Tia Carrere was born Althea Rae Duhinio Janairo in Honolulu, Hawaii, the daughter of Audrey Duhinio Janairo, a computer supervisor, and Alexander Janairo, a banker. Tia Carrere is of Filipino descent. Carrere attended Sacred Hearts Academy, an all girls school. Tia Carrere longed to be a singer as a child. Although Tia Carrere was eliminated during the first round of her 1985 Star Search appearance at the age of 17, Tia Carrere was spotted by the parents of a local producer while shopping at a Waikiki grocery store and was cast in the movie Aloha Summer.
Following this initial success, Tia Carrere returned to Los Angeles and, after working several months as a model, landed a first ever role in the U.S. TV series Airwolf in early 1985. Tia Carrere's first major break though was in the daytime soap opera General Hospital. Tia Carrere played the role of Jade Soong Chung from 1985 to 1987. Tia Carrere also had a guest appearance on The A-Team, which was supposed to lead to her joining the cast. Unfortunately, Tia Carrere's General Hospital obligations prevented her from joining the team. Tia Carrere's character was dropped after one episode, and was never mentioned again. Tia Carrere also made guest appearances on the shows MacGyver ("The Wish Child") as a sexy karate instructor as well as a different assassin character in a later episode ("Murderer's Sky"), on Anything But Love as the adopted daughter of Marty Gold (Richard Lewis), and Married... with Children as Piper Bauman, a rival of Kelly Bundy's who attempted to steal a modeling job from her.
After appearing in the 1991 action films Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Showdown in Little Tokyo, Tia Carrere emerged into the public spotlight when cast as Cassandra, a rock singer and love interest of Mike Myers' character Wayne in Wayne's World (1992)—a role Tia Carrere reprised the next year in Wayne's World 2. A trained singer, Tia Carrere performed all of her own songs in the two films, and the Wayne's World soundtrack features her vocals. Tia Carrere turned down a role in Baywatch to audition for Wayne's World. In 1992 People magazine named Tia Carrere to its annual "50 most beautiful people" list.
Get your Wayne On!!!
On November 31, 1992, Tia Carrere married Italian/Lebanese producer Elie Samaha, and appeared in several of his films. Other roles in prominent films include the parts of smuggler Juno Skinner in True Lies (a 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film), a mixed African-Japanese computer expert in Rising Sun (a thriller written by Michael Crichton starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes), robber Gina Walker in The Immortals (1995), and secretary Victoria Chappell in High School High (a 1996 parody). Tia Carrere also starred as Ari, a space marine-turned pirate in the 1995 adventure/puzzle game The Daedalus Encounter. Tia Carrere also starred as the evil witch/queen in the 1997 Universal Films picture Kull the Conqueror, co-starring with Kevin Sorbo.
From 1999 to 2002, Tia Carrere starred as archeology professor Sydney Fox in Relic Hunter, a syndicated action-adventure series strongly reminiscent of the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider films and video games. At this time, Tia Carrere was featured in men's magazine Maxim magazine. Relic Hunter lasted for a total of three television seasons before its cancellation. Tia Carrere then provided the voice of Lilo's sister "Nani" in the animated film Lilo and Stitch (2002) and its spinoffs, as well as the voice of Queen Tyr'ahnee from the 2003 Duck Dodgers animated series.
Tia Carrere participated as a contestant on the popular reality show Dancing with the Stars but after landing in bottom two more than once, Tia Carrere was eliminated on February 3, 2006, placing 6th in the competition overall.
Despite using a body double for her sex scenes in Showdown in Little Tokyo, and her often expressed aversion to on-screen nudity, Tia Carrere posed nude for the January 2003 issue of Playboy magazine. It was the top selling Playboy of 2003. The Tia Carrere Nude Playboy photos were re-published in the German December 2006 issue of the magazine. In 2007, Tia Carrere did a brief, non-nude lesbian kissing scene with Lindy Booth in Dark Honeymoon, which was not released until 2008 due to the death of co-star Roy Scheider.
Tia Carrere was set to have a recurring role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, appeared in an episode of Back to You and in the season premiere of Nip/Tuck.
Tia Carrere has continued to nurture her singing career. In 1993, her first solo album, Dream, was released, and went platinum in Mexico. That same year, Tia Carrere was featured on the soundtrack of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, performing the ending theme, "I Never Even Told You". Tia Carrere's second album, Hawaiiana, was released in June 2007 and takes Tia Carrere back to her Hawaiian roots with four-time Grammy Award winning record producer Daniel Ho accompanying her on classic solo slack-key guitar and ukulele. The album was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award under the category Best Hawaiian Music Album. Tia Carrere won a Grammy Award in 2009, again teaming up with Daniel Ho to produce her third album Ikena.
Carrere divorced her husband Elie Samaha in February 2000.
On November 30, 2002, Tia Carrere married again, this time to photojournalist Simon Wakelin. They have a daughter, Bianca, born September 25, 2005. At present, Tia Carrere lives in Los Angeles.