07 December 2015

X-Factor Australia Winner Cyrus Villanueva More Than Just A Singer


Although I followed young Marlisa Punzalan’s progress in last season’s X-Factor Australia – by way of YouTube, where else? – I was only vaguely aware that a young Filipino-Aussie singer was doing just as well in this season’s edition of the same show.

As happens these days, the Philippine media is hopelessly infatuated with the notion of acclaiming the successes abroad of anyone with even a fraction of Filipino blood. Given the extent of the so-called Filipino Diaspora, then these successes, in the evening news, have really become dime-a-dozen of late.

In fact, it was not until a segment in the evening news on the night of the finals that I became aware that a Fil-Aussie singer by the name of Cyrus Villanueva stood a real chance of winning. I was intrigued enough to follow a YouTube link of his finals night performance on YouTube

Fortuitously, the link led to Cyrus’ take on Labrinth’s ballad “Jealous,” apparently chosen for him by his mentor Chris Isaak. I was immediately blown away not just by what I was hearing but likewise by what I was seeing.

From the very first time he opened his mouth to croon the ballad, I immediately sensed that the boy is special. He does not have the Jed Madela type testicle-busting high notes that Filipinos are so fond of.

Instead, his voice has such a rich controlled texture to it that caresses the ears and seduces the listener. When he gets to the high notes, he breaks into a silky and beguiling falsetto that does not ease up on the caressing.

Moreover, the boy is a natural-born minstrel, someone who goes beyond singing but instead instinctively tells stories replete with heart-felt emotions. These he conveys not just with a voice of the highest quality but also with an expressive face and authentic body language.

I followed American Idol for more than a decade, and even after having made it all the way through to the finals, many singers still struggled to find the balance between singing with emotions and being contrived and overacting. In contrast, Cyrus appeared to find this balance naturally.

God knows that I am not really a fan of contemporary pop songs; and my definition of standard musical fare can be limited to the Eagles, Bon Jovi and other fossilised acts. Thus, I had to search YouTube for Labrinth’s original MTV of “Jealous” because first I did not know Labrinth and thus I did not know the song at all.

This is just me, but I could not make myself listen to the full video of Labrinth singing the same song that made me sit up and take notice of Cyrus. In fact, to me it seemed like Cyrus’ version was the original and Labrinth’s was the cheap cover.

Do not take anything you read in this article as fact. Go see for yourselves on YouTube, where all his performances on X-Factor Australia are well documented.


Video credit:  ISOtunes.

Of these, among my personal favourites was Cyrus’ emotionally fired up interpretation of Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own,” after which he bawled his heart out in front of a national television audience and Chris Isaak felt he had to get up on stage to hand over a handkerchief.

Then there was his take on Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” which naturally interested me because it is one of those fossilised standards that I was talking about earlier. I thought Guns N’ Roses already improved on the original.

Cyrus’ version was even better. His interpretation was really contemporary with even a boy band-ish twist to it but without losing the rock spirit of the song.

Finally, there was “Stone,” a bouncy dance-y little song that will be his first recording as reward for winning X-Factor Australia. Cyrus did the song standing up; and because he was dancing there were a few fails with the falsetto. Still, he moved like a seasoned performer onstage and one gets the feeling that the song will be hitting the charts soon.

Cyrus' father is a musician known as Jo Vill, originally from Cotabato. Image capture from Paul Villanueva Guerra's video on YouTube.

On the personal side, Cyrus was fresh out of high school studying graphics design in university before joining X-factor Australia. He is from Wollongong in New South Wales whose father is a Filipino musician from Cotabato known as Jo Vill – as obviously Aussies cannot really pronounce Villanueva properly.

Cyrus has been to the Philippines and was reportedly considering a career in the country or in the United States as options prior to wining X-Factor Australia. For winning the competition, he was won a recording contract with Sony Music Australia.


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