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The evolution of the Michalkas


SISTERS OF CREATION: Devout Christians Alyson, left, and AJ Michalka were home-schooled. Photo: Frazer Harrison

SISTERS OF CREATION: Devout Christians Alyson, left, and AJ Michalka were home-schooled. Photo: Frazer Harrison

SISTERS OF CREATION: Devout Christians Alyson, left, and AJ Michalka were home-schooled. Photo: Frazer Harrison

ALYSON Michalka is very blonde, very pretty and fairly tall, but it's none of these that most draws my attention. It is that she is alone -- there's no sign of the minder who so often accompanies young stars to make sure the interviewer plays nice.

It might seem like a detail, but, after a while, it seems to be indicative of her; this is her thing and she knows what she's doing.

Although Michalka has been familiar to millions of Disney viewers since she was 13 (she played Keely Teslow in Phil of the Future), the film she is in Dublin to promote, Bandslam, is her first cinema release. As it's set amongst high school kids and co-stars Vanessa High School Musical Hudgens, Michalka acknowledges anyone could be forgiven for making assumptions. "Everyone has been really surprised," she says. "They're not really expecting a movie that has heart. They're expecting it to be a little bit cheesy or not as musically advanced as it is."

It's not Rock'n'Roll High School, but Bandslam is a pleasant surprise and has real, as well as concocted, music, something of which Michalka is proud. "I feel the soundtrack itself is so different and so hip. I grew up listening to Wilco and Cheap Trick; I think it's inspirational for kids to be able to listen to this kind of classic music." That the film be considered to have musical integrity is very important to her, as in recent years she and her sister have been focussing on their band 78Violet.

Born in California in 1979, Alyson was followed two years later by her sister Amanda (AJ). The sisters had been on stage since they were toddlers (their mother was a former singer in a Christian group) and after a few years in Seattle, the family moved back to California, a move that coincided with the girls' decision to make a serious attempt at a career in showbusiness. "It was exciting for us to be in the right place and think, 'Now we can make this happen.'" She was 11.

Both sisters got work in TV shows but kept up their music. "We had always been singing together. When we were three and five, we got up on stage singing in church, but we really made a decision to go for it at about 12 and 10." They did guitar and voice lessons, and started writing songs. It paid off; their third album is finished and due for release when Aly finishes promoting Bandslam and her sister finishes working on the film version of The Lovely Bones.

Showbusiness is what the sisters are all about, that and their Christianity, although Alyson says, "I feel like my faith doesn't have anything to do with affecting my art. It can affect some of the choices that I make but not where I would ever alienate myself from people." In one interview, oft quoted, they said that they didn't believe in evolution. Aly asked, "Are they teaching that in schools now?" (the sisters were home-schooled) and AJ added: "Evolution is silly. Monkeys? Um, no." I have to ask.

"I think when we were really young AJ and I felt really strongly about certain things because we were not as educated... Today I would be definitely more open-minded and I feel like we all have evolved over the years; we definitely have grown as humans. It's amazing to see us over the years and the changes that we've made just as our face, our bodies as humans; it's incredible to see the likeness to animals and people; it's really interesting." So that doesn't mean you believe in the theory of evolution. "Yeah." You're just more careful. "Yeah." She is learning to talk around things.

Strength, it seems, comes from togetherness. Of her sister, she says: "We get on so well, we can go anywhere together and feel like we have our friend. We keep each other grounded and laughing and it's always good to have someone you can confide in." They still live at home, although she says, "I can't wait to get my own place so I can decorate it. AJ (she pronounces it "Age") and I will probably get one together and that will be an exciting adventure for us."

Their mother is also quite involved in their careers, although Alyson insists, "Mom and Dad are Mom and Dad; they stay out of the creative part. They help manage our life, not our business." Although her sister has been linked to one of the (also Christian) Jonas Brothers, Alyson has never been romantically linked to a boy or any kind of scandal. "Thankfully, I'm never drawn to those situations. My sister and I both are very much homebodies; we enjoy reading novels and lighting candles, hanging with our dogs, rather than getting involved with something that could be risky to our careers. We want to have longevity in this business."

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