Siblings with Big Island ties compete on ‘American Idol’

  • Liahona and Ammon Olayan smile during their audition for "American Idol." (ABC/John Fleenor)

  • Liahona and Ammon Olayan perform the original song, "Boom," during their audition for "American Idol," which aired Sunday, Feb. 21. (ABC/John Fleenor)

After discovering their love of music while living off the land on the Big Island, two siblings are showcasing their talent on “American Idol” this season.

Liahona, 17, and Ammon Olayan, 18, decided to take a risk and audition for the national singing competition TV show after growing together as musicians.

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The Olayans are originally from Wahiawa, Oahu, and moved to Utah when they were young.

After growing up on the mainland, the Olayan’s parents, Caleb and Temple Olayan, surprised Liahona and Ammon, as well as their other siblings, with a plan to move to the Big Island.

Caleb and Temple Olayan owned a piece of property in Pahoa with a fixer-upper on it and decided to make that their home for three years.

While the move was a surprise, the siblings were even more shocked to find out they would be living in tents while the house was being renovated.

“I was young and a little spoiled, so I didn’t understand why my parents would uproot our lives and make us move,” Liahona Olayan said. “They kept telling us that this was how we would get closer as a family, closer to our native culture and closer to the Lord.”

While living in tents with no semblance of privacy, Liahona and Ammon Olayan were forced to bond with each other and their younger siblings.

The family began to work together in all aspects of their lives. They cleared the property, raised chickens and goats, and picked fruit from a nearby farm for food.

“Looking back, I really understand why my parents wanted us to have this experience,” Liahona Olayan said. “We really weren’t in each other’s lives before, so moving into a tent made us become closer than ever and discover all these things about each other.”

While rediscovering their heritage and cultural roots, Ammon and Liahona Olayan found their love and passion for music.

“One day, we were all laying down and being lazy on a rainy Sunday, and my dad told me to get up and write a song or something,” Ammon Olayan said. “He was actually joking, but I wrote one anyway and showed it to everyone after a couple hours.”

Since that day, Ammon and Liahona Olayan have been drawn to making music together. They began to write and sing original songs based on their family and lives on the Big Island.

“I think my first song was about my mom, and I saved it for her for Mother’s Day,” Ammon Olayan said. “It was about how no matter what happens, your mom is always there for you, and I called it, ‘I’m So Glad You’re My Mommy.”

“That’s because he’s a momma’s boy,” Liahona Olayan joked.

After living in the two tents for three months, the family moved into the house for a while before eventually moving back to Utah.

While they are living on the mainland now, the Big Island has become a source for their songs and is part of why they want to pursue music.

“I think music in Hawaiian culture is focused on nature, family and God, which is something we focus on as well,” Ammon Olayan said. “I think living on the Big Island made us understand that music should be used to spread good messages and should lift other people up and make them feel loved.”

Ammon was 13 and Liahona Olayan was 12 when they began to write, sing and pick up instruments together. They have not stopped making music since.

“We have our bad moments, but most of the time we love to do this together,” Liahona Olayan said. “There was one time we both said very hurtful things to each other and had to separate for a while.”

The separation culminated into an original composition written by the siblings. The original song, “Boom,” is the song they used for their audition in front of judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.

“It’s still crazy to think that we auditioned with an original song,” Liahona Olayan said.

“I thought the room would be small, but when you walk in, it’s massive. You’re in the middle with all these cameras and the judges are three feet above you,” Ammon Olayan said. “It was super scary, but at the same time, we were so grateful.”

Ammon and Liahona Olayan successfully made it past the audition, with all three judges praising their performance. The siblings went on to perform separately during Hollywood week.

Unfortunately, Ammon Olayan did not advance to the next round with his sister.

The following week, Liahona Olayan performed a duet with another contestant but was not as enthusiastic without her brother there. Perry was disappointed with Liahona’s performance and let her know in front of America.

“People who watched the episode after Ammon left really saw how much it affected me,” Liahona said. “I didn’t take it well at first, and it was hard, but I’m feeling better, and I know how much he supports me.”

The judges allowed Liahona Olayan to advance to the next round and Perry put additional pressure on the young singer to prove herself.

Last week, she performed “Me Too” by Meghan Trainor and impressed the judges once again. She advanced to the top 24 and will be performing a duet Monday with American musician PJ Morton.

For the first time this season, viewers will get to vote on Sunday and Monday.

Overnight voting begins following each duet episode, and four people will be eliminated from each duet group. The top 16 results will be revealed the following week during the episode on April 11.

“I like seeing how hard she’s worked and seeing her fight for this,” Ammon Olayan said. “I just feel very proud of her.”

The future of Liahona Olayan’s time on “American Idol” will be in the hands of the people watching across America. However, she is not worried about her future in music.

“I think I have a different perspective, because ‘American Idol’ is not going to be my whole life,” Liahona Olayan said. “Music is my whole life, so no matter what happens, I’ll always have it.”

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Liahona and Ammon Olayan are working on two solo albums and an album together. Ammon recently released a single called “Into Your Hands.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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