"American Idol" certainly seems to be: The
Watson, 16, has already become one of Season 13's big talking points, singled out by veteran "Idol" reviewers for her expressive vocals and heralded on social media for a personality that you might call confidently eccentric. Braces, glasses and big hair drive home a signature look.
Her Tuesday performance of
They'll aim to give metro
"Since I'm young and I have such an old style -- that soul -- I feel like that makes me way unique," Watson said during an "Idol" bio segment.
She also has talked about her biracial background: Dad Ron Watson, a die-setter at Ford's
That name -- pronounced muh-LYE-ya -- has definitely been in the air at
"We have the talent there, so we don't waste it," says marching band director
Watson is also an alumnus of
"She's a phenomenal performer with a great voice, but she's also a true original, a unique kid," says Mosaic president
Despite the bubbly energy offstage, Sperling says, Watson was initially more comfortable in ensemble settings than out front alone. It was during a spring 2013 concert, "Singsation," performing
"This was the first time she really put it all together -- her incredible voice, her dance ability and her high-energy personality," he says. "It was magic."
"Idol" judges seemed to spot it last fall during the show's
"It reminded me of
Detroiter Zhelinrentice Scott was recently startled to turn on "American Idol" and see the young girl who'd blown her away last fall during a local music showcase, where Watson played an
"I understand how much effort it takes to sit at a piano and play and sing as well as she did, with the inflection, vocal control and attention to detail," says Scott, a violinist. "Her runs weren't like some people, throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. She was very specific with the notes chose to articulate."
A bass drummer in her middle-school days, Watson showed her natural musical aptitude when she opted for the tuba as a
"She picked it up faster than you'd ever have seen coming," says band director Miller. "At this point -- and she's only a junior -- she's the best tuba player I have. For someone who just started the instrument two years ago, that's amazing."
With "Idol" underway, Watson has been in and out of
"No matter what she does on 'American Idol' and beyond, she'll be a star. She's got the drive for it," he says. "But as far as how she is in school, she's Malaya. I don't see her changing. That's not her personality -- she's not one of those reality-show people who's fine before stardom, then blows up and collapses. She's got a strong work ethic and very supportive parents."
Watson visited a Mosaic rehearsal earlier this month to share some of her "Idol" experiences.
"The lesson to the Mosaic young artists is that you have to be yourself," says Sperling. "There's only one you and you have to share your uniqueness. Malaya is a great example of that."
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