Yelm Graduate Reflects on His American Song Contest Appearance

By Jacob Dimond / jake@yelmonline.com
Posted 5/17/22

Matt Sablan, who is musically known as Sabyu, recently had an opportunity to show the world a glimpse into his family’s roots during a performance on NBC’s “American Song …

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Yelm Graduate Reflects on His American Song Contest Appearance

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Matt Sablan, who is musically known as Sabyu, recently had an opportunity to show the world a glimpse into his family’s roots during a performance on NBC’s “American Song Contest.”

Sabyu, who graduated from Yelm High School in 2011, is a recording artist who aims to honor his heritage and family history through his music. His family is from an island in the Northern Mariana Islands known as Saipan.

He appeared on the April 4 airing of American Song Contest and performed his song “Sunsets and Seaturtles.”

“It’s funny because I never thought I’d find myself on a reality TV show,” Sabyu said. “I remember watching American Idol and The Voice and thinking there’s no way I’ll ever be on a show like that.”

Sabyu made the trip down to Los Angeles, California and initially, he didn’t know what to expect. After meeting the other contestants, Sabyu knew he was in for a great experience. He was able to create a unique friendship with Judd Hoos, a contestant who represented South Dakota. He also met hosts and music icons Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson.

“Everybody that I met was extremely nice, from top to bottom,” Sabyu said. “The competition itself was a reality show with a twist. You’re performing an original song all the while representing where you’re from. It was a blast, the whole ride.”

Sabyu was treated to the full Hollywood experience leading up to his performance with wardrobe and makeup. Unlike the vast majority of artists, Sabyu said he didn’t feel overwhelmed prior to his performance on the national stage.

“I’ll say that leading up to the performance I was totally chill, no anxiety or nervousness, even through the dress rehearsal. But once I was on that stage and realized we were live on TV, that’s when the adrenaline started pumping and nervousness kicked in,” Sabyu said. “I think I was on an adrenaline high during my performance. I might’ve been a little too excited, but I was able to go out there and put on a good performance. It was a rush and it happened in the blink of an eye.”

Sabyu said his song Sunsets and Seaturtles is a good representation of the different styles of music he does, which includes island acoustic, jazz and hip hop.

He has used his real life experiences to create inspiration for his music.

His journey to Yelm started in Saipan, where Sabyu was born and raised. When he was 10 years old, his family moved from Saipan to Hawaii. He began to learn music diversity as a young kid as he became familiar with American music. 

“When I was a kid, I grew up listening to our local music in Saipan,” Sabyu said.

Some of his favorites included Chamorro and Micronesian music.

“I also remember hearing American music on the radio in my dad’s pickup truck, mainly classic rock,” he said.

As Sabyu got older, he began to be influenced by more American music, which was different from the classic rock he heard as a kid.



“I was introduced to even more diverse music when we moved to Hawaii,” Sabyu said. “My brother got me into Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hawaiian music, Tupac and a lot of hip hop. This opened up my musical world more.”

Once Sabyu reached middle school age, his family relocated stateside to Tumwater, which he said was a culture shock at first. But he found an interest in Tumwater that would ultimately lead him down the musical path he’s chosen. He went to Capital City Guitars in Olympia where Scott Askew taught him to play guitar.

While learning and practicing guitar, Askew gave Sabyu the opportunity to perform on the street in front of the store, which sparked his interest in becoming a musician.

“Scott really laid the foundation for me,” Sabyu said. “He’s been an incredible mentor and teacher for me along my journey.”

Following his performance in front of Capital City Guitars, Sabyu knew that he wanted to write and record songs. He eventually began recording and mixing his own music for fun and compiled a catalog of music.

Following his graduation in 2011, he attended South Puget Sound Community College before transferring to the University of Washington’s campus in Seattle. While at UW, he continued to record and produce his own music and played a couple of shows.

Sabyu studied ethnomusicology. His studies inspired him to honor his heritage through his music.

“Attending UW and studying what I did really opened my music perspective up even more,” he said. “I got to learn from some masters of their craft from different countries and that was a blessing.”

Sabyu performed around the Greater Seattle area before the pandemic hit, but then shifted his focus back to writing, recording and producing music.

He eventually received an email from NBC with an invite to audition for their new show, the American Song Contest. Initially, Sabyu thought it was too good to be true, but after some research, he connected with NBC on a phone call.

“It blew my mind away that this turned out to be a legitimate offer,” he said.

Sabyu was eliminated in the qualifying round of the show, but he is proud of his performance and the representation he provided for Saipan and Yelm.

“I’m glad I did it. I feel like I represented my home. Everybody back home was very much supportive through the entire journey and it was a great time,” he said. “I want to give a shoutout to Yelm as a town, as well as Yelm High School and Ridgeline Middle School. I appreciate everyone that supported me from both of my homes and watched the performance, and I just want to express that gratitude.”

Sabyu’s performance on NBC’s American Song Contest can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdg518KNtiY.

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