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The ‘tiny girl with the big voice’ wows US audiences

By Josie Moralidad Ziman

ARLINGTON, Va. Hollywood is once again moved by the powerful and amazing voice of a Filipino-American – 16 -year-old Anatalia Villaranda, who’s wowed audiences of the top-rating singing tilt “The Voice” and whose “lolo” worked in the White House for three American Presidents.

The first time I watched Anatalia on YouTube singing Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby” I had no doubt that she could be the winner. The tiny girl with a “big voice,” as Alicia Keys remarked, received a four-chair turn from celebrity judges Keys, Gwen Stefani, Blake Sheldon and Adam Levine.

All four wanted Anatalia to be in their team but in the end she chose Keys, explaining they had a good “soul vibe” connection.

I was very interested in knowing the background of Anatalia. It was not an easy interview to do since I had to go through a formal request process. She signed a contract with the NBC that required their permission for press interviews. I also discovered that Anatalia’s mother Lea De LaPaz Villaranda is an Ilongga.

Anatalia, was born in Tenecula, California from Filipino parents; her mom is from Bacolod City and her father is from Cagayan de Oro, the pearl city of Northeastern Mindanao. She’s the middle child of the three children. Her grandfather on the mother side, Vicente G. Villaranda worked in the White House for 23 years as a valet for Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Anatalia started singing at the age of 10, telling her mom one day that she needed to try something new and different as a kid by joining a singing competition. Nobody sang in their family and though Lea was hesitant to let Anatalia join the singing competition, she decided to support her daughter’s request. Out of 600 kids, Anatalia was able to make it into the top 30 and capped with a 1st prize finish. It was then Lea realized that her daughter was serious with singing, so she hired a voice coach.

When she was 11, she became part of the group Five Little Princess and they participated in the Nickelodeon Summer Tours. She also appeared on the Disney Channel show “Shake it Up” and on the “Friends for Change” TV commercial. She was briefly taken under the wings of Britney Spears’ talent agency. Anatalia also joined the season 15 of American Idol and almost made it to the final round.

According to Lea, she wouldn’t have pushed her daughter into singing if she didn’t have the talent. “Anatalia sacrificed a lot and work so hard to reach her goal. She is different from other teenagers like her age. She doesn’t go out for parties. She just loves line dancing with the elderly people and practice singing every day. She has no boyfriend at all,” said her mom with great pride.

“She wants to concentrate on her singing career first and she always told me that boyfriends can always wait.”

“As a mom, I always tell her to be respectful with the elders and to other people. I’m so happy that she’s such a good, loving and respectful daughter, she helps in the household chores.” She confided that before this interview, Anatalia was mowing the lawn and cleaning their house.

For Anatalia, joining the “The Voice USA” and being a crowd favorite was once in a lifetime opportunity. “It’s a lot of fun and I didn’t expect that I will have four turners in the judges. Everything is surreal and I can’t believe I’m on ‘The Voice’ I was more excited than nervous. I saw Beyonce on stage and I can’t wait to see my favorite Bruno Mars as well. I know every single one of his songs and I hope to meet him one day and watch his concert. I chose to go by singing the ‘Runaway Baby’ during the blind audition because I’m very comfortable singing it, the song is very energetic, upbeat and it really spoke to me.”

For the meantime, Anatalia said she wants to have fun and wants to be sure she leaves the stage with no regrets. “I don’t even have any special diet for my vocal cords although I really have to start watching what I’m eating and drinking to preserve my voice.”

In her interview with the Manila Mail, she revealed that she eats Halo-Halo almost every day and chocolate chip cookies. She also loves her mom’s “sinigang na baboy” or sinigang na isda.”

For her part, Lea advises her daughter to finish her studies. Anatalia is home schooled and will be graduating from high school this year. Lea says her daughter needs to have fun and enjoy her passion in singing. “If you don’t have fun and if you don’t have passion into what you are doing, you won’t be happy at all” is her mom’s advice.

I asked Anatalia what was the first thing she was doing if she wins “The Voice”. Without hesitation, she vowed to visit the Philippines.

“I really want to go back and see the beautiful places,” revealing she was only three years when she last visited the Philippines. Whenever she joined singing competitions, she would always ask her mom to reward her with a trip to the Philippines. A true Filipina talent with simple wants in life.

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