By STEPHANIE FANTAUZZI
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – It's open mic night at Unurban, an eclectic neighborhood café here. Inside, former Florida Atlantic University student Alexx Calise is setting up onstage to perform as the featured artist.
Students sit on missmatched chairs and couches, their faces hidden behind laptops and books. Other regulars sip on chai lattes, an Unurban specialty, while appreciating the watercolor painted walls and stained glass windows that embellish the place.
Calise, 24, is unapologetic as she beats the first note out of her acoustic guitar. Her long black hair flings in the air unveiling piercing brown eyes and a fierce expression. The students sit upright and take notice. As she sings the first verse, more people gather around the small stage.
“Alexx is an amazing talent,” said James Mueller, an independent drummer working in the Los Angeles area. “She is one of the most innovative singers and songwriters of our time. She really has her own unique sound.”
Calise’s sound has been described by one of her peers as “hard rock and grunge meets urban-edged pop translated in angsty lyrics with an instantly identifiable vocal that is hauntingly beautiful and completely raw all at once.”
Calise’s journey as an aspiring singer and songwriter began early in her teens in her Fort Lauderdale home.
“I was a real shy kid growing up,” said the Staten Island native. “I would get lost in my notebook. Writing came first to me.”
Calise’s father, also a musician, was her first musical inspiration.
“I’d sit and watch him play the guitar for hours,” Calise said. “And I would practice and practice playing and singing because I wanted to be just like him.”
During her years at Deerfield Beach High School, Calise entered every singing contest and gave locals a taste of her developing skills in singing, music and lyric writing.
“Creating music was a way of facilitating my writings at first, a way to bring them to life,” she said.
Her transition from senior year at Deerfield High to first year at FAU was marked by a position as entertainment columnist for South Florida Sun Sentinel’s teen columns “Time Out,” “Next Generation” and “Teen Time.”
“One of my teachers referred me to John Dolen at Sun Sentinel,” said Calise, referring to the newspaper’s former arts and features editor. “I collaborated with him and got to blurb about local music events. I had a lot of fun doing it.”
Calise juggled her position at Sun Sentinel and earning credits towards a degree in multimedia journalism and commercial music until she left the newspaper in 2006.
“I played a lot of gigs at night and on weekends, anytime I didn’t have class,” Calise said. “FAU was flexible with my schedule, and I started taking online classes that allowed me to travel back and forth from L.A. to Florida while recording my first studio album.
In 2007, the aspiring singer was featured in both the Sun Sentinel and its affiliated paper, New Times, for her high profile shows at Hard Rock in Fort Lauderdale and her first CD release party.
Well into her third year at FAU, Calise reached the limit of online classes available for the completion of her degree and was forced to withdraw for the sake of pursuing her dream.
“I had made my decision,” she said. “I had a potential record deal and it drove me to finally make the move. So I flew into LA and slept on my producer’s couch, for six months.”
After arriving at Los Angeles International (LAX) and adding an extra “x” to her first name, Calise’s saw her career make a dramatic climb. She is currently endorsed by over 13 music gear and clothing manufacturers. Music from her 2007 critically acclaimed debut album, Morning Pill, is being played all over the world on TV networks such as VH1 and MTV and on thousands of charting radio stations.
Her last single, “Out of Sight” has been in regular rotation on Boston’s "No. 1-hit station," WXKS-108 FM. Calise also has recorded vocal tracks for many mainstream commercials and independent movies.
“I still write on a larger scale,” said Calise referring to her writing job as advice columnist for the L2P Network and GHS Guitar Strings E-Newsletter. “And I’m also a workout fanatic and I’m always reading.”
Currently, Calise is touring, writing and recording the follow up to her 2007 debut album and Sound of Cancer, her new music endeavor with accomplished drummer and songwriter, Dennis Morehouse. She’s also preparing to tour for the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I’m a busy girl,” Calise said with a smile. “But I don’t do it because of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “I do it every minute of the day because I love it.”
She added: “I want to be a positive influence on kids and women. I want to be that hero kids need these days, and I want to show young girls that they can be who they are and be beautiful."