'Moana' star's move from Hawaii to NYC a 'whirlwind' – but worth it

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (HawaiiNewsNow) - From Disney's Moana to the streets of Manhattan, Big Island girl Auli'i Cravalho is doing Big Things in the Big Apple.

Mileka Lincoln caught up with her in New York to talk about her new NBC show and what she's most looking forward to when she gets home.

Auli'i says her first stop back in Hawai'i will be Highway Inn -- but it'll be a while before she gets her fill of poi and squid luau, because the Kamehameha Kapalama campus senior has landed the lead role in the NBC pilot "Rise".

"It's a whole whirlwind that I'm certainly not used to but being a part of something that you know will change others lives is amazing," said Cravalho.

From Disney animation to live-action Drama High, 16-year-old Cravalho is starring in her own dream come true.

"My junior year was an unbelievable blessing -- a once in a lifetime opportunity -- but that was kind of just my warm-up for senior year, and now I'm in the middle of my senior year and also in the middle of shooting an NBC show. I'm really looking into the future with open eyes and an open heart with all the possibilities that can happen," said Cravalho.

For the next five to six months, the Hawai'i Island girl will instead be calling the island of Manhattan home.

"We've been really exploring Central Park so far. It's a gigantic park, and I think something I really wanted when moving to New York -- Mom and I both agreed that we wanted city, but we want trees. So being close enough to Central Park is good where we get to feed the birds and kind of just take a deep breath and just enjoy being a little more relaxed," Cravalho said.

Auli'i says packing for the 5,000 mile move required her to prioritize.

"Necessities, which included -- my Mom, my cat, Scott's and a toothbrush," she said with a laugh.

Auli'i says the biggest change so far has been her wardrobe.

"The only time I wore tights was either to a ballet recital or for Halloween. This is a whole other fashion trend that actually translates into warmth, which I never had to worry about before," said Cravalho.

This is also the first time Auli'i will be singing live on-stage as she performs with the ensemble cast of Rise.

"I'm singing every chance I get. I'm taking acting lessons for the first time.It's amazing. We have an incredible cast. It's just really wonderful," said Cravalho.

The show is set to debut mid-season and is inspired by a true story.

"The show is about high schoolers in a small town being inspired by events to literally rise above their circumstances -- and that's something I think we can all learn through. It's an incredible story that I'm really excited for everyone to hear about," Cravalho said.

As her own star rises,Auli'i says its her Hawai'i roots that keep her grounded and focused.

"I want to share stories the way that our kupuna did and in the ways that it inspires us to do more with our lives," said Cravalho.

Auli'i still isn't sure if she'll make it home for prom or her graduation, but she seems to have accepted the fact that she'll likely be celebrating a White Christmas this year.

"There are family members who are like, 'Stay where you are! We will bring you poke! We will freeze the poi! You just stay there!! Yes, we will pack the opae!'" Cravalho said.

While she daydreams about kalua pig quesadillas, Auli'i says she's discovered something to hold her over til she makes it back home: New York pizza. Her topping of choice? Goat cheese.

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