Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja clutched the microphone and looked at the crowd for a moment before gazing into the camera. Wearing a white LA Galaxy jersey almost as big as she is, the 7-year-old, labeled as “tiny but mighty” by the MLS team’s public address announcer, was ready to perform the national anthem on Sunday in front of more than 25,000 fans at StubHub Center in Los Angeles.
After humming the first line to herself, the 3-foot-9, 40-pound Los Angeles native raised her left arm and began. If she was nervous, it wasn’t evident. She was crushing it. Less than two minutes later, Malea Emma had belted out a striking rendition that was part Christina Aguilera and part Whitney Houston — and all soul. Fans and players, including legendary forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, were left wondering whether they just witnessed the birth of a star.
“I was thinking that I cannot do anything wrong because it’s a really special song to America,” Malea Emma said to ABC News.
Since then, Malea Emma’s performance has gone viral, not only stealing the show from the men on the pitch but also turning Sunday’s national anthem into a celebration of a prodigy who has wanted to sing since she was 1.
The soprano’s short journey has already been an enviable one. Not every 7-year-old has an Instagram following of more than 16,000 or their own YouTube channel. When she was 3, she performed at a talent show at L.A. Live, the downtown Los Angeles entertainment complex adjacent to the Staples Center, according to the résumé on her website. By the time she was 5, she played Carnegie Hall as a winner of the American Protégé International Vocal Competition.
“She’s been singing forever, basically before she could speak,” her father, Arman Tjandrawidjaja, told USA Today. “Sometimes we have to tell her to be quiet.”
She loves acting, too. Malea Emma, whose interests also include piano, violin and swimming, has been featured in commercials for Progressive and Jeep. In July, she starred in the Hollywood Bowl’s production of “Annie” as Molly, the protagonist’s best friend. The Los Angeles Times called Malea Emma “a comic spitfire” who “stole hearts right and left,” while BroadwayWorld tagged her as an “audience favorite.”
But performing the national anthem holds a special place in her heart. She had performed it three times before, but the crowds were dwarfed by the one at the LA Galaxy match.
She wasn’t even aware that she would be performing until last week. The Galaxy had announced that, for the first time ever, the club was holding a contest on social media to find a national anthem singer for an upcoming match, according to ABC News. Malea Emma knew she was one of the finalists but didn’t know whether she would be picked.
“Malea, guess what?” her father asked on Sept. 19.
“What?” she replied.
“You are going to sing national anthem for LA Galaxy,” he said.
“I won?” she asked, grinning ear to ear.
A moment later, she flung the book she was reading, screaming and jumping up and down on her bed.
“L! A! Galaxy!” she chanted, before falling backward onto the bed in excitement.
In the days leading up to the performance, Malea Emma said she practiced singing to a lamp, according to ABC. She’s based her singing style on Aguilera, her favorite singer, which came through in Sunday’s performance. Her father told USA Today that she always gets nervous before she performs, but he tells her it’s a good thing since she never shows it.
“Always before I sing, my heart will beat really, really fast,” she said to CBS News.
She’s been celebrated by the Galaxy, fans and even Ibrahimovic, one of soccer’s most prolific goal scorers.
While her family members are grateful for the exposure and experience for their daughter, they also recognize she’s still just a kid and are not looking too far ahead.
“We don’t know where this will end up going,” her father told USA Today. “We are just trying to introduce her to a lot of opportunities.”
As the fans erupted Sunday, Malea Emma, downright giddy, waved to the crowd and offered a simple response to their cheers: “Thank you!”
Her performance said the rest.