MANILA, February 27, 2004 (STAR) This young girl of Filipino ancestry is set to go all the way to becoming an American idol.

A Filipino sailor in the United States Navy’s amphibious command and control ship USS Blue Ridge watched his daughter perform and advance to the elite group of 12 finalists on the talent search "American Idol" on Feb. 18 with his crewmates cheering her on wildly.

Machinist’s Mate 1st Class (SW) William Velasco, assigned to the ship’s engineering department, found out that his 18-year-old daughter, Camile, would appear on FOX Network’s popular talent search program as one of 32 finalists on the show’s Feb. 17 telecast.

Upon learning of his daughter’s success, Velasco said, "I was real happy for her. I was excited to see her. I didn’t know what to expect."

"I never told anyone that my daughter was going to be on ‘American Idol‘until they put it on the night engineering orders and everyone came to congratulate me on my daughter’s success," the 43-year-old Velasco said.

Camile’s singing career began when she was 16, though she has been singing and playing the piano since she was a little girl. Her first performances were at Philippine community centers in Hawaii.

He said Camile has always been musically inclined, singing and learning to play the piano since she was five years old. Camile’s sister is also a musician, a talent they must have inherited from their mother, Velasco said. "I don’t sing myself," he muses.

After he and the girls’ mother divorced, Velasco spent 10 years as a single father stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

While single-parenthood was "tough" for Velasco, his mother lived with him and helped him out. The girls also spent time with their mother, Rennie West.

When Velasco was assigned to Yokosuka, Camile decided to stay in Hawaii with her mother, he said.

Camile works as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) in Haiku on the island of Maui, Hawaii and has ambitions of being a famous singer. She also sang and played the piano occasionally at hotels.

She had the opportunity of a lifetime to boost her singing career on "American Idol." The winner from each season gets a recording contract.

"‘American Idol’ came to Hawaii and she participated in the tryouts," said Velasco, a native of the windswept northern Philippine island of Batanes.

Camile did not tell her father she was auditioning for the show but, after she was picked to perform, she e-mailed the good news to him. They talked on the phone before the Blue Ridge left port last month.

Velasco waited nervously on the mess decks for his daughter to make her appearance. He sat quietly by himself as the sailors gathered around him erupted in loud applause when Camile appeared onscreen to perform Brian McKnight’s "One Last Cry."

This was the first time Velasco had seen his daughter sing, he said, adding that "I have not had a chance to see her perform yet and I am very excited to see how she will do on the show. My daughter enjoys singing hip-hop and R&B (rhythm and blues) songs. She also loves to perform in front of a crowd."

Sweeping The Votes

This may have been Camile’s first television appearance, but she swept up 27.8 percent of the votes (2.7 million votes) sent by text messaging and by telephone calls from all over the US for a place at the top of the competition - a win predicted by the contest’s judges, pop diva and choreographer Paula Abdul, "American Idol"producer Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson.

The show’s host, Ryan Seacrest, announced Camile’s victory Wednesday night and Camile was stunned at the news. "I’m so... I’m just overwhelmed. I’m excited," she told Seacrest. At his request, she again took up the microphone to do an encore of her winning performance.

Velasco said his daughter’s goal is to attend a music college in Sacramento, California, but he also admits that she wants to be a famous singer.

"I will always support her, no matter what career choice she chooses," he said.

After Camile’s performance, the sailors of the USS Blue Ridge let out bellowing cheers on the mess decks as they congratulated Velasco.

Camile’s proud stepfather, James West, said that after Camile’s win, "I got phones ringing off the hook — that’s my reaction."

West bought a satellite dish to hook up to his television once Camile had cleared the initial auditions on "American Idol" and made the cut for a place among the show’s 32 finalists. Camile performed in the second group of eight appearing on the show.

West extended a "giant thank you to the people of Maui and Hawaii for their support ... Obviously it would not have happened without the wonderful no ka oi (community) spirit of the people here."

IHOP manager Josie Segundo said Wednesday that "we already knew last night she was going to win."

Selling Hotter Than Hotcakes

Ever since Camile’s first TV appearance, Segundo said, the restaurant has received countless calls and visits from people all over Maui. "They’re asking about (Camile)," she said.

Upon her return to Maui Saturday, Camile was greeted by a throng of friends, family and fans and, according to her, she felt "off the hook" as she teetered under the weight of several leis.

"I feel like I’ve gone all the way already, especially coming back to all this," she said. However, she can’t wait to return to Los Angeles. "Not too long ago, I was walking around and people would keep on walking. Now they recognize this face."

West felt that Camile’s modest attitude set her apart from the rest of the contestants, saying that despite her victory, Camile is "still the humble local girl. A month ago, she’s a waitress at IHOP and now she’s getting all this adulation."

Before making the cut on "American Idol," Camile often sang at IHOP’s kitchen upon the behest of the other restaurant staff — and the customers would ask if the songs they were hearing were from a new audio CD.

Camile performed at IHOP Sunday and has developed a strong following of fans - most of whom showed up for breakfast.

Rennie said her daughter has yet to get accustomed to fame, saying she is "still really shy." Rennie said both she and her husband are brimming with pride over Camile’s success.

The people of Maui have shown their pride over Camile’s achievement with gifts such as flowers and a limousine ride. Someone even mowed the lawn for Camile and her family.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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