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Standing by Marlisa: The X Factor Australia winner who united a community

Michelle Baltazar

From a shy teenager to a shining star, 15-year-old Marlisa Punzalan from Sydney became the latest and youngest winner of X Factor Australia.

As far as talent is concerned, there is no question that 15-year-old Marlisa is a phenomenon. Week in, week out, she'd been belting one big song after the next. Without breaking a sweat.

But what's even more phenomenal is the groundswell of support from the Filipino-Australian community.

At two Filipino fiestas early this month, volunteers were handing out flyers containing details on how to vote for her.

On Facebook, there's another group of people who would give regular updates and shout-outs calling for their FB friends to vote for her, too.

The local community media was behind her all the way as well - reporting her progress every week and rallying readers to vote.

And at the Fox Studios over 12 weeks, waiting in the wings, were Marlisa's family and friends, cheering her on in what had to be an incredibly demanding and emotionally gruelling journey for any aspiring singer to experience - yet alone someone her age.

"And The X-Factor Australia winner is ... MARLISA!"

So what was it about Marlisa that got her through the weekly elimination rounds? For sure, her performances were flawless. You could tell how dedicated she was. She may be shy and soft-spoken off the stage but under the spotlight, she's transformed: a star in the making with the vocal chords to beat.

Marlisa Punzalan

Marlisa's single available on iTunes Twitter: @marlisamusic

But there's another thing Marlisa had on her side: the generous outpouring of support from Filipinos in Australia and around the world who, despite distance and politics, were united in their objective - text the name 'Marlisa' all the way to victory.

It's not just the text votes, although my favourite line was this one from tita Josie: "I have $700 in text messages this month and I will use all of it to vote for her before the month ends." Now that is devotion.

Multiply that support thousands of times and you begin to understand why Marlisa didn't need a PR company in the lead up to the Grand Finals - she had an entire community doing all the work!

Before Marlisa joined the TV show, Sunday was best spent in Filipino households as the day to go to church. In recent weeks, it became church and X-Factor Australia.

"Can we move dinner to next Saturday instead of this Sunday? I want to go home to watch X-Factor tonight."

But above all, Marlisa's home advantage is her 'home' advantage - an incredibly supportive mom and dad who spent hard-earned dollars for her vocal lessons and took her around to perform at community concerts, school performances and other events. Her mom and dad are ever-present and always on her side. Her dad is not without a camera in hand to capture every moment, every step, every note.

Then there's her extended family. And when I say extended, I mean extended: her immediate family, her lolo and lola, her cousins, her titos and titas, her mentors, her school friends, her fellow Filipino artists and their families and friends ... even Ronan Keating was amazed at how big her family is - and having that moral support from a huge family-led fanbase is a strong foundation for greatness, even at 15.

When her name was called, an entire community rejoiced: we were all winners.

Marlisa's singing career is just starting. There's the single to promote, the concert tours, the next single, and so on. But as former Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy said to her, "Keep your family close."

And if the key to success and sanity under the demands of stardom is just keeping your (extended) family close, then she's got absolutely nothing to worry about in the future.

An extraordinary triumph for a talented Filipina. A well-deserved victory for #teamfilipino.

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