Malaya Watson, youngest finalist in ‘Idol’ history, reflects on experience

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit


Southfield-native Malaya Watson went home from American Idol last Thursday following her Wednesday-evening performance of “Through the Fire.”

The 16-year-old vocalist  got to the top 8, and in doing so, made history as the youngest finalist of all time. Through the experience, she said she’s developed as a musician and a person, learning from advice the judges provided.

“Oh, yes. I mean, I haven’t grown height-wise. I’m still just 5’2,” Watson joked. “But performance and singing and stuff, I think that’s improved way more. Because I used to be—honestly, a lot of people think that I really, like, want to just talk to everybody. I’m really shy.”

She said the elimination was something she’d considered, but it was still a surprise. The moments onstage waiting to find out were stressful, and as she struggled not to cry towards the end of her final performance of “I Am Changing,” it was clear she was sad to go.

“(Waiting to see who was eliminated) was really nerve-racking,” Watson said. “You never know when it’s time to go, so you just get nervous.”

The high school student also plays piano and tuba, which are some things she wished she would have incorporated more of her instrumentals into her “Idol” performances. But though her time on the show is over, she said this isn’t it for her.

Music has always been a part of Watson’s life. Her father is a professional guitarist, which had a big influenced her to get into it as well. She’s performed in local choirs and in her school’s music groups, and she wants to take her vocal career further.

“If (my father) didn’t do music, I probably wouldn’t have done music either, because I never would have been like around it a lot,” Watson said. “Like, when I was growing up, I was always around music, all the time. So, just having him there, always playing music, it really influenced me to take up music myself.”

While she is unsure of whether she will return to the Southfield High School, she wants to pursue music, but broaden her horizon by trying acting or dance as well.

While she admires classic soul artists like Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan, Watson also loves the music of John Legend, Michael Buble, Bruno Mars, Pharrell, Tamar Braxton and Fantasia. For her album, she wants to have a similar sound.

“(I would probably do)  a lot of collaborations with people,”  Watson said. “(I want my music to have) much more of an R&B-type feel to it, like, throwback and up-to-date R&B, and blues, and soul.”

Though the Idol experience is over, Watson said she enjoyed it. To musicians starting out, she said it’s important to believe in yourself and take chances, because you never know where they might lead.

“I would say, just focus on school, and just follow what your heart wants you to do. Because if I didn’t do this, I probably wouldn’t be here, because I was really hesitant. But just, if you really want to do something, like do it while you have the chance. Because there’s going to be animportant time where you’re going to want to do something, and you don’t do it, and you’ll regret it.”

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