The next time you tune in to American Idol, watch out for Chennai girl Rhea Raj, who hopes to do her country proud
s she stood in front of the judges of American Idol, Rhea Raj kept asking herself, “Is this real?” Watching Jennifer Lopez sing right in front of her was surreal. “I decided right then that I was going to give this audition my very best — my 100 per cent,” she says.The music bug bit Raj when she was in elementary school. “I performed Miley Cyrus’ When I look at you at my fourth grade talent show and instantly knew that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. Her mother Kavita Kuppuswamy recalls how, as a young girl, she picked up complete lyrics really fast, and had a flair for piano and guitar. The talented teenager has been writing, composing and singing for years. “I wrote my first song when I was 11, and believe it or not, it was about Harry Potter,” she laughs. “It was all dark and mysterious. I have written over 100 songs since then and play them on the piano or the guitar.”
Road to American Idol
“I knew this was my first and last chance,” says Raj, who just turned 15 and eligible to qualify for American Idol. “ I grew up inspired by the show, which is on its final season and I knew that I had to try out.” Her first audition was in Little Rock, Arkansas, and she performed a cover of Whitney Houston’s How will I know? “My entire family was backstage, cheering me on. Everybody was so excited and encouraging, especially my little sister Laura. Winning the golden ticket was as much a family moment as my moment. The judges were so honest and practical with their feedback and I’m working on everything they said to improve my performance before I go on to the next level in Hollywood.”
Music runs in Raj’s genes, “I come from a family of Carnatic and Hindustani musicians. My mother is a Bharatnatyam teacher. Growing up, my little sister and I were surrounded by music and dance,” she says. It surely does run in the family, as Raj’s sister Laura informs us that they must get going soon so that she can make her Broadway audition.
The Chennai connection
“Both my parents are from Chennai. I spent three months in India this summer to get to know the city as a local and not a tourist. My sister and I spent a lot of time at Andhra Mahila Sabha working with children there and teaching them music.” The sounds, smells, sights of Chennai inspire her and she is a big fan of the food. “Everywhere we went the food was delicious. But my favorite meals by far were at home and cooked by our grandmother,” she smiles.
Idols: Shakira, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez
Beyond music: Dance, yoga, painting. I love expressing myself through jazz, hip-hop, ballet and Bollywood style dance.Biggest sacrifice for music: There are no sacrifices when you are completely passionate about what you do. Currently I’m doing online schooling to focus on my music Future speak: I’m interested in music beyond just the performance. I’m interested in how the industry runs, the business and financial side Green warrior: My other passion is the environment. We have been given a beautiful home and should do our part to protect her. A lot of my original music is around this topic.
— Kaavya Krishna