She’s only 7 years old, but Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja already has sung the national anthem at several huge sporting events across the country.
USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES – Christmas is approaching and Los Angeles is starting to think about championships, with the resurgent Rams and Chargers dreaming of playoff glory and even the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers surging impressively.
And, in a warm and tasteful condo in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, Super Bowl aspirations also are bubbling in the mind of America’s most adorable, and quite possibly its greatest, national anthem singer.
“My biggest dream is to sing at the Super Bowl,” says 7-year-old Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, as she and her family welcome USA TODAY Sports to their home. “I’m always nervous though. If I get something wrong it’s going to be bad because it’s a special song for America.”
Not much chance of that. Forgive the clumsy sports analogy, but despite her tender years Malea is a big game player who thrives in the company of superstars. Every rendition so far has been vocal perfection.
When she performed for the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 25, some guy named LeBron James turned around to face her and began applauding as her golden notes electrified a Sunday lunchtime Staples Center crowd.
“Amazing,” James said. “Just amazing.”
Saturday, Malea will sing in front of her biggest gathering, in front of 73,000 supporters at the MLS Cup final between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a game that will be broadcast in more than 170 countries. No pressure.
It has been quite a ride. Just six months ago, Malea was singing in front of a few hundred spectators at minor league soccer games, or World Team Tennis’ Orange County Breakers, and it wasn’t easy for her father Arman to get her booked at those low-key spots. Despite most anthem gigs being unpaid, plenty of aspiring singers view sports events as the perfect place to get noticed and collect reps in front of a live audience, and competition for places is real.
When she was picked for the Los Angeles Galaxy pre-game spot in September after winning an online competition, it was the start of a remarkable journey. She not only met global soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who spoke of her talent in glowing terms, but her performance went viral. That led to a swath of international attention, including great interest from Indonesia, where Arman and his wife Esther moved from 11 years ago.
Soon afterwards invitations from the Clippers and Golden State Warriors followed, as well as the deafening thrill of NHRA drag racing.
“It was very loud there,” says Malea, a second grader at a Los Angeles Mandarin immersion school. “The ground was shaking like an earthquake.”
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja left players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic smiling ear-to-ear at her performance of the national anthem in September. (Photo: LA Galaxy)
It didn’t distract her from another smash performance, just like all the others, and suddenly, she is the most sought-after anthem vocalist in the country.
“I was not a sports fan,” Arman said. “This is all a very amazing experience for us because we get to go to all these sport events, and it’s very exciting. We are becoming sports fans now.”
What sets Malea apart is her stature – she stands 3 feet, 9 inches – and the incredible voice that booms from her tiny frame. Her tones are sweet as can be, until she jazzes things up with her trademark “growls” – deliberately inserted voice cracks that add emphasis and feeling into the rockets and their red glares.
Witnessing her sing at home, it is hard to imagine how she won’t become a star. Indeed, the “American Idol” judges already have given her a golden ticket to cash in for a guaranteed place in the Hollywood round once she reaches the requisite age of 15. On Dec. 15, her first single, “My Only God,” will be released on all digital platforms.
She is friendly and talkative and full of thoughts and ideas, while still blissfully unaware of just what a big deal it is to be an international star at the age of 7.
“Of course I want to be a singer one day,” she says. “But I love singing the anthem at sports events. I like staying to watch the game, too. But only if it finishes before my bed time.”
She has been pictured with Ibrahimovic (6-5), the Warriors’ Jordan Bell (6-9) and, in an irresistible photo op, Clippers giant Boban Marjanovic, all 7-3 of him.
Malea’s parents are understandably and commendably keen to ensure her life retains as much balance as possible, and have had to turn down some prime opportunities. The Dodgers called several times but unfortunately the schedule of the World Series doesn’t fit in neatly with school night curfews. An appearance on “Good Morning America” did, though, including the chance to sing a majestic Dreamgirls duet with Jennifer Holliday.
Celebrity double acts, big time sports, applause from LeBron and who knows, maybe even that Super Bowl slot one day in the future. It could all get a bit stressful but thankfully there’s not much time to think about all that. Because in between finishing her Chinese homework and lamenting the fact that “Ralph Breaks the Internet” was sold out when she and older brother Andrew tried to visit the cinema the other day, there was some major news this week.
“I lost my first tooth,” Malea exclaims suddenly, pulling down her bottom lip to proudly show off the gap.
Exciting times indeed for a performer, no, a little girl, who happens to be the ultimate master of America’s most played song.
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