In the vast world of the music industry , it’s tough to get one foot in the door and emerge victorious amidst a sea of competition. Though many may try their luck, only a few are reborn into stars who get to shine as bright as possible to the rest of the world. 

In the case of HYBE and Geffen Records’ latest series, The Debut: Dream Academy, only twenty female contestants were selected as participants from 120,000 submissions originating from all around the world. 

The series, which aims to build the next groundbreaking international girl group, features a diverse line-up of talented performers vying for a spot in the six-piece team that is being formed. And of the chosen contestants, twenty-year-old Filipina Sophia Laforteza has righteously earned a slot as one of the top performers on the show. 

Familiarity In Being Filipina

Born and raised in Manila, Laforteza stands as the sole Filipina contestant in the show. But being surrounded by fellow contestants of varying ethnicities and cultures, how exactly does she feel about that?

“It’s been such an honor representing the Philippines,” she shares with glee. 

“I think the first thing that came to my head when we were told that we were finally going to be introduced to the world was just how proud I was to represent the Philippines. I was going up to the rest of the girls and I was like, I’m so excited for the Philippines to see me!”

Sophia Laforteza

Courtesy of @sophia_laforteza

And to see her, the country has. Since Laforteza’s announcement as part of the international program, tons of Filipinos have been rallying behind the young contestant –– expressing support all over various social media platforms, posting comments and “fan cams” dedicated to her, and making sure to send in their fan votes after every challenge. Yet aside from the outpouring amount of love from the nation for Laforteza, what also matters a lot for the twenty-year-old is being able to be open about the experience to her family and friends.

“I’m so excited to finally tell my friends and my family [about all this], and also show them how I’ve gotten this opportunity to share my culture, to raise my flag, amidst everything.“

Though the experience may be glamorous on the surface, being a popular contestant on such a publicized program isn’t necessarily all roses and butterflies. Laforteza shares; “[Definitely], it does come with a whole lot of pressure. But I feel like in my experience, it’s been a good sort of pressure because I get to feel all the love and I feel the support of my people.” 

Roots of Musical Passion

Like most Filipinos, Laforteza began her passion for music at such a young age. Her introductory video on the competition highlighted her affinity for the art of singing, with Laforteza even mentioning that she began doing so at the mere age of three years old. 

“I think what really inspired me and my love for music at such a young age was truly the influence of my parents,” she shares. While she acknowledges the close relationship that she shares with both her parents, the twenty-year-old gives a special shoutout to her mother, Carla Guevara-Laforteza.

Sophia Laforteza as a kid

Courtesy of @sophia_laforteza

“Since my mother is a performer and singer herself, I got to watch her as I was growing up. I got to see her passion in all those things she was doing, so I think that’s what continues to influence and inspire me.”

Upon realizing that her career was destined for the sector of the performing arts, Laforteza wasted no time in putting the time and effort into becoming the best performer she could be. With the support of her family, Laforteza got to take all sorts of classes in dancing and eventually started singing on her own. “Whatever I wanted to take up, they graciously put me into. So when I wanted to take all these dance classes, they actively encouraged it and they always made sure that I was having a lot of fun,” she mentions.

Varied Inspirations From Various Sources

Laforteza also tells us about her enthusiasm for being an active member of performance clubs and mentorship programs at her school, such as the Glee Club and Theatre Performing Arts Club. “I would be in all the performances in our shows because I was like; “I need to join every single thing!” she shares with a laugh. A self-professed theatre nerd, Laforteza shares how much the influence of the genre has affected her life for the better. “I’ve looked up to so many different artists when it comes to the world of musical theatre.”

“I feel like mentioning my mother again, because as a stage actress, she has always been such a big inspiration to me, along with Lea Salonga who I also looked up to,” she adds. Yet musical theatre didn’t stand as the only genre that stuck with her growing up. She also mentions the impact of listening to artists from the pop world, such as Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus. “I was a Disney kid growing up, so with a lot of the Disney stars turned pop stars, I was such a big fan of them and their music,” Laforteza shares. 

Today, Laforteza finds inspiration from a lot of her fellow Filipinos, stating; “Right now, I love listening to Olivia Rodrigo as well because I feel like I relate to her a lot since we share the same age. And she is Filipino too, which is cool!” She further adds saying how much she keeps in touch with the local music scene, mentioning artists like Moira Dela Torre and Denise Julia who she’s become an avid fan of.

“It’s great to be able to be inspired by all these amazing women, and hopefully, I get to be like them as well. Doing all of this [performing] has been my passion from the very beginning, and it just makes me so happy. So I feel like this definitely played a large part in preparing me for the program,” she mentions.

Making The Dream Happen

Upon her acceptance into The Dream Academy, Laforteza was ecstatic at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she had to develop her own strategy with a specific mindset to be able to stand out from others in the competition. Crediting determination as a quality that sets her apart from others, she mentions how such a trait serves as a driving force for her to achieve any goal that she sets her mind to.

“I am a very driven individual and I was raised to be a fighter and push through anything that’s thrown at me, so I feel like that really feeds into my work ethic and professionalism,” she proudly states. “Yet aside from those qualities, a lot of it also comes from my passion. The trait of passion itself is a quality that all of the girls have here, which is such a beautiful thing to witness,” Laforteza adds.

To her advantage, such a set of traits allowed her to overcome a number of challenges presented throughout the course of the series, particularly in what she found to be the most challenging –– which was the third mission of the program where contestants performed their own take on iconic pop songs.

“I feel like it’s crazy because that was the mission that should have been one of the easiest ones in my opinion. After all, the mission’s objective is focused on artistry and that in itself is something that comes from within you and cannot be taught,” she said. “I felt like this [mission] was a time for me to show who I was, so I made sure to step up. And when it comes to life or work, there are always going to be challenges and obstacles. Unfortunately, I encountered an illness as we were nearing the mission. So that in itself was such a huge obstacle that I had to overcome.”

Laforteza continues; “It definitely serves as a reminder that we’re all human and we’re not superheroes that can just go through everything all at once. Yet I feel like because of my determination and my passion, I feel like I was able to push through. And I really hope that everybody enjoyed that performance despite the challenge.”

Even with the hurdles along the way,  Laforteza was awarded the top spot in the rankings for that specific mission –– highlighting how much her drive, determination, and talents have rewarded her in the face of hardship. Though that isn’t to say her journey on the series has been full of challenges so far, as she credits other experiences along the way for helping her grow as both a performer and individual.

A Sisterhood Worth Dreaming For

Reminiscing about the highs of the experience, Laforteza credits the second mission of the show, which saw the contestants divide themselves into groups to perform one of two Le Sserafim songs, as her favorite one to date. From flying to Korea to film it across the world, it ended up becoming a core moment that made her and the rest of her fellow contestants a whole lot of unforgettable memories.

“Since it was a group mission, we really needed to work together and work on our chemistry and synchronization, all while balancing all our different personalities and what we have to offer in the group. And I feel like that’s the mission that really made me realize that I want to be in a girl group and this is what I want to do. I’ve always been a team player, so that was really my favorite mission,” she mentions.

Courtesy of @sophia_laforteza

Collaboration itself is highly essential in the music field, especially in the realm of musical groups. Laforteza herself acknowledges this, but also makes it a point to take notes from all the people that she’s managed to work with throughout the course of the competition.

“In my case, I feel like it’s been such an honor to be surrounded by, to learn from, and to have the opportunity to work with girls from all over the world. These girls, they’re [now] my sisters. All of them are just so amazing, and ever since we were introduced to the world, I’ve been so excited for everybody to learn about all the girls here as well, because I genuinely care about them so much and I feel like they deserve to show what they’ve got, she notes.

Laforteza credits the innate traits as a Filipino to have helped her establish a connection with her fellow contestants. “I feel like it makes it so much easier to work with these girls because of how much I do care for them. And again, we’re all so determined and we all want this [to win] really bad. And at the end of the day, we’re all here to make other people feel something amazing through our own craft.”

Dreaming of the Future

Now that the finale of The Debut: Dream Academy is coming up soon, Laforteza looks fondly back on the whirlwind of a ride she’s been a part of since its announcement last August. 

“It’s been such a beautiful experience, just learning about all these different cultures and just absorbing everything that I can from the people around me,” Laforteza mentions.

Ranked as one of the top 10 contestants moving towards the finale, her stellar track record and performance throughout the series could already guarantee her one of the six highly coveted slots in the group. When asked about the likely scenario, Laforteza shares her ultimate goals as a (potential) member of the group; “My biggest goal since the beginning of this program has been to create a positive impact. I know it sounds vague, but my definition of a positive impact can be from the smallest thing like telling a little joke and making somebody smile, to a big positive impact, like inspiring somebody through a whole performance.”

“I feel like sparking joy is the biggest thing that gives me joy. And I do feel like that’s the reason why I chose to do this. Because being an artist and being a performer, it’s all about sending a message and making people feel something –– and that is what makes me happy,” she shares with a smile.

Nevertheless, no matter what happens next, Laforteza is ultimately just grateful for all the support that her family, friends, and supporters have extended all throughout the duration of The Dream Academy.

“To my fans and supporters, thank you. Thank you so much for all the love that you have been giving me. I am so excited for what’s to come and no matter what happens next, I will always be grateful for all of you. I really, really hope that you guys enjoy the next performances that I do in the future. And I hope to continue to make you guys proud!”

Sophia Laforteza

Exclusive Image courtesy of Geffen Records

As the Geffen x HYBE competition unfolds, Sophia LaForteza emerges not just as a contestant but as a beacon of Filipino talent, determination, and resilience. Her journey reflects the harmonious blend of passion, culture, and a relentless pursuit of dreams, a melody that resonates far beyond borders. Throughout everything, it’s undeniable that Laforteza has proven to the world that she is a star –– with a bright and promising future ahead, no matter what happens next.

HYBE X Geffen’s The Debut: Dream Academy is set to have its finale on November 17, with the name of the group and its final members will be revealed then. Make sure to tune in to the livestream to vote and support Sophia Laforteza then. In the meantime, fans and supporters of Sophia Laforteza may pre-vote for her on WeVerse here.