World AIDS Day Detroit Benefit Concert
7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 1
Garden Theater, 3929 Woodward Ave., Detroit
“American Idol” alumni Malaya Watson — who now goes professionally by her first name only — is performing in Detroit Dec. 1 along with other singers from various seasons of the show in honor of World AIDS Day. The event, which will also feature Kris Allen, Melinda Doolittle, Devin Velez and Rayvon Owen, is part of a series of events during the day that World AIDS Day Detroit hosts every year (www.worldaidsdayus.org). The 18 year old singer — the youngest “American Idol” finalist of all time when she made it to the Top 8 of Season 13 — is also a native of Southfield. Malaya, whose good humor is apparent immediately upon talking with her, spoke with Between the Lines about the upcoming concert, her musical inspirations and her greatest love: cheese.
Malaya first got involved with AIDS/HIV awareness in 2014. “Last year, I received an email from Phil (Kucab, World AIDS Day Detroit board president) asking about the show,” she says. “I thought it would be a good opportunity, and I performed last year. And he asked me again this year, and I thought, ‘It’s a great fundraiser,’ and I thought it was a good idea to go back. And it was fun!”
Malaya likes to keep the crowd engaged, noting, “I like to keep it exciting … You should expect some excitement and some heartfelt emotion this year. I’m going to give you a little bit of both. I will be singing ‘Gone Too Soon’ — remember when Michael Jackson wrote the one song about the child (Ryan White) who passed away during the AIDS epidemic? I will be singing the song for the mother of the child (Jeanne White-Ginder) … There will be plenty of tissues.” This year is the 25th anniversary of White’s death.
The singer also likes to keep things exciting when it comes to her work post-“American Idol.” “‘My Diary’ is what I’m working on right now,” she says of her upcoming EP. “It’s going good, actually. We don’t have a specific date for it to be released, but it’s going well. Everything’s coming together!” Genre wise, it will be unique, as she’s almost stumped when describing the sound. “Ummmm … we just call it Malaya. I guess you could say it’s new, but I don’t know. I just call it ‘Malaya’! I’m a new genre!”
Some of her inspirations include classic heavy hitters but are just as diverse as her sound for “My Diary.” “Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin. (My inspirations) are all across the board. There’s no really specific person,” she says. “Rap. I actually listen to a lot of that, as crazy as it sounds. I get a lot of inspiration from that also. That’s why I don’t know what genre to call me! I’m inspired from every aspect of music. I listen to classical sometimes all day.”
Though she’s veering from her predominantly R&B performances on “American Idol,” she is gracious and thankful when describing her time on the show. “It gave me the exposure, the experience and the opportunity just to get my music out there,” she laughs, “show American and the world, you know, who Malaya is! It was amazing and a very great opportunity that I’m glad I had.”
Beyond the hit Fox show, Malaya’s past performance experience includes quite a lot of local theater, including time with Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit. Does the girl with a knack for quick jokes and a background in theater have more than just singing in her future? “I don’t know what the future has. Maybe theater, though, maybe,” she ponders. “I like to dabble in anything I can.”
Those theater experiences informed her inclusive attitude, as well.
“Because of my theater experiences, I’ve had a lot of friends that are a part of the LGBT community. And, you know, I don’t discriminate against any type of love. You love what you love. If it’s strong like that, then I’m a strong supporter of that. I have a bunch of friends (who are LGBT). I used to sing at the (Detroit) Opera House, actually, when I was in middle school. Some of the people that were my age were from that community and they were my friends just like anybody else was.”
Though singing, theater and community outreach remain facets of her career, her true love seems to be food.
“Oh yeah. Oh you know!” she exclaims when the topic comes up. “You can ask anybody — I love food!”
Any hometown favorites? “Coney Islands. It don’t get no better than that,” she gushes. “I usually get the out of the ordinary — I like to get breakfast. Everybody thinks it’s crazy. I get like three pancakes, white toast with extra butter, four pieces of sausage, eight pieces of bacon and three or four sunny side up eggs! And I eat the whole thing. I don’t leave anything on the plate. And the crazy part is, I eat again. Maybe an hour later? I love food!”
Malaya even dabbled with the power of social media recently when it comes to food.
“I love cheese. Cheese is delicious. Sargento sent me some cheese because I was so excited by the cheese emoji. Big shout out to them — that was really cool. I love cheese.” With love like that, could Malaya’s next gig be a deal with a food company? “Oh definitely,” she wishes. “If I could get a cheese commercial, that would be amazing.”
While Malaya continues to work on her EP, fans can expect her to venture out of the state soon as she continues to further her career. “I’m trying to get myself not just in Michigan but all over the country and all over the world. That’s a plan,” she says emphatically. “The universe! I’ll become an alien!”