‘X Factor blew the door to the music industry wide open’

'There are people who do not see me, Emma, or Destiny as Maltese... it’s a big step in only showcasing how mentalities in Malta are changing, and help open people’s minds’ 

Believe! F.A.I.T.H smile for the camera: from left Ema, Chanelle, Maya, Demi, and Megan
Believe! F.A.I.T.H smile for the camera: from left Ema, Chanelle, Maya, Demi, and Megan

Welcome the new face of Malta.

On the stage of X Factor Malta, the television powerhouse that has taken the island by storm, the doors to unknown repositories of talent have been unlocked.

And although this year’s crown has gone to former Junior Eurovision champion Destiny Chukunyere, who now goes on to represent Malta at the Eurovision Song Contest, there is much to be said about the powerful girl band assembled by impresario Howard Keith.

They’re all giggles as they pose for the camera, by F.A.I.T.H – Five Are In The House – shook their audiences with their pop version of Freddy Portelli’s Viva Malta, giving the faux-rock classic of Malta’s ‘Elvis’ an uptempo beat to suit their harmonies.

But there’s also the fact that F.A.I.T.H. is racially diverse, again a testament to the new Malta that has been revealed on X Factor, whose talent roadshow has made stars of singers – young and old, black and white, gay and straight – ‘undiscovered’ by the usual roll-call of composers and studios.

Maya Sesay, 16, of Attard, and Ema Vella, 15, speak easily of the fact that Destiny is Malta’s queen at the next Eurovision in Rotterdam – not the first person of colour to do so (Miriam Christine, whose adoptive parents were Maltese, represented Malta in 1996), but the first black Maltese born here.

“She represents a new type of Maltese not often portrayed in the media,” Sesay says.

“Destiny represents all of us who are Maltese, but more often than not, we are not seen as Maltese,” she says of Maltese people of colour. “Because if I’m being honest that’s the truth. There are people who do not see me, Emma, or Destiny as Maltese. So, the fact that a person of colour is going to represent Malta is a big step in not only showcasing how mentalities in Malta are changing, but could also help open people’s minds.”

X Factor season 2 winner Destiny Chukunyere
X Factor season 2 winner Destiny Chukunyere

Vella says it will be great to see Destiny representing Malta. “She has such a soulful voice, which represent her roots. She represents people like myself and Maya, which isn’t something we often see.”

F.A.I.T.H. is comprised of Chanelle Zarb, 17, from Bormla, Demi Galea, 16, from Valletta, Megan Caruana, 17, from Marsa, Ema Vella, 15, from Marsascala and Maya Sesay, 16, from Attard.

Coming in at third place in the X Factor Malta contest, the newly-formed five-piece have no intentions of slowing down and, as the Freddy Portelli tagline goes, “the best is yet to come” one of the girls says.

The girls were put together during the X Factor auditions by judge Howard Keith. “There’s a mentality in Malta that if you’re put into band, it’s because you weren’t good enough… so it was a shock to the system,” Sesay explains as she recounts the flurry of emotions they felt upon learning that rather than going through to the next stage of the competition as solo artists, they would instead be put into a group with girls they didn’t know.

“When you start your journey as a solo artist, it comes a bit of a shock when you’re placed into a band and it’s not just you anymore – now there’s four people beside you. In certain ways it’s easier, there’s also a lot of doubt: what happens if we don’t get along?” Caruana says.

Early on in the competition back in the first season, all three bands had been eliminated. “Last year the bands were the first to be eliminated, so we were quite worried that the same thing would happen to us,” Zarb says.

Season 2 proved to be a game-changer. F.A.I.T.H made it to the semi-final, finishing third, an impressive feat since the show’s model tends to favour solo entries. Even on the franchise’s parent show X Factor UK, only one band has ever come in first place, global hitmakers Little Mix, who won the competition in 2015.

“We’re all insanely grateful for the opportunity that X Factor has given us. It opened doors that otherwise would have remained closed. I don’t think any of us would have been able to audition for, say the Eurovision; we just don’t have that level of financial stability to pull something like that off. The competition really just blew the doors to the music industry wide open. It may have included a lot of crying and being hungry… but it was totally worth it,” Caruana said.

Howard Keith
Howard Keith

And they also had words of praise for the often misunderstood manager Howard Keith Debono, their mentor.

“Howard is so genuine, he’s so honest,” Vella says. “We’ve cried so many times with him, and we all know he’s a really good critic and everything he does is to make us better.”

Although she admits being incredibly nervous upon first meeting the producer. “I had him for my first audition, and I was scared as hell.”

“My parents weren’t that supportive at first,” Caruana said of her experience in X Factor. “There’s often this preconception about the music industry in Malta… but X Factor helped shatter the barrier that I had between myself and my parents on the topic.”

Zarb agrees. “My father had an issue with me pursuing music at first. Obviously in Malta school is very important and for a lot of people it’s either one or the other: that’s something I’m trying to figure out myself, so I understand his initial hesitation.”