Alejandro Aranda, Pomona’s ‘American Idol’ contestant, already a winner to hometown crowd – Daily Bulletin


As Alejandro Aranda returned home to Pomona on Tuesday on the penultimate stop of his “American Idol” journey, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter was celebrated not just for his success — he’s in the Top 3 who will compete for the crown on Sunday’s episode — but for what it even means to be an American Idol in 2019, 17 years after the reality TV singing competition debuted.

When Kelly Clarkson won that first season of “American Idol” in 2002, she was a star overnight, the clout of 23 million viewers for her finale propelling her to album sales of 25 million or more in the years that followed.

And many who followed in Clarkson’s footsteps on “Idol,” from fellow winners such as Carrie Underwood to finalists like Jennifer Hudson or Adam Lambert who fell short on the show but found fame in the real world, also became huge stars as “Idol” reached more than 30 million viewers in its peak years.

Aranda, who thrilled the few thousand fans who turned out for a parade and concert in downtown Pomona on Tuesday – footage of which will air during the finale on Sunday – arrives with an equal amount of talent and potential but on a show that, with less than 10 million viewers a week, has a third or less of the audience it did at its peak.

But Aranda is a special talent, and he’ll definitely be a unique winner should he grab the crown come Sunday.

Here are four reasons why:

California’s first ‘Idol’

For a show taped in Los Angeles in the center of the entertainment industry, “American Idol” might more often have been named “Southern Idol.”

For years, winners such as Ruben Studdard in Season 2, Fantasia Barrino in Season 3, and Underwood in Season 4 hailed from southern states such as Alabama, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, respectively.

Then there were the Southern Dudes With Guitars years: David Cook in Season 7, Kris Allen in Season 8, Scotty McCreery in Season 10, and Phillip Phillips in Season 11, who wiped out arguably more interesting talents in some cases.

Southern California in particular and California as a whole have only had three finalists who advanced as far as Aranda has into the Final 3: Katharine McPhee of Los Angeles, Adam Lambert of San Diego, and Jessica Sanchez of San Diego, all of whom finished second in their seasons.

A Latino first

If Aranda makes it to the title on Sunday, he’ll be one of just a handful of Latinos who’ve even made the finals, and the first-ever Latino to win “Idol.”

Of the 16 Idols so far, a dozen have been white men or women, with four African-Americans — Studdard, Barrino, Jordin Sparks and Candice Glover — winning the other four years.

As for Latinos in the finals, Jessica Sanchez in Season 11 and David Archuleta in Season 5 both finished second in their seasons, making them the highest-placing Latinos in the show’s history.

An original style

“American Idol” didn’t even allow its contestants to accompany themselves in the early years, and even after they allowed contestants to use guitars or keyboards there wasn’t much encouragement for performing original songs over the typical cover versions featured on the show.

Aranda, though, has repeatedly played his own compositions on the show, and been encouraged and praised for that by judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. He played an original for his audition and later in competition played his own songs such as “Cholo Love,” “Poison” and “Blesser.” Add to that his talent on the guitar — probably one of the best “Idol” players ever — and piano — and you understand why acclaimed musician Ben Harper has been one of his biggest cheerleaders, not only as a performer from the same part of Southern California but as one who gets what makes a singer-songwriter special.

Harper joined Aranda for a duet on “There Will Be A Light,” a song Harper recorded with the Blind Boys of Alabama, and they reprised it during Aranda’s hometown concert on Tuesday.

“It’s a privilege to witness the growth of a supreme talent, a once-in-a-generation talent” Harper said by way of introducing Aranda to the stage. “And the fact that he’s from the 909? C’mon, y’all!”

Pomona pride

If he wins, Aranda instantly becomes one of the most famous people in recent memory from Pomona, and his many fans on Tuesday said that’s part of what makes them so proud of what he’s accomplished.

They brought signs of encouragement to wave from the crowd as Aranda arrived after a short parade, riding in the front car in a parade of classic lowriders. “Marry me, Alejandro!” one read, though many more picked up on his — and judge Katy Perry’s — familiar greeting of “homie” when talking to each other on the show.

“Homie Town Hero” one sign read, while another picked up on the appeal of his down-to-earth demeanor, declaring “Alejandro the Humble Homie.”

Sisters Stephanie, Katia and Larissa Arias carried signs of their own and a lot of Pomona pride in their hearts. Stephanie Arias, 27, is the oldest and remembers when “Idol” used to grant its title to country singers and more traditional pop stars — not a beanie-and-flannel-wearing shy guy like Aranda, whose vocals and music feel modern and timeless at the same time.

“It makes you kind of proud,” Stephanie Arias said. “He’s humble and true to his roots.”

Katia Arias, 21, said she’s a fan because he makes a different kind of music than the usual “Idol” singer, and Larissa Arias, 16, agreed.

“I feel like he stands out more than the other contestants because he has his own style,” Larissa Arias said.

All three said it makes them proud to be lifelong Pomona residents.

“Anything that brings the community together is positive,” Stephanie Arias said.

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