SALT LAKE CITY — Milana Nigro was doing just what she always did. Headphones on and drumsticks in hand, the 10-year-old was in her jam, practicing one of her favorite songs “Lane Boy” by the band 21 Pilots.
“I grabbed my phone … we made a (quick) video of her playing that, put it on Facebook and that went viral,” said Milana’s mother Alicin Christensen. “It was nuts.”
Nearly 760,000 views later, Milana has been busy performing on bigger stages than her practice space at home — and on April 29, she’ll be featured on the NBC variety show “Little Big Shots.”
From banging on trash cans as a toddler to receiving her first drum set as a 4-year-old, Milana has had rhythm in her soul ever since she can remember. And while she’s a little more serious about the art now — Milana practices at least an hour every day — it’s not because she has to, but because she wants to.
“When I do have a hard day, it always does cheer me up,” said Milana, who has also been a top-20 finalist in the global female drum contest Hit Like a Girl now for four consecutive years. “So, I would say the drum set makes me feel happy, and it just feels awesome playing it.”
Still, performing on national television was entirely unexpected for the musician. One day, while Milana was filming for another show in 2017, a crew member recommended her to the casting director of “Little Big Shots,” who immediately got in touch.
“We returned to our hotel room after filming and I had an email from the casting director of ‘Little Big Shots’ at like 10:30 p.m. saying, ‘Call me,’” Christensen said. “Everything has just come to us. Really, it’s due to (Milana’s) hard work and her dedication to her craft.”
That commitment is also thanks to Los Angeles session player and teacher Dave Elitch — who has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and the bands the 1975 and the Mars Volta — and who has more than prepared Milana for the stage.
“I haven’t been scared ever since my first performance,” said Milana, who had to master the song she plays on “Little Big Shots,” now on its third season, in just a matter of days. Walking out onto that stage, she said, just felt right.
“I’m the one that was nervous,” Christensen said, recalling the packed auditorium as Milana did a battle with the drummer Sheila E. “She wasn’t. She had it in the bag. She felt really confident about it.”
But even Milana — who has had the opportunity to play with Neon Trees, the Dave Matthews Band, Snarky Puppy, Ndugu Chancler (Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”) and Stewart Copeland (The Police) — said she still has to work on some things, the beat being one of them.
“You’re the clock,” she said. “When you’re in a band you need to keep that tempo.”
RIP Ndugu Chancler. He was famous to me for his drumming on Michael Jackson's BILLIE JEAN. He is legendary to the world...
While she’s honing that skill, Milana has since picked up the bass guitar, guitar and ukulele and even sings. Aspiring to one day be just like her idols Sheila E., her drum teacher, Danny Carey (Tool) or Josh Freese (Guns ‘N Roses), she hopes her performing will be a positive influence on those who hear her.
“I have … goals,” said Milana. “And those goals are playing for the world and making people happy and inspiring people to play music or drums, too.”