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Latin Idol

By Vrinda Normand

NATALIE AMAYA went straight from the stage to the screen, and now she's stuck in TV land, literally. Things started in November when the 27-year-old theater actress auditioned for the Spanish-language version of American Idol, a show called Objetivo Fama. Only one person would represent the Bay Area in the national competition. Amaya came out as one of six finalists who would be notified if they made it.

A month later, Amaya was starring in the San Jose Teatro Visíon musical Four Guys Named José and Una Mujer Named Maria. She knew something was going on that production night because her dad was acting strange. So she was only half-surprised when she opened the door to her dressing room and saw the Objetivo Fama camera crew waiting for her.

Since then, she's been living for a nationwide audience that she can't see, under a scrutinizing electronic eye while she stays in Puerto Rico for the show's filming. Objetivo Fama started in January with 20 hopefuls; the field has dwindled to 12 as one or two get nominated to leave each week.

As in American Idol, both judges and audience members decide who will become the next Spanish-language music star, and starting the first week in April, the remaining 10 (including Amaya) will be at the sole mercy of TV viewers.

If Amaya's performance on March 20 was any indication, she has a good chance of staying on the show quite a bit longer. Her jovial smile charms both on- and off-stage, and when she opens her glossy lips to belt out those melodramatic Spanish ballads, her star quality seems effortless.

Not so effortless, though, is Amaya's conversational Spanish. The American-born Latina grew up hearing the language but not speaking it. Being put in the spotlight with interviews and candid clips in Spanish has been one of her main challenges.

Another difficulty, she confesses, is trying to be a vegetarian when all of her meals (and lodging) are provided for. "Pero, ahora tengo mis veggie burgers y tofu!" she laughs, telling the judges that she finally got some of the food she is used to.

Every day, Amaya wakes up at 6am and goes straight to the performing-arts school where she and the other cast members take classes for voice, dance, exercise, diction and motivation. Not much time is left after a full day of star training. Amaya says she hasn't had much opportunity to see Puerto Rico, much less keep in contact with her family and friends back home.

That has been the hardest part. Objetivo Fama producers keep the participants isolated so they won't leak insider opinions about the competition. This means Amaya has no access to email or telephones. She's been able to make a handful of supervised calls to her boyfriend and family over the past two months, and all of the letters that she sends and receives are screened.

"I've certainly learned a lot musically," she says about her TV break, "but one of the things I have really learned is how much I appreciate my family and friends."

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From the March 30-April 5, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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