Why “American Idol” Star Alejandro Aranda Means So Much to Pomona

Initially, American Idol’s 2018 revival seemed like a dismal attempt to rehash the past. For years, the show had failed to find star power comparable to that of past champions like Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, or even Carrie Underwood. The general opinion was that it was time for American Idol to die a quick and painless death—to exist only as a fond memory of long-ago.  

ABC, however, refused to listen. After a one-year hiatus, American Idol rolled around again with a new team of celebrity judges. Uh oh, I thought, here we go again… 

To no one’s surprise, season 16 came and went with more of a whimper than a bang. American Idol truly seemed destined to continue its reign of featuring talented but extremely bland singers for TV audiences nationwide.  

BUT then along came Alejandro Aranda, an awkwardly adorable dishwasher turned singer-songwriter from Pomona, California (my hometown!).  “What’s up, homies,” the 24-year-old remarked as he greeted judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. At first, the celebrity panel seemed unimpressed, yet musical ability soon overshadowed Aranda’s nervousness, revealing his true star potential. 

I feel like I’m in the presence of greatness,” Luke Bryan admonished. “You, my friend, are so talented. I am so inspired,” Lionel Richie exclaimed, jumping out of his seat. Yet, Aranda's true humility shined with Katy Perry, “Why do you think you’re special?” she asked. Aranda quickly replied with, “I don’t really think I’m special. I’m just hardworking.”

Aranda quickly proved true to this statement, rising within American Idol’s ranks—performing a mix of original, modern and classic songs such as Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” Coldplay’s “Yellow” and Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart.” Before we knew it, Alejandro had become one of the show’s final three contestants. HOMETOWN TIME! 

Alejandro, who was born and raised in Pomona, was welcomed home by thousands of fans holding signs, posters and banners of support. A parade, street party and mural were created just in his honor! Mayor Tim Sandoval was even decked out in a “Pomona ♡’s Alejandro” shirt declaring the day, “Alejandro Aranda Day.” 

 

It was truly heartwarming to see all the love and support that Alejandro received from Pomona residents! The city of Pomona summed the experience up best: 

Pomona’s praise calling Alejandro “a SHINING reminder of all the talent and potential that exists in our community” only makes sense if you possess some background knowledge about my (and Alejandro’s) hometown. 

Nestled beneath the San Gabriel mountains, Pomona is a large city with a population of more than 150,000—the largest in eastern Los Angeles county! Once very prosperous, the city has struggled as more and more businesses have left over the past few decades. And due to a slowing economy, Pomona residents have increasingly been forced to struggle with widespread poverty, troubled schools and high crime rates.

According to the community-based organization, Pomona Hope, Pomona’s average income amounts to just $17,936—well below the state average of $33,389. In addition, 21.5% of Pomona residents live below the state poverty line and 55% of Pomona’s children live below the federal poverty line. Educational challenges in the city include the fact that only 17% of Pomona residents have college degrees while 38% of residents have less than a high school degree. Meanwhile, Pomona has also long suffered from a crime rate that is 30% higher than the national average. 

These statistics paint a desolate picture of hopelessness and despair. If you’re from Pomona, you are expected to fail. You’re from an ugly community that is desperately in need of help. Growing up in Pomona, I have known prejudice both within and outside city borders. 

It is true that the city of Pomona has deep underlying problems. It is also true that Pomona’s problems will not be fixed in a day. What people need to realize, however, is that Pomona is a city full of extremely hard workers. Living in poverty does not mean you are not a hard worker. Living in poverty does not mean that a family cannot hold high expectations for their child. Living in poverty does not mean that a child should be discouraged from pursuing their dreams. 

To this day, people desperately need to shed their assumptions about the city that I call home. Alejandro Aranda helps ease such assumptions. Aranda truly proves a SHINING reminder that the circumstances that you are born in do not determine your worth.  Aranda's success has helped prove that people from Pomona are not hopeless cases. Aranda has exemplified and brought out community pride in a place that is not hopeless—but that is increasingly striving towards a better future.