Don Ho’s Little Girl Grows Up

Kea Ho models swimsuits from her new bikini line Lovechilde. Each suit is named after a song, at left is Baby's on Fire and below is Got to Have Kaya which was designed with the Hawaii girl in mind

She grew up on stage with her famous dad, and now it’s Kea Ho’s turn for the spotlight

There’s a lot more to Kea Ho than a pretty face with a sultry look and a sizzling body.

Daughter of Hawaiian music legend Don Ho, this local beauty with ultra-exotic features and an undeniable sex appeal opens up to MidWeek in an exclusive interview about her childhood, Hollywood and her newest endeavor: Lovechilde, a high-fashion, sexy swimsuit line.

Ho, who has appeared in TV shows such as Entourage, Melrose Place, Lie to Me and Miami Medical, and featured in Maxim as well as a non-nude full-page spread in Playboy, also is working on an electro pop album and is a busy socialite hosting various parties in Los Angeles, including charity events at the famed Playboy Mansion.

Photo courtesy Kea Ho

“(Being thought of as a sex symbol) I find it empowering, because as a woman I feel it’s important to be strong and independent, and I think your sexuality is part of that,” says Ho. “I was raised to believe I can do anything. I’m more of a liberal thinker. I have no problem with artistic nudity, but I definitely don’t like if people only see that because there’s so much more to me, as there is to other women who are looked at as sex symbols. It is part of who you are, but I just want people to know the other things about me as well, like everything else I have going on.”

Ho is the eighth of Don Ho’s 10 children, and attended Waiokeola Preschool, Waikiki Elementary and La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls. Her mother Elizabeth Guevara met Don while on vacation from California and later became a dancer for his Waikiki show. The six older siblings are from her father’s first marriage to Melva Ho and lived in Lanikai. Then there was Hoku (with Patti Swallie), Kea, Kaimana (also with Swallie) and Kealii (with Guevara). The mixed ohana all lived together in a Diamond Head home.

Kea’s mother Elizabeth dances in Don Ho’s show

“I grew up when my dad was performing at the Hilton Hawaiian Village (in the 1980s) and he basically had us on stage since we could walk,” says Ho. “We were like a troupe of dancers running around backstage. We all had a hula we’d perform and a little comedy routine. We’d sing a little bit. It was an amazing childhood.

“One of my dad’s things was this idea of work ethic, where we had to be a part of the family business our whole life no matter what it was. He either had us performing or working in the office or producing the show. Everyone was involved. My older brother Donnie did lights for him for a long time. All my older brothers and sisters performed with him before I was even around.”

Kea celebrates her first birthday

With an interest in fashion, Ho left the island after high school to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, where she still lives. She also spends some time in New York but calls Hawaii home, flying back every couple of months. But on her most recent trip here this past summer, she admits to not being back for about two years.

“I miss the beaches, my family, having my siblings around,” she says. “I miss being at our home at Diamond Head. We had such amazing times there. Also at Lanikai. Our family was very close. We’d always have get-togethers, barbecues. I miss all of that.

“But since my dad passed away, it’s been difficult for me to be (in Hawaii) because it reminds me so much of him. We were the two closest people in the world. I was a total daddy’s girl.”

Two other shots with Dad. Photos courtesy Kea Ho

Ho can’t help but tear up as she reminisces on their time together snuggling in bed channel surfing, going out to eat after the show, their talks about life, family dinners, sitting on stage with him while he held her hand and sang a song (the last one he sang to her before he passed away was Kuu Home O Kahaluu).

“He had a way of making you feel like you’re the most beautiful girl in the world, his little baby princess,” she says. “He’d come in to kiss my siblings and I goodnight every night even if he was coming in at 4 a.m. I would give him manicures and pedicures when he needed them (all the time). And his thoughtfulness even about the little things. He would leave me notes like, ‘My beautiful Hawaiian princess, I fixed the toilet.’”

She lists some of their favorite eateries together as Izakaya Nonbei, Akasaka, Ono’s Hawaiian Food and 3660 on the Rise, among many others. After earning her degree in fashion design, Ho worked for the international trade publication WFM (World Fashion Magazine) reviewing couture and ready-to-wear fashion shows around the world.

With siblings Hoku, Kealii and Kaimana, and their moms. Photos courtesy Kea Ho

“I lucked into this amazing job right out of fashion school and I did it for a couple of years, but I never actually ended up designing my own line, which is what I really wanted to do,” she says about the experience. “So, I ended up going back into music and modeling and the entertainment business, which is in my blood. My dad was getting really sick at the time and he always wanted me to be a singer, he wanted all of us to be singers. I recorded the cover of Michael Buble’s Home for him, which he picked for me because I was always so homesick for him and Hawaii.

“He kept it in a CD player next to his bed. We intended to do it as a duet, but he passed away before he was able to record it. One of his greatest desires was to have a duet album with his kids.”

Photos courtesy Kea Ho

Ho also started working on music projects with deejays in the underground club scene in L.A. and New York, and headlined a couple of her own shows, which led to modeling jobs. She’s appeared in international high-fashion magazines including Cosmopolitan Hong Kong, Marie Claire Latin America, Vogue Taiwan and Self China. Maxim UK called her its “most international model ever” (she’s Hawaiian, Chinese, German and Portuguese from her father, and Spanish, Mexican, English, Native American and Czech from her mother), and Playboy featured her in its “Becoming Attraction” section in August 2010.

She also appeared in Adam Sandler’s recent film Just Go With It, and has become a sought-after host for numerous club venues and events, such as red-carpet corresponding for Who’s Next What’s Next LA Fashion Week, co-hosting the Southern California Slack Key Guitar Festival, and Summer Solstice at the Playboy Mansion benefitting Rescue Humanity.

Photos courtesy Kea Ho

“When they asked me to host this charity event (at the Playboy Mansion), I was really excited because the charity side of stuff is something I’m trying to get more involved in,” says Ho, who sponsors a child in Honduras through Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. “One of my dreams is to create a charity foundation in my dad’s name for children in Hawaii for music and the arts. For me, as somebody who is kind of creating my career but still establishing myself, it’s important to do these kinds of things early because a lot of my world is very superficial and self-involved. My goal is basically to become the people I admire, such as Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Lopez, who created their own brand and also use their celebrity status to influence the things they believe in. I want to be able to establish myself on that level so I can have more of an influence on things I feel are worthy of putting time and energy into, such as different charities.”

Her charity work includes spearheading a new organization that involves getting together top glamour models in L.A. to do various charitable outreaches, from homelessness to beach cleanups.

Kea today. Leah Friel photo

“I never wanted to be famous growing up and didn’t pursue show business until after my father’s death, and the hardships that accompanied that led me to have a strong desire to have a bigger voice in the world,” says Ho. “That desire to have a bigger voice in the world in order to better effect change is what drives me in my career and show biz, as well as my love for the arts, because it is what I know and grew up in, and music is my soul.”

Ho’s latest project, Lovechilde by Kea Ho, is a sexy bikini line inspired by the worlds of fashion, music, Japanese anime, films, the beach and the glamour world. “It’s everything I’m about,” she explains. “I tried to incorporate all of that into a suit and make it not just for swimming, but also something that when you’re wearing it, it’s like a showpiece. It’s functional and comfortable. You can wear it at a photo shoot, in the water, on the beach or to a glamourous pool party.

“I also want to design party dresses. My fashion style is more over the top. It’s definitely very sexy, but also about being a strong woman. It’s extremely edgy and original.”

That adorable little girl on stage with her famous father has sure grown up. Now a beautiful, independent woman making it big on her own, Ho may not have her daddy’s arm to hold on to (as they used to walk arm-in-arm everywhere they went), but it’s her memories with him that keep her going. And that’s something she holds on to protectively and lovingly.

Dad would be proud.