Sixteen-year-old Filipino-American Malaya Watson from Southfield, Michigan, has made it as a Top 13 finalist in the 13th season of “American Idol.”
The bubbly girl with the big hair and the big smile sang Ray Charles’ “Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)” which earned her a spot on the magic 13.
The Southfield High School teenager’s Filipina mom, Marian Bandico Watson, was present at the show to give moral support to her youngest daughter.
In an exclusive interview, Malaya said, “This is a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to be in American Idol.”
Pointing out to her that her name means “freedom” in Tagalog, Malaya quipped, “Yes, I am here to represent the Filipinos too!”
Also a tuba player in high school, Malaya disclosed, “I always watch my Dad sing. I am now living that dream.”
Malaya revealed that she loves singing apl.de.ap’s “Bebot” but hesitated to sing it for us.
“I do not want to embarrass myself because I might mess up the lyrics,” she said, adding she also loves Lea Salonga.
Give back to Filipinos
But one thing that really touched us was when Malaya revealed what she would do if ever she won the title of “American Idol.”
“I want to give back to the Filipino people because of the disaster that happened to them in the Philippines. I want to help,” she said, referring to super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that devastated many towns and cities in the Visayas on November 8.
Malaya’s mom, Marian, whom we met at the Fig & Olive Restaurant where the after-party was held for the Top 13 finalists, revealed that “[e]verything is a whirlwind right now.”
“Everything is new for her so she is just enjoying everything,” she said, adding Malaya’s father “is so proud of her.”
Asked whether she raised Malaya as a Filipino or as an American, Marian revealed, “Since her father is American and she was born in America, she was raised as an American. But she has learned a few simple words in Tagalog like ‘Tatay,’ Nanay,’‘Lolo’ or ‘Lola.’ She also knows such words like ‘Mahal kita.’”
Marian revealed that she made it a point to bring Malaya to the Philippines when she was in first grade to join a medical mission. Hopefully, she said, Malaya can go back there again one of these days.
She admitted that Malaya’s talents came from her father. “I do not know anything about music,” she humbly said with a smile.
One of the Filipino singers Malaya admires, Marian said, is Jessica Sanchez. Among the American singers, Malaya admires Ciara, Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, and Chaka Khan to name a few.
“I would describe Malaya’s style as soulful, R&B, gospel, blues and Motown because these are the kinds of music that we exposed her to,” Marian said.
“We make her listen to these kinds of music because the top 40s songs usually we do not like the lyrics. So she grew up with the soul, blues R&B, gospel and Motown music,” she added.
Judges on Malaya
When we interviewed Randy Jackson and what he thought of Malaya, he said, “People love her. She is very talented. She was very good during our workshop. She is the kind of girl who doesn’t realize that she is very talented.”
Judge Keith Urban told us, “Malaya is one of the good ones. She is ferocious.”
For judge Harry Connick, Jr., Malaya “is very talented. She is the kind of girl who could go to my school at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts in New Orleans because she is really young and raw. She has a lot of raw talent there.”
Judge Jennifer Lopez said that “Malaya is definitely one of the powerhouses in this competition.”
Host Ryan Seacrest, on the other hand, said of Malaya, “I like her a lot. She is very interesting. She really works on stage. She really deserves to be in the Top 13 finals.”
Other Fil-Am contestant
Unfortunately, Fil-Am Marrialle Sellars, 18, from Indianapolis, who has been dedicating her singing and competing at “American Idol” to her late father, Frederic Sellars, did not make it.
Marrialle’s Filipina mom, Luzviminda, met her future husband Frederic when he started a pen-pal relationship with her while she was attending college in the Philippines. They married after two years.
We asked the judges, host and in-house mentor why they thought Marrialle did not make it to the Top 13. Here are some of their replies:
Ryan Seacrest said, “She struggled in her performance.”
Randy Jackson pointed out, “Marrialle was very good on the first night. But some of these contestants crash and burn later. Unfortunately, Marrialle crashed and burned. The public did not get it.”
Harry Connick, Jr. told us, “She did her best on the very first day when she was singing with her guitar. But when she started playing with the band, she just lost it.”