Season 17 American Idol contestant Alyssa Raghu is only 17-years-old, but her vocals, which have been compared to Christina Aguilera’s, earned her a spot in the Top 10. The Orlando, Florida native was knocked out after not getting enough votes, but was saved by judge Katy Perry. Joining her in the Top 10, Uche Nbudizu, who was saved by Lionel Richie, Dimitrius Graham, saved by Luke Bryan, along with America’s picks, Madison VanDenburg, Walker Burroughs, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, Wade Cota, Laci Kay Booth, Laine Hardy, and Alejandro Aranda.
While Alyssa is one of the youngest contestants, this is actually her second time on the reality competition series. Raghu auditioned last season, wowing the judges singing Ariana Grande‘s “Almost is Never Enough,” but fell short of advancing to the Top 14. Now, Alyssa Raghunandan, who’s of Guyanese/Indian and Mexican descent, has a real shot at becoming this season’s big winner.
Raghu’s been singing her entire life, and has dreamt of making performing her career since age 11. While she regularly performs at charity fundraisers for Military Veterans and Save the Abee Foundation, Raghu takes her philanthropic work off the stage, too. According to her website, she serves as chair of the Global Citizen Committee for the World Heritage Cultural Center. Between her beauty, talent and charitable efforts, she is basically the Miss Teen America of Idol.
Here’s what you need to know about Alyssa Raghu:
1. She Broke an ‘American Idol’ Record After Returning This Season
Raghu is the only contestant in the show’s 17 season history that has ever auditioned twice and made it to the semi-finals each time. While that’s a feat of resilience and talent, this Florida teen is hoping for more. She wants to go all the way.
“I’ve improved in performances,” Raghu told the Orlando Sentinel, a statement backed up by her killer duet with Julia Michaels singeing “Issues” on Idol. “My voice has gotten a lot stronger. I can hit a lot of the higher notes that I’ve always wanted to.”
2. Alyssa Raghunandan is of Indo-Guyanese and Mexican Descent
Alyssa’s parents, Hansraj Raghunandan (father) and Brenda Amillano (mother), are of Indo-Guyanese and Mexican descent, respectively, and while her mom moved away when she was two-years-old, she remains close with both parents. After discussing how her father was a constant rock in her life as she pursues her dreams, Raghu sent a message to fans ensuring that she has no hateful feelings toward her mother.
Raghu is proud of her mixed background, and currently serves as chair of the Global Citizen Committee at the World Heritage Cultural Center.
3. Alyssa Switched to Home-Schooling to Spend More Time Practicing Her Vocals
The aspiring singer was only 15 when she first auditioned for Idol, and a student at Nona High School. But the recently turned 17-year-old left regular school after failing to make the Top 14 two years ago, and switched to home-schooling in order to spend more time working with a vocal coach. She said, “I’ve been building my stamina, keeping the energy going, working on memorization.”
With Raghu feeling more confident this time around, she’s also been able to enjoy the process, instead of being freaked out the entire time. “Last season, I regretted I was not having enough fun,” she said. “It’s a competition, it’s so stressful.” But now, “Whatever happens, all I want to do is have fun,” she said. “So I’ve been having the time of my life.”
4. Why Judge Katy Perry Calls Her ‘The Sauce’
When Raghu returned to Idol this season, it was made to be a surprise for judge Katy Perry, and her eyes were blocked by papers as Raghu’s audition began. However, Perry recognized her voice right away as Raghu sang VV Brown’s “Shark in the Water” — “My sauce!?” Perry said, a nickname she first gave Raghu during the audition process last season. “I got my sauce!”
So, why does Perry call her “The Sauce”? After singing Ariana Grande’s “Almost is Never Enough” during her first audition last season, in order to explain to the judges the correct way to pronounce her last name, the 15-year-old said, “Raghu.. like Ragu, the sauce.”
Later on in the competition, Perry described her performance by saying, “She’s got that sauce,” and the moniker stuck. Ragu, the famous marinara sauce loves her nickname, too. They sent the singer head to swag afterward.
5. Raghu Can Sing Covers of Mariah Carey & Celine Dion
On her You-Tube Channel, Raghu continuously posts videos of her singing cover songs, but they’re not just any run of the mill vocal performances, the teenager can sing some of the most difficult arrangements, which would scare most aspiring singers her age. While Mmny people may think they can sing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” or Grande’s “Raindrops,” Raghu can actually do the songs justice.
Raghu even confidently performs songs from R&B diva, Mariah Carey. Her cover of “Hero” will give you goosebumps. Here’s hoping she goes for it on Idol and picks to sing one of Adele’s greatest hits.