Filipinos in Michigan are cheering and praying for Filipina-American Malaya Bendico Watson, 16 years old, a contestant in the current season of “American Idol,” a popular TV singing competition.
It was announced last Feb. 20 that Malaya, which means “freedom” in Tagalog, was picked one of the 13 “Idol” finalists. She got rave reviews and the nod of the judges for her impressive rendition of Ray Charles’ “Hard Times” during the “Idol” show last Feb. 18.
For being selected as one of the 13 finalists, Malaya, who lives with her family in their home in Southfield, Michigan, has qualified to compete in the final round of the competition on May 22. Two other young Michigan talents – Jena Irene and Sam Wolf – were selected finalists.
Mrs. Marlene Viola, former employee of Ford Motor Co. and auntie of Malaya, said that her niece’s mother, Filipina-American Bec Bendico Watson, is a registered nurse and a former teacher at PACCM’s (Philippine American Community Center of Michigan) Paaralang Pilipino. Her father is Ron Watson, a professional guitarist.
In an interview in the “Idol” show, Malaya said she draws inspiration from her Filipino-American grandfather, Gerry Bendico.
Since childhood, Malaya has been into music and dance. At Southfield High School where is a junior student, she is a member of the marching band, playing the sousaphone. She likewise plays the tuba in the concert band and the piano and vocals in the jazz band.
A Detroit Free Press report stated that Malaya is a former student at Detroit’s Mosaic Theatre “with three productions under her belt.”
Malaya is noted for her unique singing style characterized by a soulful performance. Her delivery of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” during the Detroit leg of the “Idol” audition impressed the judges. Judge Jennifer Lopez commented that her performance reminded her of Michael Jackson when he was young.
Filipino Americans interviewed by the Filipino Star News said they are optimistic about the chances of Malaya to become the champion. They said they will vote for her during the fans’ voting portion of the show.
Filipino fans in the Philippines are also hoping that Malaya will bag the championship. Malaya’s performance at the “Idol” contest is top news in the showbiz sections of many Philippine newspapers.
The next “American Idol” performance show will be televised live on Channel 2 at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26. The results of the competition will be announced at 8 p.m. the next day.