Is it the time for a Fil-Am to bring home the ‘Idol’ title?

by Ricky Rillera

NEW YORK- The American Idol is winding down after Season 18 premiered on February 16, 2020. At last Sunday’s episode with contestants choosing songs to Pay Tribute to Disney and their Mom’s, as the theme, the top 10 contestants have gone down to 7 through the votes from the audience. The same voting process will determine who will advance to this coming Sunday finale on May 17.

Would a 19-year-old Francisco Martin, Filipino American from California make it? Or a fellow Asian American Arthur Gunn, 22, (birth name Dibish Pokharel) from Wichita, Kansas? Or Julia Gargano, 22, a local gal from Staten Island, New York? The three were in the Top 7 and have remained incredibly competitive.  Odds may favor them but from a list of 17 winners since American Idol began in 2002, most of the title holders come from mid-America. Will that pattern remain?

On Mother’s Day, performing in an unusual environment and setting at their homes, contestants rendered two songs.  Martin of Daly City, CA sang Leon Bridges’, River. He dedicated the song to his mother, Fatima, who is a nurse working on the front lines at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.

Asian American Arthur Gunn, American Idol Top 7 Finalist from Wichita, Kansas | Screengrab

Luke Bryan was impressed and called Francisco’s emotional performance “better than the original” as Fatima dubbed at her tears. “I would buy that right now,” he said.

Even Katy Perry called it “so soulful and beautiful and real. Richie, also a fan of Francisco, seemed to marvel at Francisco’s progress.

“You’re no longer in your head, Richie said. “Your confidence is front and center and it’s all about your delivery now. You have a career.”  His soulful performance was witnessed by his mother firsthand as he sang his rendition to the judges.

Francisco first performed the theme song for Disney’s Tarzan, “You’ll Be in My Heart,” a Phil Collins original song. His performance was good. He imitated Tarzan’s presence in the jungle by superimposing himself to a green screen and earned praises from judges. Perry noted, “From Tarzan to singing ‘River,’ I don’t know what happened but you have grown even more.

“This set of Mother’s Day songs is separating the pack. It’s showing who deserves that top position and you are making it difficult for all these other contestants because that performance was soulful, beautiful, and real… it was so heartfelt, what you just did.”

Julia Gargano American Idol Top 7 Finalist from Staten Island, New York | Instagram

At Sunday’s episode on May 3 where the top 10 was selected, Martin rendered James Arthur’s Falling Like the Stars, Perry was moved into tears by his performance.

“I’m sorry because I’m having a day. I don’t fit into my stuff and then when you sang those lines about having four kids and getting down on each knee. I was like… sure it was hormones but it was believability, too. It was believability and I felt it,” Perry said.

Co-judge Bryan was equally impressed. ““You know Francisco, you’re like a diamond in the rough. You know how to get the emotion out of the song. If I were a little hormonal, I’d be crying right now,” he said.

After Richie paid tribute to Martin’s mom saying how proud he was with her as a first responder to help fight the novel coronavirus pandemic in the US. “Halfway through that song, I just saw you fly out of that nervousness and give us exactly what you’re all which is a true talent. Good luck,” he said.

Francisco admitted that apart from the contest, worrying for his mom adds to his anxiety. “She’s working the frontlines. It’s kinda messing my mind with anxiety as well too. I’m just worrying about her constantly every day, praying for her every night,” the 19-year-old said.

Francisco Martin with his mom, Fatima | Screengrab

The closest Fil-Am contestant to win the American Idol title was runner-up Jessica Sanchez, also from Chula Vista, California. Phillip Philips won it in Season 11 on May 23, 2012 with the song Home.

Francisco auditioned in Sunriver. He sang Alaska by Maggie Rogers and Use Somebody by Kings of Leon, though the second song was not televised until the second This Is Me episode. All three judges voted “yes”, sending him to the next round.

Is it the time for a Fil-Am this year? Cross your fingers and still be proud whatever the outcome would be. “If we build it; he will come.”  Tune-in this Sunday, May 17 and get ready with your votes.

Who knows, his dream, our hope, will come this Sunday, May 17?

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