Elijah Liu represents Rowland Heights in `American Idol' top 20
Rowland Heights native Elijah Liu was first inspired to get into music by watching his uncle play Mariachi tunes at family gatherings.
Now, the half Chinese, half Mexican 18-year-old has become the standout heart throb of the top 20 contestants on season 12 of hit reality T.V. show "American Idol."
"My uncle was in a Mariachi band and I remember him at a family reunion pulling out his guitar and jamming with the family," said Liu, who plays the guitar, piano and ukulele.
He said he's been singing casually since he was a child, but began to focus on it more seriously in high school. Liu began posting covers of popular songs on YouTube, filmed in a small studio he configured in his bedroom, and his breakout public performance was at the annual Rowland High School talent show.
He said he's never had any vocal training, other than listening to the radio.
"It started off as a hobby and grew into a passion," he said. "Senior year I did that talent show and that's how I broke out of my shell."
Liu said he enjoys singing pop and R&B music "with soul" - hence the Twitter hashtag #Souljah he created for all of his fans - and is inspired by artists such as Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Drake and Frank Ocean.
Liu first tried out for American Idol last year, making it to Vegas week before being cut. This year, he said, he's proud to have made it past that point.
"I've been a longtime watcher of `Idol' and I've always
Liu has earned many complements from the show's celebrity judges thus far, and will compete to make it to the top ten this week.
"You're 18 years old, you're sexy, you're my new favorite boy, I'm obsessed with you," judge and pop singer Nicki Minaj told Liu after he sang a Bruno Mars song on last week's show. "I would sign you today, you have the most marketable face and voice that I've seen today and you are ready now."
Liu said his success on "Idol" means even more because of his humble Rowland Heights upbringing.
"I've come from nothing to pretty much everyone watching this, and that was my biggest goal was just to share my music," Liu said. "My family never grew up with the best of financial situations so that really humbled me and made me even more grateful for this great blessing of `Idol."'
And the Rowland Heights community - including many of Liu's friends at Rowland High School - is equally as excited about his "Idol" success.
RHS Associated Student Body Director Leslie Phillips said the student body has been buzzing about Liu's "Idol" run on social media, and he has even inspired her to turn on the show.
"I didn't watch the show and now I do because of him," Phillips said. "It puts someone that's real and not someone that is make believe. He's been working really hard to get where he is and he's actually achieving his goal."
She said Liu was well-known at RHS and was even chosen by the study body to perform at his senior prom.
Friend William Lai, 18, said he got to know Liu on the water polo team at RHS, but only found out he could sing after forcing it out of him their junior year. He said seeing his friend's transformation from being shy about his talent to becoming a contestant on "American Idol" has been "exciting."
"American Idol" airs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fox. Liu will sing with the top ten guys on Wednesday and the results will be broadcast on Thursday.