One rainy Sunday in Hawaii, Ammon and Liahona Olayan sat around in the tent where their family lived for three months, surrounded by the buckets they used to wash their clothes and the goats, chickens and pigs they raised.
“Hey, stop being lazy and go do something,” their father said, according to Ammon Olayan. “You should go try to write a song.”
Five years later, the siblings from Vineyard are performing their own music and headed to Hollywood as contestants on “American Idol.”
Ammon Olayan, 18, and Liahona Olayan, 17, sang three original songs — one solo each and a duet, “Listen to My Heart” — for the celebrity judges in San Diego during their audition, which aired on Sunday night’s episode from 7-9 p.m. on ABC.
“I don’t think me and Lia have ever done something so big,” Ammon said. “Being on national television and stuff like that, that’s a lot of pressure. But yeah, it was super exciting.”
Judge Katy Perry called them “incredible songwriters” and compared Liahona to Lorde and Alessia Cara.
“I think you guys are on the right path,” Perry said. “You are talented beyond belief.”
The siblings complementing one another was “absolute magic,” according to judge Luke Bryan.
“Liahona, you have a voice like we could write a song, record it and it’s ready for the radio,” Bryan said.
Judge Lionel Richie said he liked what both singers did and they “brought it to the table.”
“I think what’s missing now is everything is so contrived, and the beautiful part about this, it’s so fresh,” Richie said.
The brother and sister were grateful to be together as they walked into the large audition room in front of the lights, cameras and judges.
“The ground that their chairs are on is kind of raised higher than the ground that you’re on, and so it kind of looks like they’re sitting on thrones, and that was super intimidating,” Ammon said. “I was super happy that I had Lia to give me some support.”
But the siblings have also had to embrace their competitive spirits as they go head-to-head against each other as individual contestants.
“Going into this ‘American Idol’ competition against him, I’m like, ‘Dang, I’ve got to beat this guy. I love him, but I’ve got to win,’ ” Liahona said of her brother. “I’m sure he feels that same way as well.”
Ammon said the virtual auditions that preceded their trip to San Diego were a lot calmer and more relaxing.
“You’re in your own home, and then you have your family surrounding you, so I definitely felt more confident and more sure of myself than when I went to the celebrity judges,” Ammon said.
The coronavirus pandemic has given the siblings a lot more time to focus on music and the message they want to share, according to Ammon.
“I think the message we have really pertains to what’s going on right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who are scared and who are feeling really down, so I think the message of our music will really help lift them up.”
Liahona hopes their “American Idol” experience will give others hope and belief “that even with this pandemic going around, you can still do what you love and always follow your dreams.”
“Through our music, we want to show that being there for each other is the most important thing and that family is everything,” she said.
The brother and sister, the two oldest of soon-to-be nine siblings in their family, realized they wanted to become singers and “write music that will inspire others around the world” after Ammon took on their father’s challenge in Hawaii, which then motivated Liahona to do the same.
“Our parents decided that we needed to move to Hawaii and leave everything behind because we needed to get closer as a family and closer to our Hawaiian heritage,” Liahona said. “We needed to reconnect with our roots again and get closer to the Lord as well.”
Their mother is Hawaiian, and her side of the family is very musically inclined, which has inspired the siblings with their music, according to Liahona.
“Before that, we had really busy lives and a lot to do and not very much time to think, so when we moved to Hawaii, it was a really big eye-opener for me because I actually had time to think about what I wanted to do,” she said.
The Olayans then moved to Utah, where the brother-sister duo won Falcon Idol at Canyon View Junior High School in Orem with their performance of Liahona’s first original song, “Queen of the World.”
“Winning that really helped us put things into perspective that music is where we want to go,” she said. “We know that Utah has been a huge support for us and they always will be.”
Ammon said he and his sister are “super excited to represent Utah” on “American Idol.”
“Being on ‘American Idol,’ it’s a great experience and such a great honor,” he said.