Sunday, April 1, 2012

TV Contest Director on What Makes Charice a Standout

Posting here excerpts from the article written by Mr Freddie Santos, the director of "Batang Kampeon", a tv weekly singing contest joined by Charice when she was 9 years old:
...Throughout the 70’s, singing champions came and went and in general, they were all very good singers, just nothing too great is all. Until the 80’s came around when a young provincial lass of 16 by the name of Chona Velasquez won the national finals. Slight in stature and hefty in voice, she caught the nation’s fancy, but only for a little while.

In the next couple of years after her winning, she went under the management of Ronnie Henares, was put in my charge for performance coaching and her name was changed from Chona (her nickname) to Regine (her baptismal name).

With the country still not heavily enamoured with her, Regine was sent to Tokyo to represent the country in the Asia Pacific Singing Contest and after some spectacular renditions of two Broadway showstoppers, hands down, she won.

Her victory stunned the Philippines like lightning and almost immediately, belting one’s heart and guts out (we call it BIRIT) became the new standard for triumphant singing.

It was when the country shifted to this mentality regarding pop singing that Charice Pempengco was born.

Unsurprisingly, it was this kind of singing that her own mother, a former singer herself, would teach her. When her family life began falling apart and Charice (aged only 4 at that time), her mother and brother had to flee from a hopelessly abusive situation with Charice’s father, it was “Birit” singing that saw them through. Singing contest after singing contest, in whatever barangay (village) of whatever province, Charice joined and sang and belted and hit notes impossibly high for most girls her tender age. She won some, lost many…but she never stopped.

When she was 9, she auditioned for the Batang Kampeon (Child Champion) Singing Contest, a television weekly which I was directing at that time. The BKSC was a brainchild of Ultimate Entertainment and was aired on Channel 13. Our tapings were all held at Broadcast City which housed the studios of both Channels 9 and 13.

For hosts, I had two of the most delightful, most iconic entertainers in Philippine showbiz. First was Pilita Corrales, herself a product of several radio singing contests. Gifted with a velvety alto, a whistle-bait figure, a naughty sense of humor and a unique, sexy performance style, she became known during the 60’s as Asia’s Queen of Song. Co-hosting with Pilita was Carding Cruz, the wackier half of former Las Vegas headliners The Reycard Duet which was a crowd-drawer at The Strip during the 60’s and 70’s.

The format of Batang Kampeon was simple. 4 weekly winners, 12 monthly winners, one grand champion. Charice won in the month of September.

Because I was the director of the show, I could not do any kind of coaching to the finalists. That was a bit frustrating for me because I had some very clear ideas on how to teach these kids to deliver solid performances. Instead, they have to listen to parents, relatives, neighbours and God knows who else and believe me, many a performance has gone awry due to some bad advice from such well-meaning people.

Some of such advice:

    Sing like Celine Dion
    Act like Mariah Carey
    Win like Regine Velasquez

The end result is, to my mind, almost always awful, yet the public almost always buys it. (At least, the Pinoy public does.) Some critics attribute it to our “colonial mentality”, a nurtured bias towards anything white and west. I attribute it to a “winning mentality” – whatever so and so did to win, you do the same and you have a chance. It’s not a matter of being the best, it’s a matter of what will get the judges’ nod.

And obey such advice every singing finalist on this TV show, boy or girl, tried to do. Sadly, during the Grand Finals, Charice couldn’t do it.

Oh, she tried, that’s for sure. Performing big and brassy was already muscle memory for these kids, it was just a matter of who was bigger and brassier. On that day, Charice was not. Take a look at the video compilation and see and hear for yourself after which, I will tell you my opinion on what of Charice made her a true standout then, and still does today. And it has only little to do with her voice.

Watch Charice Pempenco

(Or watch a re-upload with improved audio: - inkheart)


1. Do what you can… – Nobody prays to be in an abusive situation. But finding herself in one, Charice’s mother did the best thing she could which was to pack up her two kids and get the hell out of there.

2. With all that you’ve got… – Finding that her daughter could carry a tune, and not just lightweight ones, Charice’s mom entered her into countless contests, the winnings of which were enough to feed the family of three for a good number of years.

3. And in all that you get… – Treat every opportunity that comes your way with great importance and respect. You never know where it can lead, you never know what it can teach.

4. Find great JOY. – And this is what I believe continues to make Charice a standout. That smile is real. That gladness is real. At the age of 9, she knew what it meant to delight in what she was doing. Look at the video again in case you may have missed it. Do you see any violent past in her eyes? Any hunger in her facial expression? Any desire to win for winning’s sake? Whether or not such things are in her, notice that the moment the music starts, her joy, her genuine, immeasurable joy over music, takes over and to my mind, it is this that continues to be her most appealing talent.

5. And may that joy never end. – As many know, Charice was spotted in a YouTube video by a very impressed TV Host Ellen Degeneres and was asked immediately to appear in the host’s American TV program. This then led to another appearance on American TV, this time on The Oprah Winfrey Show where Charice’s international career began taking shape under the guidance of Ms. Winfrey whose greatest contribution to Charice’s music was introducing her to the brilliant composer/producer/mentor David Foster.

Shortly after such things happened, Charice came back to the Philippines for a couple of appearances. At the same time, another young talent was also making a visit home. Charlie Green, son of an English father and a Filipina mother (a Cebuana!), had just recently made waves on the UK program Britain’s Got Talent, impressing no less than producer/critic Simon Cowell.

With both Charice and Charlie in town, producer Precy M. Florentino, president of the Music Museum Group whose venues serve as the launch pads of many Filipino music stars, decided it was only right and just to recognize the achievements of these two youngsters.

Entertainment press and luminaries came in full force and as director/host of this event, I was able to watch Charice and Charlie perform live from up close.

Despite such cathartic events in their young lives, and no doubt with much thanks to their doting parents, those two – neither one of whom became grand champions in their respective contests – exuded joy that moved the audience to cheers and tears.

Singing from a place of no agenda and overflowing delight, they had become true champions. 
Read the full article at Direksions: Life Blogs of a Live Director:

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