When 16-year-old singer and “America’s Got Talent” semifinalist Amanda Mena helps Boston celebrate the country’s birth at the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, she’ll be thinking of two people in particular: her mother and father, immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
“My parents left their life behind, their family behind, to come to this country to build a better life for me and my siblings. If it wasn’t for them, I would never be where I am today,” the Lynn teen says.
Mena was born in Salem, “then my parents sent me back to DR to be raised by my grandmother, so I could learn the culture.” She moved back to Salem at age 4, then to Lynn.
It was there that the soulful singer “fell in love with American music.” In fifth grade, she won “La Voz Kids” — Telemundo’s Spanish-language version of “The Voice” for kids. At age 15, she wowed judges on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” advancing to the semifinals.
After she belted a soulful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in her audition, judge Howie Mandel called her a “supernatural talent.” Even the notoriously hard-to-please Simon Cowell was complimentary. “Do you know what you have, Amanda? You have genuinely natural soul,” he told her.
Spice Girl Mel B went a step further, giving Mena the Golden Buzzer, which sent her through to the live show. Mel B said in a YouTube video that Mena “gave me goosebumps from head to toe, then my hands were shaking. . . . She was that powerful, and that intense, and that good.”
When asked about that moment, with confetti pouring down — she held onto some confetti as a keepsake — Mena says: “That was incredible, absolutely insane, because it made me feel like all my parents’ sacrifices were worthwhile. I feel like I made them proud, which makes me really happy.
“Also, I was able to shoot a message to all the kids from this area. When I was growing up here, I used to hear that my dreams were too big, that nobody from Lynn was ever going to be able to do anything like that. When Mel B gave me the Golden Buzzer, it proved a point: that if you work hard you can do whatever you dream of doing.”
Her mother, Miosotis Mena Rodriguez, ran onstage to embrace her during that moment.
“It’s amazing to be able to see your child chasing their dreams,” says Mena Rodriguez now, using Amanda as translator. “It makes me so happy to know that she is doing what she truly loves.”
Her mother takes care of Amanda’s younger brother, who has autism; her dad, Martin Mena, works at Fenway Park for Aramark. She also has older twin brothers.
Dad will be there when Mena performs at the Hatch Shell Wednesday and Thursday with headliner Queen Latifah, folk singer Arlo Guthrie, and fellow “America’s Got Talent” alumni the Texas Tenors. Her mother can’t attend; she’ll be in the Dominican Republic helping with the production of Mena’s debut EP, to be released sometime this summer.
“I’m happy that as a father I was able to give her opportunities I never had. I want to see her grow and learn more each day,” says Martin Mena, with his daughter translating. “I’m extremely excited [for the Pops shows]; this will be the biggest crowd she’s ever performed in front of.”
Mena performed with the Pops in May, as a winner of the Fidelity Young Artists Competition. Since “America’s Got Talent,” she’s also performed on Broadway with actress Melissa Benoist (“Supergirl”) in the Carole King musical “Beautiful.” Her single, “Cartagena,” is releasing soon, as is her yet-untitled EP.
“Amanda was so poised and inspiring on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ ” Pops conductor Keith Lockhart says in an e-mail. “She absolutely wowed the world with her talent, and I can’t wait to see her do it again on the Charles River Esplanade.”
It was when she returned from the Dominican Republic and her family settled in Lynn, Mena recalls, that “American music really ignited something in me. It made me want to entertain people, to change how people feel through a song, to deliver a message — that’s the beauty of music.”
She joined a music program for kids at the Lynn YMCA around age 7. At about the same time, she discovered Whitney Houston.
“I loved that she was so powerful onstage. So confident. Same thing with Mariah Carey, Etta James, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga,” she says. “During that time, being in school wasn’t the easiest for me because I didn’t know how to speak English. I feel like they just represented empowerment for me. They made me feel I could do it.”
At age 11, she decided to audition for “La Voz Kids” — and won. While she didn’t win “America’s Got Talent,” “I learned that I should believe in myself. Trust myself,” she says. “What you think about yourself on the inside is what’s going to show to the outside.”
As she heads into her junior year at St. Mary’s High School, her goals include going to Berklee College of Music, making records, and traveling the world singing and touring.
“And obviously it would be great if I could win a Grammy.”
She later adds: “What I want to be, I want to look back on my career and be proud of myself. I feel like every mistake is not a failure, it’s a fall. And you can easily get up from a fall.
“The music industry, it’s a hard industry,” she says. But “my parents have always believed in me. It’s definitely hard for my mom since I’m still a minor, and she has to go everywhere with me, and, you know, my baby brother has his condition, so it’s hard for her to leave him for a while to come to these things with me. Which is why I’m so grateful for all the sacrifices they make for me to be able to follow my dreams.”
2019 BOSTON POPS FIREWORKS SPECTACULAR
With Queen Latifah, Arlo Guthrie, Amanda Mena, and the Texas Tenors. At the Hatch Shell, July 3 at 8:30 p.m. (without fireworks) and July 4 at 8 p.m. Free. www.bostonpopsjuly4.org