Roberta Battaglia: The Canadian Remake Of A Star Is Born

A 10-year-old with the grace and poise of an adult, Toronto’s Roberta Battaglia rings the buzzer on so many levels.

Lady Gaga would be proud. If you were to shut your eyes and listen to 10-year-old Roberta Battaglia sing the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper song “Shallow,” you would think you were listening to the actual A Star Is Born singer-actress herself.

Petite, with long black hair, gigantic hazel eyes and a smile that could make the sun come out on a cloudy day, Roberta is an old soul in a young body. She is light years ahead of her age in maturity, confidence and presence. Describing herself as outgoing, encouraging and sensitive, Roberta says that she likes to encourage others, especially when they are going through hard times. “I like to cheer people up,” she says. “What you need in life is an encouraging person. I hope I can be that for people.”

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In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Roberta is the preteen Canadian singer from the Greater Toronto Area who, on June 2, got the Golden Buzzer from new America’s Got Talent (AGT) judge Sofia Vergara (Modern Family). Judges on the show are allowed only one Golden Buzzer per season, and a competitor who is awarded the buzzer goes straight to the live semifinals. What made the Golden Buzzer even sweeter for Roberta is the fact that Vergara is one of the singer’s favourite actresses.

What you need in life is an encouraging person. I hope I can be that for people — Roberta Battaglia

After being welcomed by the AGT judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara, Roberta was about to begin her performance, when she was suddenly overcome with tears. Both the audience and the viewing public were on the edge of their seats, breathlessly waiting for the young singer to compose herself. AGT host, Terry Crews, ran onto the stage with a glass of water. The young singer took a deep breath, then she proceeded to blow the roof off the performance hall. It is only natural for viewers to think that Roberta was overcome with a severe case of nerves, but surprisingly, that wasn’t the case at all.

“They were tears of joy,” Roberta says, [when] “meeting the judges and performing in front of some of my favourite actors and actresses, especially Sofia. Just being on the AGT stage, with the crowd so energized, was exciting. And then, to get the Golden Buzzer — I can’t even describe that feeling.”

Even the usually sardonic Cowell was blown away by the young singer’s performance, wondering out loud if there was someone behind the preteen who was doing the singing. Cowell even went so far as to say that it was an honour having Roberta as a guest on the show.

Stage left, Roberta’s mom, Gabriella, was actually the nervous one, hands clasped and tears shining with worry, anxiousness and pride.

“I think I was more nervous than Roberta,” Gabriella says. “To see her up on the AGT stage and to see that her dreams were coming true, it just melted my heart. And all of the emotions came out. What really hit me, though, was when I was hugging Roberta after her performance — she was covered in golden confetti — [were] her first words to me, ‘Mom, my dreams have come true.’ It was such a beautiful thing.”

(Gabriella reports that 16,000 million viewers so far have seen the video of her daughter’s AGT performance).

Describing her only child as outgoing, with a giving heart and a wonderful personality, Gabriella says Roberta is a beautiful little girl, “although, she does have a mind of her own sometimes.”

A piano player as well as a singer, Roberta gets her musical acumen from her father, Alessandro, a professional singer who also plays the saxophone and piano. “Alessandro would play at events all over the city and he would always bring Roberta with him,” Gabriella says.

So while it may appear that Roberta is just a young singer making her way, she has had a lot of onstage experience. Roberta first started singing at the tender age of three-and-a-half, when she performed with her dad onstage at a gig. “Roberta and Alessandro were onstage with the event organizer, and Roberta kept telling her dad that she wanted to sing. When Alessandro told his daughter that she could sing later, she told him in no uncertain terms, ‘I want to sing now. Later, people are going to leave. I want them to hear me sing,’” Gabriella recalls with a laugh. “Everyone was just in awe when they heard her.”

That performance was followed by a New Year’s event, where Roberta again sang, and from there, things just took off. Father and daughter were known to sing a lot of duets together, both in English and in Italian, and amazingly, Roberta, even at a very young age, could remember the lyrics in both languages. She started getting more exposure on television and through contests — she was first runner-up in the CNE Rising Star Talent Competition in 2019.

Roberta also appeared on Moses Znaimer’s Ideacity, which has 28 stations in the United States, as well as on Breakfast Television, where, at the age of nine, she sang “Shallow.” AGT had seen Roberta on YouTube and reached out to Gabriella, to see if she was interested in sending them an audition tape of her daughter.

“Roberta was selected from the audition tapes to come out and audition for the judges,” Gabriella says.

The family is close knit and have always been supportive of their daughter’s talent; although, neither Gabriella nor Alessandro are the type of parents who live vicariously through their daughter’s success. “If the outcome is for Roberta to be famous, that is good, but really, our job is to just support our child,” Gabriella says.

In turn, the young singer looks up to her parents, describing them as kind, big-hearted people who love to help. “My parents have been a big influence on me,” Roberta says with a little giggle. “I hope to become like them, when I grow up. They are both such huge role models for me.”

Musical success couldn’t have come at a better time for Roberta, who has been going through some challenging and difficult times personally, both on an emotional as well as on a physical level.

Music makes me feel relaxed and makes me forget about all the bad stuff in my life — Roberta Battaglia

“Music makes me feel relaxed and makes me forget about all the bad stuff in my life,” Roberta says. “I am really grateful for it [music], because it has helped me with so many things.”

Some of the bad stuff that Roberta references has to do with the highly concerning bullying that she has been a target of at her school. Roberta has been the subject of some cruel and mean-spirited elementary-level kids in Grade 5. “My mom was in the office almost every single day,” Roberta says. “These kids would kick me or punch me, and I would defend myself, whether it was with words or in a physical way. Now I am at home [because of COVID-19], so I am safe.”

Gabriella, the “mom-ager,” as she is called, finds it very hard to talk about what her daughter has been through as a direct result of bullying, something that started when her daughter was in Grade 3. “Roberta is the type of little girl who, when someone says something to her, takes it to heart,” Gabriella says. “The kids were saying things to her like, ‘Don’t think you are going to go anywhere with your singing. You are not that good.’ Well, she showed them, didn’t she,” Gabriella says, with fire in her voice. “But not only that, she doesn’t know how to fight back. People were kicking her and punching her. There were five of them, and just one of her. Roberta was coming home black and blue. In one incident, one of the bullies fractured two of Roberta’s toes. We were back and forth to the hospital. It was very sad, very difficult.”

While Gabriella and Alessandro wanted to move Roberta out of the school, Roberta courageously chose to stay, because she did not want the bullies to win. So Gabriella made all of the teachers aware of what was going on. She even spoke to her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, with whom Roberta is comfortable. “It is difficult to see your child go through this; there is no manual to tell you how to deal with this kind of situation,” Gabriella says. “I can’t even talk about it — I get emotional. It is a very difficult situation for any parent to go through. But music helped Roberta a lot with this.”

Cowell even weighed in on the bullying situation by telling Roberta that “you win over bullies by being happy and successful.”

The little kid comes out in Roberta when she talks about what she would do with the money if she won the AGT million-dollar prize purse. “If I win, I might want to get my dog, Happy [half Maltese and half Yorkie], a little girlfriend,” she says with a giggle. “I would donate some to charity and save some of the money for future costs.”

A favourite charity for Roberta is Toronto’s SickKids hospital, to which she has already presented a cheque for $3,000. Roberta started her own charitable initiative two years ago and raises money by designing and selling bracelets. All of the money raised is donated to charities. “I thought it would be a fun and creative way to make money,” Roberta says. “I love SickKids, because I love to help kids.”

While her goal is to become a successful solo singer, Roberta’s intentions of including her father, who has been a strong supporter and mentor to his daughter both musically and emotionally, is both endearing and refreshing. “I would like to perform with my dad,” Roberta says in such a way that one can envision father and daughter performing on the big stage together. “I will take him lots of places with me.”

A must-succeed-at-all-costs mindset in no way defines Gabriella’s role as mom-ager. “I am always going to be there with her. I will not leave her unattended,” she says. “And if it is done correctly, there is nothing to be afraid of. You just have to be careful who is involved, who the manager is and the people who are taking care of things. You have to be trusting — you have to be there 100 per cent.”

While Roberta has not heard from Lady Gaga around her perfect-pitch rendition of “Shallow,” the young singer is fine with that. “I haven’t heard from Lady Gaga as of yet, but if I don’t, that’s OK.”

That kind of graciousness at such a young age is wide-open refreshing. It is this attitude of unselfishness and innocence that is reminiscent of a song sung by country artist Tim McGraw called “Humble and Kind.” And Roberta certainly epitomizes those qualities. To do so at such a young age is an inspiration for those coming up behind the singer, as well as those who are cheering her forward.

Only one Canadian has ever won the AGT talent competition: Vancouver magician Shin Lim. As Roberta Battaglia sings her way through AGT’s Season 15 competition, there is every hope that she will bring another win back home to Canada’s mighty stage of artistic talent.

“I am glad to be on this journey with Roberta, and I am glad that her dreams are coming true. This is something that she has wanted from the time she was a little girl,” Gabriella says.

Roberta’s advice to young people is simple and direct: “Always follow your dreams and never stop believing in yourself. I believe every child — every person — has the potential to do whatever they put their mind to.”

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Cece M. Scott

Cece M. Scott