An Online Chat with Ellona Santiago

Ellona Santiago

By Teen Columnist Sophia Sanchez

While I was watching first season of the X-Factor USA during the fall of 2011, I saw a standout singer who happened to be in the group inTENsity. This singer would belt it out and light up the stage while she performed. That girl was Ellona Santiago, the San Leandro based Filipino-American who was on the X Factor USA Season 1. Sixteen year old Ellona was born in the Philippines, but resides on the lovely bay area. We have a few things in common, we’re both Filipino-American teenagers that live in the bay area. The only thing is that, I can’t sing. I’d kill to have a voice like hers, I’m sure anyone would. I was luckily able to have a Q&A with Ellona talking about her role as a bay area Fil-Am and her experience on the X-Factor.

You were born in the Philippines, how was the transition to America?

My transition from the Philippines to America was not difficult for me. I was only about 11 months old when my family and I came here. I basically spent almost my whole life here in America.


Do you visit often?

I don’t visit the Philippines often, only been there 3 times. The third time I went, I stayed in the Philippines for about 6 months with one of my sisters. I wanted to experience the life there because I never really did. Also, I wanted to try to pursue a career in singing there. Things were working out just fine and there was a lot of progress however, I had just turned 12 years old then so it was very difficult for me to adjust and be away from my family and friends here in America. I remember I would cry almost every night for the first 3 months because I was so homesick. My parents started to worry about me and my sister because of the storms that was happening at the time and the economy was going down, so they decided to bring me back to America.


What’s something in the Philippines that you miss in America?

I miss the hospitality in the Philippines. They make you feel so welcome there! The wonderful Boracay Island!  Huge malls! The fact that you can buy so many things with just $20 and still have some leftovers, I would give some money to the kids that are homeless out there. I love going to places that reminded me of home in America like The Fort, Alabang Town Center was my favorite.  I also miss how you can just relax outside your house with your friends and family and just talk about old stories and laugh together. The FOOD! tropical fruits! Most of all I miss my family there.


Describe being a Filipino American? How does it define you?

Being Filipino-American to me is just saying you are a Filipino that are a mix of any other race, who grew up or was born in America. Some Fil-Am may not know how to speak Tagalog or any other Filipino dialects but I know they are proud to be a Filipino. I am lucky to say that even though I spent almost all my life in America I could actually speak Tagalog not completely fluent but I can speak it, it has become my second language. I sometimes speak it at home with my parents and the elderly. I think it is important to learn how to speak your native language because even though there’s a big culture gap, being able to get rid of the language barrier, I feel more connected with my roots. I am definitely proud to say I’m a Pinay.


How do you incorporate Filipino culture in your daily life? I sometimes find myself using words like gigil or adding a “na” at the end of my sentences.

I tend to say those things too! LOL. There are times when I speak Taglish with my parents.  I can also speak and understand tagalog but sometimes I get tongue twisted and I don’t know the deep Tagalog words.
One thing we all probably do as Pinoys,  I  use my lips to point something out… haha!


What’s your favorite Filipino food?

I love Adobo, Afritada, Nilaga, Sinigang, Dinuguan. I love to eat in general especially Filipino food.


How was your experience on the X-Factor?

It was GREAT! I have to say it is one of the best time of my life but it sure was not easy, I really worked hard and I think I did my best.


Being in a competition with really amazing singers was quite a challenge!

I also LEARNED a lot. As a young artist I was so honored and privileged to be able to meet, closely work with, and be mentored by amazing icons like Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger, LA Reid and Simon! Also with professional music producers like Claude Kelly, Savan Kotecha and my favorite choreographer Brian Freidman and many more very humble and very successful showbiz personalities. It was definitely quite an exciting experience and I am grateful that I was given such a wonderful experience.


Did you connect in any way with Nicole (Scherzinger) because of your Filipino heritage?

Yes, we definitely did! I remember when I first met her during the first live auditions she asked me if I was Filipino, I said yes, and she said me too! haha she was very happy, giggly, gave me a high five. And when I made it to the first live show, she was screaming backstage and when she saw me come down the stage, she was the one who approached me and gave me the biggest hug! She treated me like a little sister and she always reminded me that every time I see her in the hall way during boot camp round etc, though she wasn’t my mentor, she made me feel good all the time. And when I got eliminated from the show, she hugged me so tight and talked to me saying that she see’s a lot of potential in me, and not to worry, and that there’s a bright future ahead of me. It’s really cool that I was able to get that certain bond with her she’s a great person, beautiful, and it’s probably because we’re both so proud to be Pinays!


What makes you proud to be a Fil-Am?
What makes me proud to be a Fil-Am is the fact that Filipinos are known to be hard-workers, great cook, unified, and of course talented!


While you were on the X-factor you were supported by Filipinos everywhere, describe Filipino support.

It felt good that a lot of Filipino-American communities were really supportive of me. A lot of people would send me letters and emails to show their support. They would reach me through my online networking sites: facebook, twitter, youtube, instagram. Even Filipinos in the Philippines sent their support through there. And when they could not reach me, they would even contact my family members just to show their support and send their best wishes. That was the time where I really felt our people come together and give all their full support to their fellow Filipino. I really felt the love and I actually felt even more motivated and inspired during the competition knowing that I have all of that support from people who I may not ever meet but felt their love.


If you were not a singer what would you be?

If I wasn’t a singer, I’d probably be a dancer or an actress, I love to perform.  But I’m also just like everyone else who is a big dreamer and if I don’t end up becoming the artist that I’d like to be, I am working my way to eventually become a doctor someday.


Do you have a favorite Filipino song?

I love the songs called “Ikaw”, “Bakit ngayon ka lang”, “Bakit labis kitang mahal”, “Ikaw lamang” and more.


What’s your favorite thing to do in the bay area?

I hike a lot with my sisters – our favorite is The Mission Peak in Fremont. I love watching movies, dine out, drive around SF and see the amazing view of the city. I love hanging out with my friends and family.


Who is your favorite artist?

Beyonce, Katy Perry, Adele, Jessie J. and for Pinoy artits I like Gary V, Sarah, Vina, Martin.


Advice for Fil-Am teenagers?

Never let anyone take control of your dreams, it is yours to pursue.

Sophia Sanchez is a senior in high school living in San Francisco. Her aspiration is to be a broadcast journalist and/or work for E! Entertainment. @SophiaFilamsf

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