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Aishah is not a pop star.

Given her resume however, you'd be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that she may just be the next mega-voiced diva (think Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera). After all, Aishah (pronounced Eye-shah) began performing at the tender age of three, when she landed the role of "Trouble" in Madame Butterfly, beating out over 100 boys for the traditionally male part. Not surprisingly, that experience led her to dabble in opera—a natural fit for her powerful five-octave range. By the time she was nine, she had 25 commercials ("I introduced the McVeggie Burger on Spanish television," she recalls, with a laugh) under her belt—and she'd even scored a guest spot on E.R. But her streak didn't stop there: At 14, she was handpicked by Mel Gibson and famed songwriter David Foster to sing "On My Own" from Les Miserable at a Los Angeles charity event. That same year, Aishah appeared on America's Most Talented Kids, wowing judges with a formidable rendition of Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like A Bird." Yes, she had a track record that your average American Idol wannabe would kill for.

Then, at the age of 15, things took a sharp left turn: Aishah discovered her inner rock chick. "That's when I was born," she says, intensely. She traded in her Spice Girls and Britney Spears CDs (hey, she grew up in the '90s) for her older sister's Soundgarden, Incubus and Jeff Buckley albums. It was clear Aishah was finding her own voice—and, by the time she was 16—she had 30 self-penned songs, the basis of her extraordinary Henna Handed Brides debut album, to prove it.

But as impressive as her career highlights are, they don't explain who Aishah is at her core. To understand that, you need to hear her journey. Aishah was born 18 years ago in Bedford, Indiana. But she's no corn-fed Midwesterner. Her "bio dad" is from Saudi Arabia; her mom is a Los Angeleno of Spanish/Mexican descent. "It was tamales for Christmas," Aishah recalls.

Her parents' young marriage soon ran into trouble as their cultural differences escalated. "My mom lived in Saudi Arabia with my dad for a time, but she had problems," Aishah explains. "Women are very oppressed there; they aren't even allowed to drive. When my father told her he was taking a second wife, she decided to escape with me. She told him, 'I'm going to be jealous. Let me take Aishah and go on a vacation to Switzerland while you get married to your second wife.' Instead, she took me to America and never came back." Aishah was three at the time.

Despite being raised in Southern California apart from her father to whom she rarely speaks, a Middle Eastern influence permeates her music; a jaw-dropping concoction of unbridled energy, fiery vocals and provocative lyrics. (That helpful older sister also owned some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan records). Says Aishah, "My step-dad is Irish-American, and I'm always around my blonde friends, but I have blood over there and I've always been curious about my roots. My heritage is just in me. More and more, I am becoming who I am at my roots; it's just coming out of my skin now."

That is never more clear than on the intense rocker "Zarmina," on which Aishah rages against the machine singing "those who bend the words of yesterday will pay…black eyed virgins won't be waiting for you." The track is about an "honor" killing Aishah read about online. "My mom educated me about oppression of women in the Middle East and told me stories about her time there, so I wanted to get into the history," says Aishah. "One day, I clicked on a link and I saw this video of a woman in a purple burka with a rifle at her head. It was like a bullet to my third eye." Zarmina was killed during public execution in front of her five kids for allegedly poisoning her husband. "I thought, how can I not write about this?" She finished the song in a mere twenty minutes, "I zoned out and the lyrics just came to me. It channeled though me immediately," she says.

The mellower but no less meaty "Energies" also takes on an injustice worlds away from Aishah's own backyard. The chorus was inspired by a young boy refugee from Africa who finally returns home only to find that his house has been burned down. Despite her ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter, Aishah does not consider herself a political artist. "I don't seek out the news necessarily," she explains, "but if I hear about something and I feel inspired, I'll write about it." "Time Again," an arena-worthy rock ballad, is one track that had a pure autobiographical impetus. "I was mad at my stepdad when I wrote it," admits Aishah (see, she is a normal 18-year-old). "My sister told me that sometimes when there's conflict with someone it's because a person doesn't want to see their own reflection, so that idea got into my head and lead to the 'what you see in me is what you see in yourself' chorus. I'm glad I got a song out of my anger."

Whether a track is high-octane or a slow, sultry burn, Aishah