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Omaha Magazine

Alexis Arai: American Idol to Role Model

Dec 30, 2021 11:46AM ● By Tara Spencer
alexis arai in red dress dancing salsa

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Alexis Arai has a voice that can easily fill a small jazz club or get people up on their feet at a large outdoor festival. She can sing country, pop, and likely any other genre that grabs her interest—and she plays several instruments. 

That range in talent was no doubt part of the reason the American Idol judges sent her to Hollywood to compete in the 2021 season. She also auditioned for The Voice and appeared on Mexican reality TV show Tengo Talento. Arai said she appreciates what she learned from these experiences, but admitted that parts were disappointing. 

“American Idol, I all about the story. They could [not] care less about your voice, your talents, they just want the story,” she said. “Back then I wasn’t ready to share mine, and my story isn’t here for people to feel sorry for me. It’s to motivate people.”

Arai, a woman who hears melodies in her dreams and loves to dance, wants her music to be about making people happy; and, hopefully, making them dance. “When you’re dancing, your stress goes away, you’re dancing the negativity away,” she said.

While Arai isn’t ready to share her full story, she disclosed that it involved a sexual assault and deep depression. “Music was healing for me. That’s why I want to give [it] to others,” she said. “That’s something I couldn’t talk about a couple years ago.”

She credits music and her faith with helping her get through other hard times in life as well. “I grew up with ADHD. Back then, it was...severe, so it was really hard for me to learn in school.” She said music was the best way for her to communicate. 

Her experience with the disorder led to her volunteering to work with other children with disabilities, and fed her interest in the Montessori method of education, in which she is certified. 

Arai married realtor Mauricio Hernandez in October 2021. Hernandez plays in the mariachi group Mariachi Rey Azteca. Arai said one of the couple’s long-term goals is to open a Montessori school for other children who might not thrive in a traditional school setting. 

“It’s something special in my heart. I feel like we need to be here to help everyone.” Her work with the Department of Health and Human Services reflects that goal. Arai described the work as helping those with disabilities reach their goals, whether that’s learning how to read or how to cook their own meals. 

Besides her work with DHHS, the energetic 26-year-old plays violin with a Christian music group and performs with a mariachi band. She also wrote four of her own wedding songs, including the one that played during her father-daughter dance.

After trying her hand at pop and other genres, Arai’s focus now is on the music that calls to her. “Latin music is in my blood,” she said. “I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now. I’m enjoying every minute of it.” 

Her success isn’t surprising to anyone who knows her. Arai’s cousin and fellow musician Salvador Robles said she has always stood out. Robles and his sister, Gabi, played in a mariachi group with Arai when they were younger. “She was one of those children whose talent was way above and beyond her years,” he said. 

For Robles, the mariachi experience was eye-opening because the learning is done by ear rather than by reading music, not something the young violinist was used to. “Gabi and Alexis...they excelled at it. It took me a little bit longer to learn.” 

He did learn, though, and has played alongside his cousin’s husband in Mariachi Rey Azteca, as well as playing alongside his cousin again when she asks. 

Robles has recruited Hernandez for family gigs as well. “I told him recently, ‘Now that you’re married, you have to come play, because it’s just a cousin thing.’ So he’s a new musician added to the family.”

Hernandez’s transition to being part of that family officially began when he proposed to Arai during an Alexis Arai y Su Grupo Latino performance at The Jewell. Owner Brian McKenna said that while he wasn’t in town at the time, his staff sent him a video of the proposal. 

“Naturally, I was super happy for them, and also kind of proud that he chose The Jewell,” McKenna said. “It was so beautiful to witness, even watching the video.”

Like Robles, McKenna believes Arai is a natural performer. “She has the ‘Artist Factor,’ he wrote in an email, “meaning everything about her as an artist is fully developed, from being a great singer, a great songwriter, [and] a professional leader.” He added that she also has charisma, charm, kindness, beauty, and a connectivity with the audience. When he tells people to come see her perform and they do, they always come up afterward to tell him what an amazing time they had. They are instant fans. 

There are some who aren’t even aware there is a Latin music scene in Omaha. However, Arai believes knowledge of the community is growing, and she wants to be a part of it. “I just want people to know who I am, you know, who I truly am,” she said. “I want to be a Latin role model that people can come up to and talk to if they have a problem or need help.” 

“Sometimes people here in Omaha tend to put us—musicians who come from a Mexican background or musicians who have performed Mexican music here—they tend to put us in a box,” Robles said. “We’re so much more than that...Alexis is so much more than that.” 

This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.