This story by Elton Lugay comes to us from our partner The FilAm.
Up until last week, “American Idol” was like a Benetton ad. Three finalists remained in competition: Joshua Ledet (black), Phillip Phillips (white) and Jessica Sanchez (Asian/Latina).
Ledet gave an incredible performance, but not strong enough to keep him in the running. This week, the Idol trophy is a matter of vocal jousting between the Dave Matthews sound-alike Phillips and Beyonce-bawling Sanchez. White versus brown. Ok, ok, I won’t play the race card if others won’t.
My fearless prediction is that this week, Filipino-Mexican-American Sanchez will be the new American Idol. The first multi-ethnic winner of the hugely popular talent show.
It’s no longer a question of whether America is ready for an Asian or Latino Idol. Sanchez is this 16-year-old aspiring singer who has delivered consistently perfect pitch and powerful vocals week after week. It’s been said that if you close your eyes and just allow yourself to be blissfully mesmerized by her voice, you wouldn’t care who you’re listening to. It could be anyone amazing. That’s the Jessica Sanchez effect. The judges have repeatedly praised her for that.
My bet is on Sanchez not because she’s a fellow FilAm, but because she is a versatile singer with multi-range vocal capability. She can go from pop to rock as in Bohemian Rhapsody, but her sensuous singing style has always endeared her to her Filipino fans, as demonstrated in her rendition of I Will Always Love You, which she sang days after Whitney Houston’s death.
I began following Jessica the moment I learned her mother is Filipino. I have to admit, though, that I get enthused with Idol every time a Filipino makes the finals. It has been that way since Jasmine Trias, Ramielle Malubay, Sway Penala, Camille Velasco, Thia Megia and Jordan Segundo. I already knew Filipinos were great singers, but it seems we need American Idol to validate that because it symbolizes chasing the American Dream.
Before Jessica, Jasmine Trias – a third runner-up like Joshua — was the highest a Filipina had ever reached. I campaigned for votes among friends and family only to find out later that I was embarrassing myself. I was asking them to vote for Jasmine because she was Filipino – and not because she was a terrific singer. I remember how Broadway actress and Tony winner Lea Salonga once issued a gentle reminder for Filipinos to support things Filipino only because we believe in the cause and not so much because of ethnic kinship. Boy, did she make a lot of sense.
Here I am again, doing the same for Jessica. My Facebook wall is a shrine to photos and video clips of her singing. But this time I have been seeking votes for Jessica not because she’s Filipino but because she is truly a great singer.
Public voting is what will spell victory for either Phillip or Jessica, and Filipinos are very motivated voters. They are texting via AT&T, and voting on Facebook. Let’s do that math. That’s 94 million Filipinos in the Philippines and about 10 million overseas Filipinos on top of regular American viewers who are in awe of her talent. Phillip doesn’t have that numerical advantage. This early, his fans are starting to question why Filipinos in the Philippines can vote via Skype. I say, take your case to Fox. I didn’t make the rules.
When news of Jessica making it to the top 2 was announced, Filipinos around the world became as one. Philippine President Benigno Aquino took time out to wish her the best.
“Excellence knows no boundaries, the power of music uplifts us all, the entire Filipino people have united in admiration and enthusiasm over the performances of Jessica Sanchez in American Idol,” he said in a statement.
Around New York, some Filipinos are campaigning at every opportunity. Shiran Ybanez of Cebuanos in New York was handing out flyers in Queens as if he were outside a polling booth in Manila.
“This is our chance, we’re almost there, Jessica needs our full support,” he said.
For me, Jessica’s performance of Jennifer Holiday’s And I Am Telling You was her most poignant. It was full of emotion, like she was telling America to look beyond her race and let her prove her worth.
Elton Lugay is a reporter/photographer for TheFilAm.net. He lives in Queens.
Read prior coverage of Jessica Sanchez on Feet in 2 Worlds.