Three months after placing second in Mexico’s toprated reality show, "La Academia," Yuridia Gaxiola is coming home. The former Mesa resident (and fellow cast members) will take center stage Friday at America West Arena.
"I don’t know how I ended up here," the 18-year-old says. "I wish you could tell me. It’s been really crazy."
Nine months ago, Gaxiola was a Mesa High School senior who sang karaoke in her living room and wasn’t very outgoing. Today she has the No. 2 record in Mexico and is still trying to settle into her newfound fame.
"It’s really hard because when I try to go back home and I see my family, it’s different," says Gaxiola. "My own family wants to take pictures and get my autograph. It’s weird. I’m still the same girl."
Gaxiola spent five months in Mexico City taping the fourth season of "La Academia," a hybrid of "American Idol" and "Big Brother." Gaxiola and the other cast members were kept in isolation studying voice, drama and dance to transform themselves into professional singers. Cameras captured their daily life.
"A lot of people said that I turned into a woman," Gaxiola says. "I don’t see anything, but I guess a lot of people see a difference."
Dubbed "Yuri" by viewers, Gaxiola had been favored to win the July 3 finale, during which she sang Dulce’s "Déjame Volver Contigo" and a Spanish version of Robbie Williams’ "Angel." But Erasmo Catarino Gonzalez, 27, received the most votes from viewers and the grand prize of $320,000 and a car. Gaxiola walked away with $92,000, a car and the promise of a career in Latin music.
Today she can’t go anywhere in Mexico without being mobbed for photos or autographs.
"I go to the store and try to buy personal things and there’s people looking," says Gaxiola. "I treat them well and then I just go home and say, ‘Dang, I just wanted to buy some stuff.’ "
Gaxiola was born into a musical family — her father is a composer and her mother is a singer — in Hermosillo, Sonora. The family moved to the United States when she was 9, and Gaxiola was only one semester away from finishing high school when her father saw a commercial for open auditions in Los Angeles. Nearly 5,000 people tried out for the show in Mexico and the United States.
"At first I was like, ‘Dad, I’m gonna go, and I’m gonna prove to you that they don’t want me,’ " says Gaxiola. "I was in shock when (show producer Azteca América) told me I was coming to Mexico City."
Gaxiola had two days to pack her belongings and say goodbye to her family. She dropped out of Mesa High to do the show. Leaving school was a difficult decision to make.
"I had to leave," says the teen. "I have no regrets. I know I can go back anytime."
Gaxiola might not have to. With her record second in sales only to that of Luis Miguel and another album on the way, Mexico City is home for the time being. She has her own apartment and a boyfriend (fellow American and cast mate Edgar Guerrero).
"I have a great person with me," says Gaxiola. "He helps me out a lot."
Right now her life is dictated by the daily grind of touring. She’s still learning to deal with changing time zones and jet lag. But she does indulge herself when she has a little time.
"I go shopping," says Gaxiola. "That was something I wasn’t able to do (before) because I didn’t have money."