The X Factor
Santiago previously auditioned for the inaugural season one of The X Factor. She auditioned as a solo artist but failed to advanced on her own. In bootcamp, she was reaccepted as part of a group that formed in ten contestants put together for the purpose of competing in the Groups Category and thus being given a second chance know as InTENsity. They were eliminated by the judges' votes and finished in 12th place.
Santiago re-auditioned in season three of the program. Kelly Rowland described her audition as "unexpected" as she was very shy and modest at first but had put in so much fierceness and passion into her song, "Wings" by Little Mix. Judge and mentor Simon Cowell said to Ellona that "She was the contestant he wanted to work with the most." Simon did not initially recognize her until she told him that she was from InTENsity and that he referred to her as "the girl in the red jacket". In the first live show, Santiago performed "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears which was a hit for the judges and advanced to the Top 12. Santiago finished in sixth place.