In just one night, sixteen-year-old Adithya Weliwatta stole the hearts of a nation with her performance for the blind auditions of Voice Teens, a reality TV show that kicked off in the thick of the pandemic in 2020. Adithya has a powerful and soulful voice, which drove the four judges on the show to fight for her. At the end of her audition, while coaches Sanuka, Raini, Ashanthi and Dumal attempted to persuade the young singer to join their respective teams, one coach took the young lady off the stage to seat her along with the judges. Adithya was surrounded by four powerhouse musicians, each asking her to join their team, but Adithya chose to join Dumal Warnakulasooriya’s team
Perhaps, this was the moment that didn’t sit well with some viewers of the show. Around the world, the Voice franchise is known for its theatrics. The camaraderie among coaches, fighting over contestants provides a slew of fun and entertainment, which continue to attract millions of audiences worldwide. But at the time, it was a relatively new format of reality TV for Sri Lankan viewers. For Adithya this would be a moment she would never forget. Along with her overnight success, came an outpouring of hatred. Social media was soon flooded with posts critical of the young girl. From her outfit to her outspoken ways, everything was judged, with only a few encouraging posts in-between.
I believe that freedom of speech, freedom of expression is everyone’s basic human right. But you have no right to peep into someone else’s personal life and attempt to breakdown someone else’s dignity. Because everyone is unique, nobody’s perfect. Of course I do have faults. I’m still 16 years old
“It’s a great thing. But suddenly things turned out to be different. Plans changed. Because I’m still schooling and I’m still doing my O/Ls, it was not easy. One night, that’s all it took. Things changed and I still can’t believe that,” Adithya recalled.
With two loving parents and two siblings —one of whom she calls a notorious one — Adithya has braved a storm of hatred online. With her to face this storm is her family, she said. “It’s the source of strength I have. They’re always beside me through thick and thin. Even under the current circumstances they are the only people there for me,” Adithya said.
“I’m still a child,” she exclaims when asked to describe growing up with her family. And she clearly is. She shares with delight about her love for Kandyan dancing and her dreams of learning hip-hop dance. “I was actually a popular dancer, not a singer. Dancing was what I was known for. Oh and I also love skating. I love it a lot. But I couldn’t do it for the past few months,” she adds.
From an average teenager, Adithya has gone on to become a social media personality owing to her success on Voice Teens. “I don’t feel like that this is reality now. In just one day people got to know me. The comments that I got back, was a bit harsh sometimes. But sometimes good,” Adithya said. “I’m just a girl. I want to keep my family happy and be happy. That’s what matters at the end of the day. I only have them.”
Adithya clearly draws strength from her doting family. But at such a young age, her experiences can lead to mounting pressure. “My mom wanted me to do everything. In the sense, she wanted me to balance everything and be an all-rounder. She wanted me to do my studies, my curriculum and sports.
So my mind was blank when I was going for Voice Teens. It’s just that I was passionate about singing. I sang, it reached millions of people but I never thought such a thing would happen,” the teenager recalled. Going in for the Voice Teens audition was just meant to satisfy herself and her family, she said “That was it. Getting a reward for my mom is a huge thing for me because she never compliments just like that. She’d never be like — Oh, my god you sang well. When it comes to work, my mom is a bit tough because she wants the best out of me.”
Adithya says her family chose tough love. Even though they’re not a musical or artistic family, her siblings help her out when she doesn’t get it right. “My sister guides me through everything. She’d tell me when I didn’t get a part of a song right. She’s critical. But my brother doesn’t like my songs. He’s more into other forms of music and I have no idea what that is,” Adithya laughed.
Not every step in her journey to becoming a musician has been pleasant. While attempting to launch a musical career, Adithya is also a student who felt a lot of pressure. “In the beginning it was not so. But later, with the stuff that I got, there were days I would cry so much and felt like I just can’t sing!”
But this young musician believes in the power of positivity. “In a way sometimes I believe that it’s good that it all happened because I’m much stronger now. I really have cool parents and siblings and a few cool friends who stick around me. I don’t think I need much more than that,” she said smiling.
Apart from the online hate posts, as the competition progressed, Adithya was seen pitted against another contestant from the Voice. Comparisons began to surface, with Adithya being the one to amass hate from trolls. The first thing that struck Adithya was that people are not happy for others. Do you remember the first post that really affected you, I ask. She has no memory of a single post, she said. “I actually don’t remember. Because it was that many,” she said.
“You see, it’s so easy for people to do cyber bullying. In my perspective, I believe that freedom of speech, freedom of expression is everyone’s basic human right. But you have no right to peep into someone else’s personal life and attempt to breakdown someone else’s dignity. Because everyone is unique, nobody’s perfect. Of course I do have faults. I’m still 16 years old, I’m still learning. I know till my last breath I have a lot of things to learn. But if we take the time we spend on criticism, to destroy other people’s beauty? Why always complain about what’s going on? Why don’t we try to see what’s beautiful instead,” Adithya asked. But it can be exhausting, she added.
“Sometimes I feel there’s no point because people are not civilized. If we as a society think about the other, we need to be happy for the other. That’s what I know because humanity is the most important thing. But if all of us think twice as a nation, we can actually get rid of this. I might be famous or whatever, but I just feel normal. What I want to see in people is to see their good,” she stressed.
Most of the time I cried. Throughout the Voice teens competition, for about six months, maybe... Throughout I did cry! After all this cyber bullying and everything, people started to show me sympathy. I didn’t want that. I just wanted to be me. People would blame me for being me
Adithya is still followed by trolls who exploit her fame for cheap gains. Months have lapsed since the end of the reality show, but the negative attention she continues to receive hasn’t receded. While Adithya continues to see the good in people, her critics chose to see something else. The latest malicious posts associated with this teenager are suggestive of intimate videos, posted with doctored photos of Adithya, tagged with coarse headlines used as clickbait.
“I don’t know why they get such pleasure doing that. They do have sisters, they do have children. We need to equally respect and protect children and women because they’re precious. There’s no equality sometimes. Some people feel so much easier to take it out easier on us. The worst they can put us through is cyber-bullying. There are so many people who go through suicidal moments. We as a nation, if we rise up of course we can move forward. Everyone’s beautiful the way they are. Everyone has a unique talent. For whatever that is we need to respect everyone the same,” she commented.
Despite all the negativity, Adithya finds fuel in music. “Sometimes I feel like a tsunami is behind me. But when I get on the stage I don’t feel those negative vibes from people. I feel so free and I feel so alive. My favourite part is when people use to sing along with me. That feeling I don’t know how to explain it. I feel that,” she exclaimed with joy.
She was never angry, she explains. “Actually people are not bad. They’re good. It’s just with the influences that they have got, they have become so stubborn. Something got into their head,” Adithya shrugged. But it wasn’t always easy for her to deal with the negative attention her family got. “I felt that because of me, they’re getting a dark spot on their name. I didn’t want to embarrass my family. Of course they were sad, they never showed me that. I know they might have cried a lot because of me. But they never showed me any of that.”
Adithya’s family never discussed the slew of online hate and malicious posts. The young artist is confident that her family’s trust is all she needs. “Others’ perceptions don’t matter to me. If my mom, father and siblings know I’m doing the right thing. I don’t think I need to prove myself to anybody else. I don’t need justice from people who don’t know me.”
When things felt overwhelming, did you cry, I ask. “Most of the time I cried. Throughout the Voice Teens competition, for about six months, maybe. Throughout I did cry! After all this cyber-bullying and everything, people started to show me sympathy. I didn’t want that. I just wanted to be me. People would blame me for being me. People would be like, your Sinhala is not good. But I thought I know how to communicate and that’s what matters. There were days I cried like hell. But I got up. I took every negativity I got, as an opportunity.”
Adithya draws inspiration from Charlie Chaplin and Rowan Atkinson, determined to be herself and use every opportunity for growth. “Sometimes I was not myself then. I was scared of the public. I didn’t want to face the public. I started making changes on myself. I tried to be more of how the world wanted me to be. But then I realised, why would I do that?”
“Everything teaches you a lesson. I smile everywhere I go. Nobody cares if you’re sad. Nobody does, except your family. Chill around people and be happy. Even if you’re faking a smile people won’t know it. You can have an opinion about me, I can have an opinion about you. But that doesn’t have to be the truth.”
Adithya Weliwatta has her entire future ahead of her. But with so much to deal with, in such little time, did she ever feel afraid of her future, I ask. “Sometimes it did. I’m a normal human being. I was scared to reach my targets. I had second thoughts about what would people say. Now I don’t.”
Adithya also has some advice for her critics and those who may be struggling themselves. “Be yourself. Stop complaining. Adore everyone, love immensely. If you want to achieve something, just keep climbing. Have faith in God. At the end of the day, we all die. Just like when we go home, we just want a good nap. Life is too short, so we just got to cherish the moments. Give more, love more. If you don’t have love, just spread love. And remember that you are beautiful the way you are.”
BEYOND THE SCREEN brings a series of interviews featuring women and girls who have been the subject of cyber harassment in Sri Lanka. Over the past year, as worldwide restrictions have pushed more people online, women and girls face a daily tirade of personal abuse, with a rise in online harassment against females, according to UN Women. The interviews are an attempt shed light towards prioritizing tackling digital abuse, regardless of gender.