The Billboard Q&A: AI Finalist Ramiele Malubay

At only 4'11", Ramiele Malubay packs a mean punch with her big voice. Born in the Middle East, almost becoming Mulan and bracing for the tour, the spunky 24 reveals more about her experience on AI.

At only 4'11", Ramiele Malubay packs a mean punch with her big voice. Born in the Middle East, almost becoming Mulan and bracing for the tour, the spunky 24 reveals more about her experience on AI.

You recently moved to Southern California, but where did you live before that?

I was born in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. My parents met there in an elevator. My mom was a nurse and my dad was an engineer. Filipinos go to Saudi Arabia for work and send money back home to their families. During the Gulf War, they sent me to the Philippines and I stayed with my grandparents for a while, and when I came back my sister had been born. When I was four we flew to Boston because my dad got a job there. Then I moved to New Jersey and didn't stay there long because I went to first grade in Orlando.

And during all of that world travel, you developed an interest in music. Do you remember when that happened?

My mom says when I was two, "We'd do karaoke and you would grab the mike from people and you wouldn't know what the heck you were saying but you would go with the melody and everything." And then in fifth grade, I did a Spice Girls thing for a talent show. I sang "Too Much" with four other girls. For someone my age, I could stay on key. When I was 12, I sang for my cousin's birthday and I was like a stick. I didn't move. I was so scared, but people said I had a pretty different voice. So my parents put me through vocal lessons and I would sing for Filipino church events, Filipino Independence Days. Everything Filipino, I was there.

Were you singing in English or Tagalog?

I would sing everything. I forgot how to speak Tagalog a long time ago and to be a good singer, you have to be able to put yourself into the song. So I learned the language again and now I'm really fluent. I think I sing better, because I can emote better, when it comes to Filipino songs.

Did you continue to sing as an adolescent?

People would sponsor famous singers from the Philippines to come [to the United States] and I got to open for some really big people like Kuh Ledesma and Martin Nievera. I'm a total back-home buff. I watch the Filipino channel all the time with my parents. I know the music over there, so when they came here, it was a really big deal for me. It's like somebody singing for Mariah Carey.

From 12 to 16, my parents made me take vocal lessons and I was missing out on life and time with friends, and I felt like I never got to do what I wanted. I felt like music was pushed upon me. At 16 I realized that God gave me a voice for a reason and I would be so dumb to not use it, so I started singing for myself. And then lessons weren't a big deal anymore because it was just helping my craft.

But I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. I would go to hospitals with my mom on "Take Your Kid to Work Day." I still want to be a nurse. I want to go back to school because I'd be really excited if I got that degree and I was singing at the same time.

When did you start watching "American Idol"?

When Kelly [Clarkson] was on it and then Jasmine [Trias] and then I skipped a couple of seasons but I knew who the winner was. And of course everybody watches the beginning rounds because it's hysterical.

I auditioned when I was 16. My parents pushed me to audition and I didn't even make it past the first cut and I was over "Idol," like, "I'm never going to audition again. I hate this!" [When I was 19] my dad said, "You should really try again." So I auditioned. I made it past the first round. At that point, I just hoped I would get to the next level and the next level and the week after this and the week after this, as far as it could take me.

Now I know they look for certain things in people and they don't cut you because they don't care. They do their jobs well. They know what "Idol" is looking for because it's been running for how long now.

Do you remember your first paying gig?

I never liked to take money from people. I was known as the little girl who would sing for free. My parents said, "Don't take their money." My vocal coach told them, "She needs to start charging." We would drive from Miami to Jacksonville or from Miami to Orlando, and that's like four hour, seven hour, eight hour drives just to sing and people would give me money and I would say, "No, it's okay. It's fine." They'd look at me like, "Why isn't she taking the money?"

While you were living in Florida, did you do any work for Disney or Universal?

Somebody offered me Mulan at Disney, but I was living in Tampa at the time, so I couldn't go back and forth, plus I was in high school. I think my singing career from where it started to where it is now, I think every little path, like every yes and no that I gave people, it was perfect to get me to where I am right now. I mean, if I took that Disney job, who knows where I would be right now?

When you auditioned the second time, what was it like to sing for Simon, Paula and Randy?

I was so scared. You drink so much water that your throat gets really dry right before you have to sing.

Now it's normal because we see them on the show all the time, but before it was like, "These people are on TV and now they're in front of me and I'm freaking the heck out right now!" It's so nerve wracking, and now I have to sing. Put me in front of like a jillion people, I'll be fine. Put me in front of two people and I'll freak out. I can't sing in front of small groups. I guess they were sold on it. Simon wasn't sold until Hollywood Week.

Paula was my favorite before obviously because we definitely see eye to eye, same height and everything. So I was excited to meet her. She was really sweet. Randy liked me. He said I was a little girl with a really big voice, and that's what I wanted them to see.

When I got voted off, Paula gave me an hour-and-a-half talk on why I got to the point I got to, maybe why I got voted off, and that I have something special and that I should keep going with it. It was really nice. And then Simon told me to cry on his shoulder. He was really sweet. He's my new favorite judge because he tells it how it is and you can't get any better if somebody's telling you you're amazing all the time. You need somebody kicking your butt so you can get better.

What was it like being voted off?

I felt like it was my turn. I didn't want to go yet, because I wanted to make it to Mariah Carey week. Growing up, she was my idol.

I wasn't going to cry. Then Kristy [Lee Cook] hugged me and said, "We're going to miss you, peanut." I'm known as the most emotional and then Brooke's second. But I bawl all the time, especially when Danny [Noriega] got voted off. I looked like somebody died, like I was at a funeral.

Since "American Idol" is telecast in the Philippines, you must be well-known there.

I really don't know. Some lady pulled me aside yesterday while I was shopping and told me, "You don't know how big you are right now back home." I said, "What are you talking about?"

Does that mean you'll pursue a career in the Philippines?

After the [summer "Idols"] tour, I want to do something here. But I'd be really dumb not to go back to the Philippines. It was always my dream when I was little to be on TV, because I would watch all the singers and stars. To be on the same stage with them, that would be a total honor. So I want to go back home and make something for myself over there, if not over here as well.

One final "Idol" question, since you'll be going on tour with the rest of the top 10. Do you really all get along well?

We're like a big family. As cliché as it is to say that, as fake as it kind of looks, we're real and we won't make decisions without asking each other first. We work as a group together and people would say, "They're probably trying to sabotage each other with songs," but we'll help each other. We're a really good bunch, an amazing top 10. I don't think anybody's going to have any problems with each other on tour. I wish the cameras would get us offstage because we're ridiculous together. We're a really messy bunch.