One of the greatest things about being 14 years old and getting cast on Telemundo's version of The Voice? "They fly us (everywhere)," said Angela Rodriguez, the teenager from Seminole who has made it to the final episodes of La Voz Kids. "I never had anyone pay for my flight before. It was so cool!"
Her journey started in December when Angela got a Facebook message from a friend in California urging her to audition for the nationally televised singing competition geared toward the Spanish-speaking community. Angela, who has been an aspiring singer since she was 8, jumped at the opportunity.
The audition came in three rounds: First, she piped the Christina Aguilera version of Something's Got a Hold On Me a cappella. Then she sang in front of the show's producers. They asked Angela who inspires her. She said Etta James, the late Grammy-winning singer whose styles included rhythm and blues, jazz and gospel. They asked her to sing the James standard At Last. She didn't know all the words.
"I was like 'oh my goodness, these people are trying to make a fool of me,' " recalled Angela, an incoming freshman at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. But she got through it, she said.
Finally, she entered a room with cameras where an interview was filmed. Angela opened up about her mother's three heart attacks and a cardiac arrest that almost killed her. Angela attributes her strength to her mother's fight against heart disease.
Nearly a month later, she and her mom got the phone call as they were sitting at a bank. Angela was going to be cast on the show.
"We went home and started yelling across the house like, 'Yay, yay, yay!' " Angela said.
Her parents hired Suzanne McCormick, a Tampa voice coach who also is training Alanis Gonzalez of Tampa, who happens to be on La Voz Kids with Angela.
"She's quick, she's really quick. Anything I throw at her she takes and does very well," said McCormick, who has been coaching Angela over the phone and on Skype for the show.
Angela's on-show coach is Prince Royce, a singer-songwriter and record producer from New York.
"I picked him because he was the first person to turn around," Angela said, referring to a portion of the show where the judges start listening with their backs to a performer, then whirl around in their chairs if they like what they hear. "The first person is the one who believes in you and reacts to your voice."
A few times, Angela has made the mistake of visiting the show's Facebook page, where viewers often post negative comments. She doesn't look anymore.
"Everyone has an opinion and they're going to say it," Angela said. "It does hurt because I'm a kid. It's like, give me a break."
Angela has had to sacrifice friendships to devote most of her time to her singing career and to catching up with school. Many times, her peers try to persuade her to go to parties where drinking and smoking are involved.
"I'm not the kind of person that's going to do that because I have a place I want to go in my life," she said.
Angela's family also has had to make sacrifices. Her mom, Belkis Rodriguez, leaves her three other children to be able to take trips to Miami for the auditions and filming. As a truck driver, Angela's father is often on the road, so grandparents step in and help.
"I worry that Angela worries," Belkis Rodriguez said. "The contestants worry that they're going to let their parents down (if they don't win). She cannot possibly let us down."
Angela will perform live tonight on La Voz Kids, battling against 17 other competitors.
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8862.