A 12-year-old from Phoenix was selected to compete on La Voz Kids, the Spanish-language version of NBC's reality singing series, The Voice, but she now depends on votes from the public to stay in the competition.
Dulce Perez wowed the coaches during last weekend's blind auditions, when singers are chosen for teams based solely on vocal talent. Having made it through a pre-audition in Phoenix, she was flown to Orlando to perform on the La Voz Kids set.
As she sang the popular Mexican ballad "Luz de Luna" (Moonlight), Perez swayed Pedro Fernández to turn his chair for her. The two other coaches, Natalia Jiménez and Daddy Yankee, didn't turn around but complimented Perez's singing abilities.
"Being on the show is something I've always dreamt of," Perez tells New Times. "So when Pedro turned his chair, I remember thinking 'Oh wow, I did it!'"
Fernández told Perez it was an honor for him to turn around and see that "in addition to you singing very nicely, you are very pretty and are dressed very well — that dress looks wonderful on you."
Perez has never taken professional singing lessons, and says that everything she knows about singing she learned from her mother, Maria Monterroso. Since she began singing at age four, Perez says, she has performed at community events and fundraisers.
She's also part of a mariachi band, knows ballet, and plays four instruments: violin, cello, guitar, and piano.
Perez is also an immigrant-rights advocate. For years, she has been working with local organizations to stop deportation, speak out for immigration reform, and participate in voter-registration drives. She also supports efforts to leave water jugs across the desert in southern Arizona for migrants trying to cross the border.
"It pains me to hear that people will often use knives to slash open those water jugs,” Perez tells New Times. "That's inhumane. That's unjust. They don't know if those migrants are coming here to find a job so that they can support their children back home."
For Perez, the issue of immigration is personal. Her mother is an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States from Guatemala 13 years ago to seek a better life for herself and her child, who she had to leave behind.
Perez says she wishes her mother could legalize her status. Two years ago, when she was selected to participate in a singing competition in Mexico, she turned down the offer because her mother couldn't travel with her.
Perez also considers herself a defender of animals. She likes to find homes for stray dogs and uses her home as a shelter. She's says she's a vegetarian because she doesn't like how animals are treated on factory farms.
"I'm very proud of her vocal talent, but I'm more proud of the human being that she is," Monterroso says. "She's the kind of person who is willing to put others before herself."
The grand-prize winner of La Voz Kids gets a recording contract, $50,000 to use toward their education, and a 2016 Nissan Rogue for their family. Perez said she's hoping to make it all the way to the end.
"My big dream right now is to win La Voz Kids, God willing," Perez says.
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Update 5/29/16: In Sunday night's episode, Perez didn't advance through her "battle round." In this phase, three contestants from each team sing a song together and their coach chooses a winner, who gets to remain in the competition.
Perez still has a chance, if viewers watching at home voted to "save" her.
Viewers were allowed to vote to save one contestant from each team, whose names won't be revealed until the "battle rounds" episodes are completed. They'll join the others for the final phase, which is broadcast live from the stage in Orlando.
Click the link to watch a video of Dulce Perez's blind audition for La Voz Kids .