Jonael Santiago, an 11-year-old pint-size dynamo with an outsize personality, was the winner of the third season of La Voz Kids (The Voice Kids), the Spanish-language kiddie version of The Voice, which airs Sunday nights on the Telemundo network.
Santiago’s win on June 7 — determined by audience voting from more than 1.2 million viewers — was not a slam dunk by any means. This third season boasted a particularly talented lineup of finalists, including 11-year-old Shanty Sumaya, a Mexican American from Texas who already plays gigs in her home state and is particularly good at grupero; and 14-year-old Franser Pazosa, a Cuban-born 14-year-old from Portland, Oregon, with a stunning, versatile voice.
Santiago, a diminutive boy who looks younger than his years, couldn’t match their vocals, but he made up for it with stage presence, attitude and dance moves that evoked Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson. In fact, his grand finale was Mars’ “Treasure,” a song chosen for him by coach Natalia Jimenez.
“He’s an amazing package,” Jimenez told Billboard after the win. “He can dance, he can sing, he can act. I wanted him to sing something he can move with. He’s really good at singing ballads, but the most impressive thing is seeing him dance and sing at the same time.”
Even Daddy Yankee, a competing coach, agreed. “It’s so entertaining to watch Jona onstage,” he said after Santiago’s final performance.
Santiago competed against contestants coached by Jimenez, ranchera singer Pedro Fernandez and reggaeton star Daddy Yankee, who shared the stage as coaches for the first time in this third season of La Voz. The show, whose previous coaches have included Paulina Rubio and Prince Royce, has become a ratings success for Telemundo, routinely beating out rival (and behemoth) Univision for Sunday night ratings.
La Voz Kids is a variation on The Voice’s format that features kids as contestants, major music stars as coaches and big-name guest performers. For the Sunday night finale, held — as the entire season was — at Universal Orlando, featured performers for the evening, beside the contestants, were Marc Anthony and Gente de Zona, Mexican singer Lucero and La Voz coach Fernandez.
The winner of La Voz Kids gets a $50,000 cash prize from AT&T that goes toward their education, and a recording contract from Universal Music Latino for the production of a song and video. That could go in different directions for Santiago, who moved from Puerto Rico to Miami two years ago to further his training in music and dance and sings equally well in both languages.
“I felt comfortable with ‘Treasure,’” he said of his final performance. His favorite acts, he says are “Demi Lovato — I love her — and Tori Kelly. I really want to record in the studio ‘All In My Head’ by Tori Kelly; she’s awesome.” However, he added, “Spanish is my first language and I came to Miami two years ago and I’m not perfect [in English yet]. I’m Puerto Rican and I always will be and I’ll talk Spanish forever.”