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.”
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