Jenna Calandra is an average Long Island Millennial. She digs music, hanging with friends, social media, and the independence of living on her own.
The 24-year-old Wading River resident who fell in love with singing at age 8 when she performed in two elementary school plays — one of which was Cinderella — has overcome many obstacles in her short life. She was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the late age of 16 — but on May 14, she’s releasing her self-titled debut album, Jenna.
“I was bullied for being different, severely bullied,” she recalled, noting that she is too busy enjoying her life and looking toward her musical future to dwell on the past. “Today I have a lot of great friends in my life. My best friend Erin and I Facetime every single night, she is always there for me.”
One song on the soon-to-be released album entitled “Right Here” is dedicated to Erin. It’s a song about friendship.
Calandra began her love of music when she came out of the womb.
“My dad is a musician, he plays the guitar, piano, drums, and he sings,” said Calandra.
After her 4th-grade stage debut, the music-smitten girl went onto sing in her high school choir and commenced on a road of professional singing lessons. She presently receives lessons and works out of the Loft Sound Studio in Syosset. It is also the background for her album.
“I write my own music, I compose, write my own lyrics,” she said enthusiastically.
Her long-awaited dream of a completed album has arrived. Two years in the making, she says her favorite song on the album is “Body.”
“It’s about being confident about yourself, about who you are and your body,” she added.
The songbird has sung publicly at various open mics around Suffolk County, including the Brick House Brewery in Patchogue.
Calandra was not deterred by her first crowd which she said was small, only 50 or 60 people. She has since played for much larger crowds.
Her favorite artists are popular amongst her peers: Chart toppers Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande.
What’s her ultimate dream beyond the album?
“I want to go on tour for this album,” she said. “I have fans in Boston and Florida through Instagram.”
Calandra has received many affirming messages from her fans about both her music and her lyrics.
“When they say I love your music, you are so talented, it just melts my heart,” shared Calandra.
Jenna has many friends, most of whom she has met through a program she participates in through New York State Office of People With Developmental Disabilities. Calandra is a participant of Independent Support Services (ISS). She lives what is known in the world of Diversified Abilities as a Self-Directed Life.
Exactly what it sounds like, it allows participants to self-direct their lives as opposed to living a cookie-cutter existence, the type of experience often had in group-home settings. Self-Direction is a philosophy, it’s a movement, and it’s a lifestyle.
The young singer says this program allows her to grow, allows her to be independent and it allows her to be her.
“Being part of ISS has been one of the best opportunities I’ve been given,” she explained.
She was formerly part of a group-home situation and prefers her lifestyle now, where she lives independently in her community.
“I have a job, I got a learners permit,” she said proudly. “I want to let everyone know that people with developmental disabilities can do anything.”
Calandra’s music can be found on Instagram under Jenna Calandra Music. It can also be found in Spotify and ITunes.
Now this budding artist is now living her Cinderella story. But Calandra’s dream never had anything to do with Prince Charming or glass slippers. Her story is all about a microphone, an album, special friends, and living an independent life where she can make her dreams come true.