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How a dramatic move to Hawaii led these Utah siblings to ‘American Idol’

Anger. That’s what Liahona Olayan initially felt when her parents told her their family would be moving from Utah to Hawaii with nothing more than a few suitcases

Ammon and Liahona Olayan are pictured during their audition for “American Idol,” which airs Sunday at 7 p.m. MST on ABC.
John Fleenor, ABC

Anger.

That’s what Liahona Olayan initially felt when her parents told her their family would be moving from Utah to Hawaii with nothing more than a few suitcases.

The move came at a time when Olayan was satisfied. She had been doing well in academics, music and sports. She couldn’t understand why her parents wanted to leave behind a content, albeit busy, life.

Olayan and her family would end up spending about a year and a half on the Big Island. For three of those months, they stayed in a tent, living off the land, raising chickens, milking goats and washing their clothes in buckets.

Over time, Olayan learned more about her family’s Hawaiian heritage. With time, she drifted farther from social media and drew closer to her siblings. And that’s when she realized that what at first had seemed like an abrupt life change was something her parents had actually given a lot of thought.

“They realized how much our family was really falling apart and how much we weren’t there for each other,” she recently told the Deseret News. “(In Hawaii), we had to depend on each other a lot because we didn’t have all the things that we usually did. … That really opened my eyes and made me realize my family is everything to me — that even if I don’t really have everything, I have them and that’s enough.”

But something else big happened in Hawaii.

On a rainy, laid-back Sunday, Olayan’s older brother, Ammon, wrote a song. The minute she heard it, Olayan uncovered her passion for performing — specifically singing and writing original music. So she followed in her brother’s footsteps and began writing her own music. And eventually, the siblings started to collaborate.

Five years later, the siblings — who have since moved back to Utah with their family — have performed several shows together. They released an EP in 2019 and were featured on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 2020 youth theme album.

And now, Ammon, 18, and Liahona, 17, are on their biggest stage to date: “American Idol.”

More than 6 million people watched the “American Idolseason premiere on Valentine’s Day. The second episode, which ABC airs Sunday at 7 p.m. MST, features the Olayans’ auditions in front of celebrity judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.

Since their audition hasn’t aired yet, the siblings couldn’t reveal the outcome. But they did say this much: The best part was getting to do it together.


Friendly competition

Ammon and Liahona Olayan come from a big — and competitive — family.

They’re the oldest of eight kids (with a ninth on the way). Being just a year apart, the competition between the two siblings — everything from sports to music — is especially intense. They even argue, albeit playfully, about who should’ve been the older one.

So when both siblings decided to try out for “American Idol,” they focused on why they were doing it: their passion for music. Their parents reminded them to have fun, support each other and give it their all.

“If you do what you love it’s always going to be fun,” Liahona Olayan said. “But if you forget about that and you’re always just trying to be the best of the best and you don’t even remember why you’re there, there’s really no point in doing it.”

Ammon Olayan is pictured during his audition for “American Idol,” which airs Sunday on ABC at 7 p.m. MST.
John Fleenor, ABC

Because of the pandemic, the preliminary auditions for “American Idol” took place over Zoom, reaching all 50 states for the first time in the show’s history, the Deseret News reported.

“It has made it more convenient and accessible for anybody and everybody,” “American Idol” producer Melissa Elfar previously told the Deseret News. “It’s never been easier to audition. You literally can be on your phone in your bedroom auditioning. You can be in the bathroom, in the kitchen, wherever you want to be.”

Instead of waking up at the crack of dawn and standing in line with other aspiring pop stars for hours on end, the Olayans both auditioned from their home in Vineyard, Utah, surrounded by their entire family.

It was a less stressful setting — one where they could literally see their support system. But even still, the siblings weren’t confident they’d get a “yes” from “American Idol” producers. They grew up watching the show, and had seen contestants with big voices and incredible vocal ranges walk across the stage (and then, in some cases, get eliminated).

Liahona Olayan is pictured during her audition for “American Idol,” which airs on Sunday at 7 p.m. MST on ABC.
John Fleenor, ABC

“I honestly didn’t think I’d make it past the Zoom round,” Ammon Olayan said.

But both Ammon and Liahona Olayan got callbacks.

And then, to their great relief, they both got the good news: They would be heading to Los Angeles for the big-time audition in front of the celebrity judges.


The big audition

The room was a lot bigger in person than it looked on TV.

Cameras and lights were everywhere. The celebrity judges — megastars like Katy Perry and Luke Bryan — were sitting far away on a platform that lifted them slightly off the ground.

“It looked like they were sitting on thrones,” Ammon Olayan said.

When Liahona Olayan walked in with her brother, the nerves hit. She wasn’t singing via Zoom, from the comfort of her home anymore. This was Hollywood. And she was standing face-to-face with Perry, Richie and Bryan. It was the first time she had ever seen a celebrity in person.

“It seemed like they were on pedestals looking down at us,” she said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this. I’ve gotta get out of here.’”

But her brother reassured her. During the audition, the siblings chatted with the judges, telling them about their family and upbringing. They each performed an original song. And then they performed one of their songs together. By the end, Liahona Olayan had forgotten all about her nerves.

Liahona and Ammon Olayan are pictured during their audition for “American Idol,” which airs Sunday at 7 p.m. MST on ABC.
John Fleenor, ABC

Instead, she remembered why she was there. How a big moment like this had evolved from that rainy Sunday afternoon in Hawaii, when her brother wrote a song for the first time — when she discovered her own passion. Regardless of how far they would end up going on “American Idol,” in that moment, she was just glad to be sharing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with her brother.

“He was my inspiration and has always been,” Liahona Olayan said. “Being on ‘American Idol,’ it’s still crazy to process, but you know after everything that we’ve been through, it’s just like a dream come true.”

Note: The Olayans’ “American Idol” audition airs on ABC Sunday at 7 p.m. MST. Those with a cable provider can watch the episode starting the following day on ABC.com.