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Southfield teen is having a ball on "American Idol," despite the grind

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Malaya Watson is being run ragged on "American Idol."

But she's also having the time of her life.

The 16-year-old Southfield High School student is one of the 12 remaining finalists in the reality singing show's 13th season, and also one of four Michiganders left standing -- including Farmington Hills' Jena Irene, 17, Grand Rapids' Maurice Townshend, 26, and Detroit-born Sam Woolf, 17, who now calls Bradenton, Fla., home. Watson, who's the youngest of this year's finalists, and her fellow teens have to attend school classes with a teacher provided by the show in the morning and afternoon and run through their "Idol" paces in between, which she says makes for "a long day."

But Watson isn't complaining.

"It's pretty exciting," she says by telephone from Los Angeles. "There's not a lot of leisure time. There's a lot of work. But I never expected to make it this far; I didn't even expect to make it past the auditions because I was so young, so it's all good."

Watson, who auditioned last October at Detroit's Ford Field, has been living in the "Idol" compound with her mother ("The bathroom is bigger than my (bed) room at home," she notes) and is keeping in touch with family and friends back home. She avoided a scare last week when she was one of the Bottom 3 but avoided elimination. "That was really bad because it was the first live week, and so to be picked in the Bottom 3 was like...I don't know how to put it. It make you feel really bad," Watson says. "But luckily I made it through."

The experience has nevertheless been a learning experience, and she's been taking the judges' comments to heart -- particularly Harry Connick, Jr., who's proven himself to be tougher than Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban.

"I like (Connick's) feedback," Watson says. "He really tells you,music-wise, what you need to work on, what was missing, stuff like that. I really like his opinions."

Watson can't say what song she'll be performing on Wednesday, March 5, but with a musical theme of Home she says she's picked something that will "really keep me out of the Bottom 3 this time." And if Watson has her way, she'll be settling in for a good, long run --hopefully to the May 21 finale.

"It's really cool being the youngest kid out of the group," she says. "We're like family, obviously. There's never, like, 'I hate you! I hate you, too!' It's never that. We're all supportive of each other. We always keep each other up. It's really fun."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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