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MAR
20
7 MOS

'American Idol' Season 13: Malaya Watson Is the Youngest Finalist in Series History

Her father, a professional musician, educated her in Motown classics and songs from Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.

Malaya Watson
Michael Becker/FOX
Malaya Watson

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with American Idol's season 13 finalists to give an in-depth look at the top 10, including their earliest memories of music, when they knew music would be their career choice and what led to their decision to audition for the singing competition.

Meet the rest of the top singer here.

Malaya Watson
Southfield, Michigan
Born: Sept. 24, 1997

Prior to season 13, all of the American Idol contestants had been born between the years 1975 (the birth year for Constantine Maroulis and Bo Bice) and 1995 (when Thia Megia, Jessica Sanchez and Shannon Magrane were born). That makes Malaya Watson the youngest finalist of all time, the first to be born as late as 1997. To put it in perspective, that's the year "Wannabe" by Spice Girls topped the charts.

PHOTOS: 'American Idol' Season 13 Meet the Top 10 Singers

Watson's elementary school years were filled with a litany of musical instruments. In kindergarten, she played the drums and the bongos. Then she took up the recorder. In fifth grade, she learned to play the piano, which is when she first realized she had musical talent. It didn't hurt that her father, Ron Watson, was a professional musician, working with well-know artists like Evelyn "Champagne" King. Thanks to her dad, Malaya listened to a lot of Motown music as well as artists like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Ron made a point to take his daughter to the Motown Museum so she could fully appreciate that label's storied history.

In ninth grade – which is very recent history for the 11th grader – Malaya learned to play another instrument. "I thought the tuba was awesome." She was inspired to take up the tuba because an older student in her school's marching band had mastered it. "I love the bass notes," she tells THR. "I was 5-foot-1 in ninth grade and the tuba was really heavy. I still have calluses on my shoulders."

STORY: 'American Idol' Get to Know Season 13's Top 10 Singers

Malaya was just 6 years old when she started watching Idol during season three. The youngster quickly became a big fan of Fantasia. But over a decade would pass before Malaya was old enough to audition for Idol, something she did at the urging of her mother. "I was 15 at the time," Malaya tells THR.

The venue opened at 5 a.m. and Malaya didn't arrive until 7 p.m., "so I sang really late and was very tired." Her audition song was "Ain't No Way" by one of her favorite artists -- Aretha.

Although it's early in Malaya's Idol journey, she tells THR that she has already learned a lot from being on the show. "The music business is not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of precise dedication because it's not as easy as putting your clothes on, practicing your song and going onstage to sing. It's really hard, especially with me being young. But it's good training for the future."