By Carrie Parker
Ask 12-year-old Skylar “Sky” Katz, an old-school hip-hop rapper who hails from Melville, whether anyone has treated her differently since she competed on Season 11 of “America’s Got Talent,” and she won’t hesitate.
“Nope,” she said. “I’m just another sixth grader.”
In many ways, she is.
Sky attends West Hollow Middle School – part of the Half Hollow Hills School District –with her friends, plays basketball, catches a few episodes of “Girl Meets World” and builds up her collection of Jordan, Adidas and Nike sneakers. At home, she spends time with parents Frann and Mike Katz and siblings Hailey, 18; Madison, 16; and Dylan, 15.
At times, she works her everyday life into her budding hip-hop career. Sky was flanked by her friends in the music video for “Haters,” one of her handful of singles. Her producer, Sean Allen, 35, said the song is a response to the rise in negative comments on social media – something she has personally dealt with.
Sometimes she’ll shoot hoops in her driveway, or go down to the court with her friends, but she balances that between the three different teams she plays on – and has also been invited to practice with Half Hollow Hills High School East’s girls varsity basketball team whenever she’s available.
Sky’s parents often have to shuttle-run the tween from the recording studio or a performance in the city back out east to her basketball games so she can make it in time to play.
And then there was “America’s Got Talent,” the popular NBC reality competition that Sky auditioned for last year via an online video submission. She did so unbeknownst to her parents, so when her dad got a call from the producers, he thought it was a prank.
“I was like, ‘Who is this?’ I thought it was one of my friends, like c’mon,” Mike, a podiatrist with a practice in Huntington, recalled. “But they said, ‘We saw a video of Sky, and she’s so incredible, and we want her on AGT.’”
Sending out audition tapes wasn’t unusual for Sky, her mom said.
“We heard her many times sending in tapes to [‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’],” Frann said. “But we couldn’t believe it. To see that somebody was so excited for her, it was amazing.”
Though she was eliminated in the second round, Sky walked away dubbed the “coolest 11-year-old in the world” by Simon Cowell.
The entire experience with “America’s Got Talent” was “so cool,” Sky said. She was ultimately eliminated on July 13, 2016 from the group of contestants in the second round of the season. Still, Sky “would do it 500 more times.”
Sky hasn’t slowed down since then. In addition to interviews with Newsday, the New York Post, TIME Magazine for Kids and last month Long Islander News, Sky has appeared on Pix 11 Morning News and Fox 5’s “Good Day NY.” She also recently performed her song “Fresh” on Harry Connick Jr.’s “Harry TV.”
Ultimately, Sky said she has her sights set on touring internationally and performing sold out shows at big name venues like Madison Square Garden – which she technically has already done; she performed at halftime of a New York Knicks game in January. But she has bigger aspirations for her return; she dreams of performing at the Garden solo before a sold out crowd.
And she continues to dream of performing on the Ellen DeGeneres show. “I can’t wait,” she said. Though she has sent audition videos to Ellen “a thousand and one times” and has yet to hear back, “I’m not going to give up,” she vowed.
The defining moment of Sky’s life, and now career, may have happened before she was born, when her parents met as teens growing up in Queens. They shared a love for hip-hop music during its “golden age,” listening to the old-school artists like Q-Tip, Run-D.M.C. and Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz.
Now, her father said, the rappers that he listened to when he was young are watching her.
“My wife and I look at each other and say, ‘Can you believe that she’s up here?’” Mike said. “As much as I know what she’s capable of, I’m still amazed. It’s surreal.”
Sky has a sweet, beaming, world-class smile, but her father says she also has the tenacity handle the demands of her schedule.
Frann and Mike both said, as parents, of course they have concerns about the sometimes rough-and-tumble music industry, but they see Sky’s passion, and “she sort of makes us sure with the path we’re taking,” Mike said.
Sky laughs every time her parents ask, “Is this truly what you want to do?” Frann said.
The tween first started performing when she was 5 or 6 years old at her siblings’ parties, where she would rap along to the music and “loved the reaction of people,” her father said. Sky said seeing the “looks on their faces” is still one of the reasons she loves performing.
“Sky is confident, fearless, [has] no inhibitions, and welcomes a challenge,” Mike said. “She loves making people smile and giving people a good feeling, so she’s trying to do that through her music.”
Her producer, Sean Allen, said Sky is never scared.
“She just goes up to people and starts rapping,” he added. “The more viewers she has she doesn’t get nervous. You add more and that brings her out more.”
Sky is typically in the studio 2-3 times a week, recording in the Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and New Jersey.
“I rehearse, rehearse, rehearse till I get it,” Sky said. “Confidence comes from working hard. I’m always practicing, and hard work really pays off.”
She continued, “I’ll tell ya, old school tells a story. It’s inspiring.” That’s what draws her to the genre.
When it comes to influences, Sky said she could go on forever, but did name Biggie Smalls as her number one favorite old-school hip-hop artist. Sky said she would love to collaborate with modern hip-hop artist Nikki Minaj, who herself authored her first rap at age 12. Sky likes Minaj’s “Autobiography,” which tells the tale of the rapper’s childhood growing up with an addict father, because “it tells a story,” Sky said.
Sky hasn’t shied away from serious subject matter in her own raps either. Her song “Long Way to Go” deals with gun-violence, weaving her lyrics with sound bites of news reports on the recent fatal shootings across the nation.
“All the stuff going on in the world, it’s always something that’s on the news,” Sky said. “We thought we could make a song and try to stop it.
She continued, “It breaks my heart… Families are losing the people they love. I would hate that if it happened. I can’t even imagine what it would be like.”
Sky is currently gearing up to release a new song, “Bully,” which chronicles the fight against bullying, her producer said. Sky described bullying as “another tragedy that happens.”
Of her own songs, Sky’s favorite is “Beautiful Girl,” which is about kids with cancer, disabilities, or low self-esteem. Sky incorporates the struggles of these kids as she performs and “gives them a platform,” her producer said.
Helping those in need is something that Sky typically sets out to do, her mom said.
“It sounds cliché: she’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s all these things. But she’s such a good girl,” Frann said, her voice catching. “If Sky sees someone sitting alone on the bus or in the cafeteria, she’ll always come to their aid.”
Most of Sky’s songs are available through streaming services like SoundCloud, or for purchase through iTunes. With a number of singles already out in the wild, the tween plans to drop her debut album sometime in 2017.
Her goal is to blend “a little old school and a little new school, with a fun vibe,” she said. “I was dreaming to do this since I can’t remember. And now, here it is. And it’s just getting better.”