International stardom beckons for X Factor winner Marlisa Punzalan

X Factor Australia winner Marlisa Punzalan says the UAE is home to some of her biggest fans.

Australia’s youngest X Factor winner, Marlisa Punzalan has been performing with her family from a young age and began entering singing contests when she was 7. Courtesy Sony Music Entertainment AU

Australia's youngest-ever X Factor winner, Marlisa Punzalan, is not only a big deal Down Under. The 15-year-old Aussie- Filipina also shook up the local scene with her debut album, which topped the UAE iTunes chart last week.

The album, featuring the cover versions Punzalan sang on the TV talent show (Sia's Titanium and Alicia Keys' Girl on Fire) also includes her new single, Stand By You.

Punzalan says she is gobsmacked that her album has been so well-received internationally, and credits the region's large expat community of Filipinos for supporting her throughout her time on X Factor, which culminated in her being crowned the winner in October.

“It is so amazing,” she says. “The news of me doing so well spread in the Filipino community in the UAE and the Philippines itself. I guess that made me more popular, and when I won, it became massive news. They were very proud that a person from the Philippines won in a different country, especially in a place like Australia and not just Asia.”

Punzalan's X Factor triumph proves that experience pays off, no matter what age.

Born in Sydney, she has been performing with her family in community events from a young age and began entering singing contests when she was 7.

“My family is very musical so I think they were able to see from a very young age that I had a particular talent,” she says.

“My parents have been really supportive of me because they really believed that I have something really special as a performer. They knew that I have a good voice and that I am able to control it, which they recognised as something quite unique.

“They wanted me to pursue the singing and performances for myself, so that I could be someone different, someone not ordinary.”

In the case of X Factor Australia, however, sheer talent couldn't trump her young age, and she had to bide her time until she reached the minimum age of 14 to audition for the programme.

Her technical ability and down-to-earth demeanour made it easy for X Factor Australia coach Ronan Keating to mentor her. Punzalan says the Boyzone singer was a hard taskmaster yet very nurturing of her talent.

“He always supported me and defended me when some other judges criticised me,” she says.

“He taught me to let go and relax when I am on stage and also to generally work hard. He is a very passionate person.”

With sudden international stardom, Punzalan has had to make a few changes in her life.

One of the biggest challenges has been getting used to the flashing cameras during her latest round of events.

“It’s been really crazy,” she says. “I never expected this much media attention and paparazzi around me. I still look around wondering which celebrity they’re all trying to talk to and photograph – then I realise it’s me.”

Punzalan also dropped out of high school and is now being home-schooled so that she can continue touring and promoting her album. “I always wanted to do something music-related after school,” she says. “Now that I have that I still want to continue my education. My parents always stressed the importance of it to me. I want to graduate because I also want that to be something I am proud off.”

With the next few months dedicated to an Australian tour, Punzalan says that a UAE show could also be on the cards. “We have spoken about it and I really want to go there,” she says.

“But I do have some responsibilities and things to take care of here in Australia. But since so many people are enjoying the album over there in the UAE, then I hope to come and play it live.”

• Marlisa’s album is out now on Sony Music Middle East. For more details go to