Round Lake Beach teen enjoys brush with stardom on 'El Factor X'
Brisila Barros' family can't get enough of the YouTube videos.
Huddled around the tablet computer in the family room of their Round Lake Beach townhouse, they comb through more than a dozen performances that have been posted. They laugh, point out details they hadn't noticed before and shake their heads, still dumbfounded at Brisila's turn in the limelight.
Hometown: Round Lake Beach
School: Round Lake High School
Who inspires you? Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sande and Carly Rose Sonenclar. These three very talented artists are all different, and that's what I love the most.
What's on your iPod?My iPod consists of many different types of genres, but the artists I enjoy listening to throughout the whole day are Ed Sheeran and Emeli Sande.
What book are you reading? To be very honest, I am not a fan of books, but I am reading "The House On Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros for my English 2 class. It's very interesting, and I am starting to like it, shockingly.
The three words that best describe you?Charismatic, stylish, humble
Not that the Round Lake High School sophomore isn't brimming with talent.
But they never imagined Brisila's audition just a few months ago would lead to a brush with stardom over the summer as one of the finalists on "El Factor X," a Spanish-language version of Simon Cowell's franchise of TV singing competitions.
"I still can't believe it all happened sometimes," Brisila, 15, said. "I felt so special, like I wasn't even from this world. The whole thing is so humbling."
Brisila finished fourth on the show's inaugural season, which filmed for five weeks in Mexico City and aired on upstart network MundoFox. It featured 8- to 15-year-old contestants chosen through a series of open auditions in Los Angeles, Miami and New York City.
The diminutive teen boasts a booming voice, though most friends and family didn't get to hear it often -- if ever -- before "El Factor X."
"I used to be really shy and I was too embarrassed to even sing in front of my family," Brisila said. "My mom had to give me some tough love. She'd say, 'Unless you're going to sing in front of people, you might as well be quiet.'"
She decided to face her fear earlier this year by going out for "La Voz Kids," another hugely popular talent competition on Telemundo. That didn't work out, but a producer thought of Brisila when "El Factor X" started up and encouraged her to audition.
Brisila made the trip to New York and sang in front of judges, who, like their American counterparts, are well-known on the Latin music scene. Mexican pop star Belinda, Mexican singer/actress Angelica Maria and Venezuelan pop duo Chino y Nacho all gave a resounding "yes" to send her through to the second round.
Next up was two weeks in Miami for the "boot camp" segment, where she and the other teen girls sang various songs to try to make the cut. Brisila did and was paired up with Belinda as her mentor.
Along with 19 other finalists, Brisila, who had never before left the country, performed on live TV on the main stage in Mexico City.
"There were bumps and hills along the way, but I just went out there and did my thing," she said.
Between learning songs, singing, rehearsals and wardrobe, the schedule was exhausting. On Saturdays, the contestants' one day off, she'd head to a basilica or a mall with cousin Rina Ramos, who accompanied her for the entire journey.
Hair and makeup was among the highlights for Brisila. Professionals spent more than an hour getting her glammed up and the outfits she wore cost more than some cars. Her trademark fedora in auditions evolved into blingy bandos, or headbands. The resemblance to her mentor was pretty evident.
"I was like a mini-Belinda," Brisila said. "And it's funny because we have similar personalities. She can be hot-tempered like me, so we got along really well."
Brisila performed songs such as "The Way" by Ariana Grade and "Open Arms" by Mariah Carey with elaborate sets, and sometimes dancers, in the background. She built up a throng of fans at home and on social media who voted for her, keeping her safe from elimination until the grand finale.
On one occasion, she and contestant Mariana Lopez tied for the bottom and each had to sing for survival. Brisila can be seen trying to catch a glimpse of the envelope host Poncho de Anda held revealing the winner.
Sister Brenda, 16, recalled how her family back home in Round Lake Beach went nuts when he said Brisila was safe.
"It was so nerve-wracking watching her up there," Brenda said.
Strong voices run in the Barros family.
Her dad, Nelson, sang with his siblings on a 1970s kids variety show in Uruguay. And Brisila often sings with her sister, working on different harmonies.
She credits her family, which also includes older brother Brian and mother Milka Vazquez, for their unconditional support and time away from home and work. She calls the group the Five Musketeers.
At school, Brisila's performances created some buzz. Interim Principal Donn Mendoza said the halls were plastered with fliers encouraging students to vote. Brisila will perform at the school district's upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month event, he said.
"It's clear how humbled and honored she feels by the process," Mendoza said. "She's a positive reflection on her family and the school, and this is something we're very proud of."
Brisila is still playing catch-up from missing the first few weeks of school, but she considers that a small price to pay for the experience she got and the opportunities she hopes lie ahead.
She said she's finalizing the details of a contract with Sony. Her wish is to go on tour with another finalist as Belinda's opening act, an idea that has been tossed around.
Brisila can rattle off the various pieces of advice and words of wisdom her parents offer and takes comfort in knowing she has their support no matter what.
"My mom says that this isn't the end, just the start of something new. And my dad says that if a door closes, I can go out a window. Singing is what I do best, so I want to keep following my dream."
Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to email@example.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.
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