When eight-year-old Amanda Mena first walked into the music studio at the Lynn YMCA, she was just a little girl in an after-school program. But she wouldn’t be for long. From performing on Broadway to getting a “golden buzzer” on America’s Got Talent to singing with Queen Latifah and the Boston Pops on the Fourth of July, she’s had no shortage of highlights in her music career—and she’s only 18.
Born in Salem, the singer-songwriter spent her first four years in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic, before moving to Lynn, where she currently lives with her family. “I grew up listening to merengue, bachata, salsa, that kind of music, so it was something that was always in my life,” she says. “Dominican Republic is in my heart, is in my soul, is in my blood.”
While she’s a bit more known in the Dominican, she’s found ample success here in the States. At just 11 years old she won La Voz Kids, a Spanish-language version of The Voice where kids participate. She received the “golden buzzer” on America’s Got Talent when she was 16, automatically advancing her to the semifinals. She also performed at last year’s Women’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony plus Boston’s Faneuil Hall tree lighting, the Copley Square First Night celebration, and the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert on the Esplanade.
“Being at the Charles River on the Fourth of July, America’s birthday, and seeing half a million people in the crowd, and being able to feel their energy and their excitement,” says Mena of the night she shared a stage with Queen Latifah, Arlo Guthrie, and Keith Lockhart, “it was just amazing.”
From her poise, powerful voice, astonishing range, and enchanting stage presence, you’d never know she still gets butterflies in her stomach before performances. But she’s all the better for it. “It’s about being able to take the stage fright and put it in your pocket,” she says. “I take those nerves I’m feeling and I use them to exude more energy into the crowd.”
A senior honors student at St. Mary’s High School in Lynn, Mena stays plenty busy between school and music. “Her intelligence, her recall, is just amazing,” says David Quade, a financial executive and supporter of Mena who helps promote and coordinate her events.
Audrey Jimenez, executive director of the Lynn YMCA, has supported Mena since she first joined the after-school music program. She describes Mena’s talent as “precocious,” and notes her photographic memory. “Amanda could read song lyrics once and have immediate recall thereafter,” says Jimenez.
During an Aretha Franklin tribute Mena performed for the Hollywood elite at the 33rd Annual Imagen Awards, says Quade, she had the audience dancing. “That’s what her voice does. It draws people in.”
Mena says her favorite genre to perform is R&B and soul pop, “hands down,” counting women like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé among her biggest inspirations. Although she and her team are focusing more on the Spanish market right now, her first English release, “Nonfiction,” which she wrote completely, comes out soon.
She’s been staying occupied even without live performances these last few months with a performance-intensive course at Berklee for which she won a scholarship. “I’m learning to be a better performer. I want to grasp as much as I can because I want to perfect my craft. I want to be able to understand music on a deeper level,” she says.
Already several years into her music career, Mena is just getting warmed up. “I’m never going to get to a point in my career where I’m going to feel like I’m done,” she says, hoping that in five or ten years, her music will be heard all over the world. “I want to keep growing as an artist, and as a person.”
Mena most recently sang the national anthem for the Patriots' season opener at Gillette last month. To stay updated on Mena’s newest music releases and performances, check out her Instagram, @amandamenamusic, and her YouTube channel.