EXCLUSIVE: 'Moana' Star Auli'i Cravalho Says Bump on Her Head Is a Reminder That the Oscars Wasn't a Dream

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Auli'i Cravalho is taking a cue from her portrayal of Moana these days. “I think I’ve become a little more adventurous through her character,” the 16-year-old explains to ET. “I’ve traveled across the world and am able to meet all these wonderful people.” Like the Disney-animated princess who voyages across the ocean in search of a demigod named Maui, Cravalho, who voiced the title role in the film (now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD), is venturing all over New York City for the next three weeks as she tapes a live-action pilot for a new NBC show called Drama High.

“I am very excited. I get to wear scarves and coats because it's cold,” the Hawaiian native exclaims. The show centers on talented students from a working-class town in a standout high school drama department, who are enriched by their impassioned teacher. The project, which Cravalho says is more realistic than Glee, is the latest series from Friday Night Lights and Parenthood creator Jason Katims. When Cravalho, who sang “House of the Rising Sun” for her audition as Lilette, was cast, she knew things would be different moving forward. “I cried and realized my life was going to change completely more than it already has.”

Cravalho’s life changed even more when she sang at the biggest venue of her career: the 89th Academy Awards. “I didn't know one performance could do that,” she recalls of singing the Oscar-nominated ballad, “How Far I’ll Go,” during the telecast. While she’s never watched the Oscars, she can now check off performing at them. Until that moment, she didn’t know much about Hollywood’s most prestigious evening. “I knew it was technically called the Academy Awards and that was pretty much it.” 

The bump slowly going away on the back of Cravalho’s head is a reminder that it wasn’t a dream. During her song, she got hit with one of the dancer’s blue flags. At dress rehearsal, the same thing happened. At the time, she laughed it off -- hoping it wouldn’t happen on the big night. “It was during the exact same part,” Cravalho recalls. “That person is forever holding his peace, that's for sure.” Cravalho proved to be a true professional and kept going. “I think I had that the show must goon ingrained in my mentality,” she says of the moment. “My mom is the one who tells me to roll with what life throws at you.” Before walking out onstage, Moana composer (and Hamilton creator) Lin-Manuel Miranda had some advice for the young actress: “Breathe.”

“He was a really great support for me during that time,” Cravalho says. “To have the person who wrote your song encourage you in such a way was amazing.”

MORE: 'Moana' Is the Disney Film That We Need

Cravalho’s animated character is now added to the vault with other talented stars behind Disney’s favorite heroines, such as Idina Menzel (Elsa, Frozen), Jodie Benson (Ariel, The Little Mermaid), Lea Solanga (Jasmine, Aladdin) and Mandy Moore (Rapunzel, Tangled). For Cravalho, Moana will always be with her. “[She] relates to me so much because she is a young woman figuring out what she wants to do and how she is going to pursue what is right.”

Looking ahead, Cravalho plans to return to Hawaii, where she’s now forever known as Moana (it’s “kind of aka Auli'i at this point,” she says), and finish high school. Next year, she plans to walk in her graduation ceremony with the rest of her friends, but for now, she’s working with a local teacher to study on any given day -- trigonometry, chemistry, economics and English -- while she’s on the road. After ET’s interview, she was headed to Junior’s for some matzo ball soup and tutoring.

“I'm still a registered student but I am just doing schooling a bit differently. I think I have the best of both worlds right now,” Cravalho says.