On February 12 and 13 -- tonight and tomorrow night -- 20-year-old Aranesa Turner, Pomo, will again be among the ever-shrinking pool of contestants striving to be the next winner of American Idol. Turner made it to the show on the strength of a dazzling audition in San Francisco that had judge Jennifer Lopez comparing her to Aretha Franklin -- “Little Aretha,” Lopez called her. Last week, though she didn't get any face time on screen to speak of, Turner survived the dreaded "group" competition. While it's certain that Turner will again get to show the judges what she's got in this next round, we don't know whether she will be featured on Wednesday's show, or Thursday's show, or (as was the case last week) neither.
With the telecast drawing near, Turner, Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, spoke with ICTMN about her talents, her hopes and aspirations, and what it means to represent Indian country in the esteemed competition.
How has your indigeneity inspired your craft?
I, personally, wasn’t born on the reservation, but it kind of stopped at me. Everybody else was born on the reservation: my mom, grandma, my aunty, my uncles, and even though I wasn’t raised on the reservation I’ve always visited as a young girl. We’ve always gone to pow wows, always gone to the rez; my great grandma’s house is there, so I’ve always been connected to my rez. And just seeing reservation life is, you know, pretty much poverty stricken and all the drug abuse and all the alcohol abuse and all that stuff -- it really, really has tugged on my heart since I was a little girl. I’ve always had a heart for people, especially my people. In singing, in having the gift of singing, I feel like I have to use it to give back, I have to use it for my people because we’re hungry, we’re starving for positivity; we’re real-life hungry for change. So [being American Indian] definitely, definitely plays a big part in what I do.
So, is mom or dad an artist?
Yeah, my dad actually went double platinum in the ‘90s for his single. He was in a group called D.R.S. and they went double platinum for the single entitled "Gangsta Lean." … He was a singer. I feel like that’s why I maybe have this natural love for it. It’s definitely genetic, but I also think that it’s a gift. I feel like my influence is my heart. People keep me going. My heart for people -- that influences me to keep doing what I’m doing.
Who are your biggest influences, artistically?
It’s definitely going to have to go out to Selena. … Growing up, watching Selena 500 times a day and pausing it -- I’d change my outfit and perform. I swear I could quote that entire movie.
Ten years down the road, where are you?
Ten years down the road I definitely have a Grammy. And I’m definitely a motivational speaker for sure. In ten years? I should have my camp for Native youth up and running. And I should be well on my way to philanthropy by then, and hopefully a wife and mother. Ten years is a long time.
Do you have a name for this camp for Native youth?
I don’t have a name yet. … I’ll pray on it.
And what is your message to the youth? Let’s say some young Native kid is reading this and they want to do something artistic. What message do you have for the next generation?
There is literally nothing in this world you can’t do. … Whatever it is in life you want to do, do it, and be the best at it because you can. All of that greatness is in you. Greatness is yours.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the Native American community at large?
Thank you. Honestly, thank you.