical. She also recently appeared in a popular Target commercial with Justin Timberlake. Prepping for rehearsals, photo shoots and red carpet walks have become a part of her life.

You will find her name at the top of the Dean’s List. She is a member of two prestigious honor societies on campus, and she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2015, two years earlier than students her age. She is also considering law school depending on Girl Radical’s success. Meeghan says she truly knows what it means to have the best of both worlds.

A star is born

The dream began when Meeghan moved from Indonesia to America with her mother when she was 4 years old. Growing up in San Dimas, young Meeghan was always bopping along to boy-band ballads and mimicking riffs from her idols Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. It was not long before her mother started her in child modeling, acting, singing and dancing. As she grew up, rehearsals became more rigorous, and the auditions were more frequent. Her talent blossomed. She was enrolled in both a performing arts middle school and high school, where she focused on singing and developed her solo career. Over the years, she has used social media as a platform to expand her fan base. She has nearly 200,000 followers on Twitter and an even bigger audience on YouTube. “I have two music videos that have reached over 1 million hits, and many of those views were all within the first week of posting them,” she says. “I never expected they’d get such a great response so fast.”

Girl Radical

Meeghan’s success with solo singles led to bigger projects, including Girl Radical. “It’s an 11-girl group,” she says. “We were created by JC Chasez from ‘N Sync and Jimmy Harry who is a Golden Globe award-winning producer and songwriter,” she says. “They were looking for girls 18 and older, but I was only 17 when I joined. I was the youngest. I am the youngest. I am baby radical,” she says with a giggle. The road to getting into Girl Radical was arduous. After nine months of auditions and callbacks, she officially landed a spot in the group. “Meegs had a presence from the moment she walked in the room that was captivating,” says Chasez. “On top of that, she was well prepared and professional.

The project we are working on takes an incredible amount of organization so when you look at her talent package and combine it with her work ethic and professionalism, I was excited to work with her.” Jimmy Harry, who has written with artists such as Madonna, P!nk and Kelly Clarkson, is also a fan of “baby radical.” “Meeghan is so talented, driven, and poised, and she is such ­­a lovely person. She never goes halfway with anything. She gives everything she does 100 percent, which is rare and amazing.”

Meeghan says Chasez and Harry are deeply involved in Girl Radical’s day-to-day work. “JC and Jimmy are always there, and it’s cool because they’re so talented, but also so humble. They go to dance rehearsals and are always in the studio when we record our songs,” she says. “JC will give us tips on how to record, on how to get to the low notes, how to get to the high notes, how to breathe right. Jimmy will have us practice until we get it right.” Having 11 girls in one confined practice space can be chaotic and chatty, but Chasez and Harry like to keep a balance of playfulness and persistence during recording sessions.

A tragic loss

The ‘N Sync member and Golden Globe producer have contributed a great deal to Meeghan’s success, but she says most of the credit is due to her mother, Christina Endang Pratiknjo, who put in endless hours of work to propel Meeghan’s entertainment goals over the years. In a tragic turn of events, Pratiknjo died suddenly from a rare form of cancer in 2013. “Meeghan’s mother was her No. 1 champion,” says her stepfather, Doug Burton. “Her mother was actively working to be her manager … so she played a very active role in her career. So far we haven’t had really good luck filling that void.” Meeghan uses the fond memories to work even harder and describes her mother as an inspiring role model. “My mom moved here on her own, learned the language on her own, graduated from USC on her own, and got a job on her own … I would feel lucky just to be half the woman that she is. She’s worked so hard for me, so I owe it to her to do the same,” she says.

Burton says Meeghan is doing her best to keep moving forward. “In Meeghan’s case, she’s working extra hard because she doesn’t have a parent in the industry, and she’s somewhat of a minority role. Asian actors and actresses are not a huge part of the business which is an interesting dynamic to explore, but regardless, artists trying to break through are going to spend a lot of hours trying to open doors and preparing to jump at opportunities at any given moment,” he says.

Beyond the fame

The music industry is a notoriously difficult one to crack, and Meeghan understands the odds. “This industry is 99 percent rejection. I’ve gone on so many auditions, and there’s only a handful that I’ve actually got … it affected me more when I was younger, but now it’s like I walk in a room, and my attitude is like ‘this is what I am offering and if you don’t like it, then I’m moving on,’” Meeghan says. She has had to learn how to take the rejection in stride. “Obviously you need a tough skin to be in this business. There is a lot of rejection, but there are a lot of opportunities. You just have to find the right one that fits you.”

The smallest thing can prevent a person from catching their big break. Meeghan explains one example. “I auditioned for a role in the movie ‘Bridesmaids.’ You know the scene where the teenage girl goes into the jewelry store and argues with Kristen Wiig? They called me back three or four times, and it came down to this blonde girl and myself. She ended up getting the part because the casting directors thought I was too tall next to Kristen.”

In the past, Meeghan has been frustrated by the industry’s need to stick to stereotypes. “They shape you into what they want you to be instead of who you really are. That sucks because you signed up to be a singer and perform your music and write your own songs and express yourself. That’s why you become an entertainer.”

The nitpicking and criticism from industry professionals is one reason Meeghan stays consistent with school. “It is important for me to have a backup plan just in case things don’t work out. Knock on wood … I like to have a plan and make sure that I have a future set for me no matter what it may hold,” she says. After graduating from ULV in 2015, she has her sights set on graduate or law school. She says she chose to major in political science because it requires a lot of writing and critical thinking. “It challenges me. I honestly don’t think I’ll get straight A’s this semester, but I’m OK with that because I’m opening my mind to new ways of thinking, different philosophies and fascinating theories.” She hopes to eventually intertwine her political science background with the music industry by going into entertainment law.

Although political science is a rare choice for individuals striving to make it in the entertainment world, her professor Jason Neidleman explains that the University of La Verne will prepare her for whichever career path she chooses. “When you get a liberal arts education you acquire skills that will be useful across the field, so the particular subject is less important than the skills. I tell my students, if you want to go into entertainment, you will do well in entertainment. If you go into business, you’re going to do well in business because we’re acquiring­­­ skills that translate.” Neidleman says he had no idea Meeghan was a performer. Neidleman, who has taught at ULV for more than 12 years, describes her as ”very diligent, very serious and very bright. You know, a good student.”

Social life

Meeghan says she tries to mask her musical side at school, but her friend Siri Tjorhon says she often hears her singing. “As I’ve gotten to know her I see that she’s super down to earth, super silly, super funny. She’s kind of a little dork sometimes, so you wouldn’t know that she’s in a pop group other than her constant singing. I don’t think she lets her talent get to her head at all.”

Meeghan is a teenage pop star who keeps climbing up the ladder to success despite life’s twists, turns, and attempts to knock her down. She attributes her success to persistence. “Just never give up,” she says. “It’s so cliché, but so true. You know the biggest mistake people make is giving up right before they hit the gold mine. You’ve just got to keep going. That’s what I do. That’s all I know. I dream big. I practice. It’s not all about luck. We all need to remember that luck comes with hard work.”

Student Meeghan Henry rehearses for an upcoming show with fellow members of the all-female pop group Girl Radical, managed by former ‘N Sync member JC Chasez. The group is made up of 11 members. Also pictured here are Aniyah Williams, Darina Littleton and Kota Wade. / photo by Alison Rodriguez

Student Meeghan Henry rehearses for an upcoming show with fellow members of the all-female pop group Girl Radical, managed by former ‘N Sync member JC Chasez. The group is made up of 11 members. Also pictured here are Aniyah Williams, Darina Littleton and Kota Wade. / photo by Alison Rodriguez