Young Filipinos today can claim a Madonna of their own to grow up with and witness as she fulfills her destiny. Her name is Jessica Sanchez, age 17, and last year’s runner-up on “American Idol.”
Jessica shows a refined intensity whether she’s channeling the late Whitney Houston in an emotional tribute, hearing Brandy assure her of future stardom at age 11 on “America’s Got Talent,” nearly sweeping “American Idol” six years later, or accepting a benediction from Julian Lennon.
Her choice of lyrics for her new album isn’t as sophisticated as John Lennon’s. “Me, You & the Music” is unapologetic pop that shakes the drapes. While she didn’t write the music, her principal producers, Mark J. Feist, Tony Gad and Harvey Mason, Jr., gave her carte blanche in approving the submissions. “I had a lot of input during the couple of months it required to choose the music,” she says.
To pass muster, a song had to be more than catchy. “Every song on the album has a story,” Jessica sums up her criteria.
With this teen, what you see is what you get. She has no outside interests other than what she is pursuing in public. Since childhood, music has been the bull’s-eye. This stark determination has steered ample criticism toward her parents, Edita and Gilbert Sanchez, for driving their toddler daughter, and not just the minivan, to auditions around San Diego. This perception is not only unfair, but also discounts the energy Jessica pours into her music.
“I’ve always been a go-getter not just as a singer, but also in my dancing and acting,” Jessica says. “I will go all out to master a challenge.”
Acting has become her latest challenge as she fills a recurring role on “Glee.” “I play Frida Romero, a singer from a rival school,” she says.
Last St. Valentine’s Day, Jessica displayed such strength in the center of a full stadium in Manila that she seemed to be suffering a bad case of anhidrosis, the inability to sweat. “There’s never a time when I’m not nervous. Butterflies make you better,” she counters this perceived coolness.
“I was more nervous than my nights on ‘American Idol,’” she says of her Manila experience. “’American Idol’ was a little studio with an audience of a hundred people.
Manila was my first major solo concert, and it was sold out.”
Jessica hopes to revisit the Philippines after she and Edita, who was born in the Philippines, finish their national tour of radio stations. “I want to get in touch with the culture shock [she experienced in the Philippines] as much as I can. They take so much pride in our Filipino culture, and they are very proud of what I’ve accomplished.
“I want to say hello to Filipinos everywhere. I’m very happy for their support.”
Recently, Jessica got to meet an idol of millions of Americans when she sang the National Anthem at the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. A year short of voting age, the weight of the honor didn’t register. “The DMC (Democratic National Committee) called me in to sing at the egg hunt,” she recalls with an ingénue’s insouciance.
“OK” was her answer to the question how she felt meeting President Barack Obama and shake his hand.
Jessica expresses much more emotion when she reveals her favorite Filipino dish. “Sinigang!” she proclaims.
Be sure to boil her a pot of the sour soup when she comes to your town.
Anthony Maddela serves disadvantaged communities through the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. He and his wife, Susan, are raising Charlotte, age 10, and Gregory, 8.