MANILA, Philippines – On Saturday, Charice Pempengco officially declares “The Journey Begins” via her first solo concert. But Charice’s journey to the world stage began when she was four years old when, faced with a tragic event, she chose to dream instead of despair.
When Charice goes up on stage at the SMX Convention Center, she will sing songs that are meaningful to her.
“I’ll open it (the concert) with ‘My Heart Will Go On,’” the 17-year-old Filipino singing sensation says. The “Titanic” theme song was the first song Charice memorized by heart.
She was only four then, the age, Charice recalls, when she witnessed her father point a gun at her mother. Unlike the Titanic that sank, Charice’s dream to give her family a good life lifted her to success. Shortly after that violent incident, her parents separated. She and younger brother Carl were raised by their mother Raquel.
In one of her appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s show, the Queen of Talk was so enamored with Charice and her life story that she sent a crew to the Philippines to capture the very humble beginnings of the singing wonder whose ascent to international stardom was launched through YouTube. Charice so far has appeared as a guest on Oprah three times – the first as part of Oprah’s list of the World’s Smartest Kids; the most recent, to promote her upcoming album being produced by star-maker and veteran record man David Foster.
In fact, “Note to God,” a cut from the would-be album, has been doing very well on the singles charts. Charice proudly shares that her song landed No. 2 on amazon.com, Top 3 on iTunes and No. 44 on Billboard. The album, with 10 to 12 original songs, will be launched before the year ends.
Those feats measure how far Charice has come and how very good a dreamer she is. Not so long ago, she only dreamt of providing for her mother and brother.
“You’ve seen how hard our life was before,” Charice tells me when I visited her last weekend in Cabuyao, Laguna. She still comes home to Gulod, a barrio in Cabuyao, where they used to live after the family left Santa Rosa. She was only nine years old when they transferred to our neighborhood, and on the day that they moved into a small apartment here, they only had a sofa and a sound component system. A neighbor had to lend them a sleeping mat.
Raquel then was working as a supervisor in an apparel factory in Laguna, but was forced to quit her job to accompany her daughter when the penchant of Charice to join amateur singing competitions escalated. She was seven years old when she joined her first contest.
The path to international stardom began in 2007 when Dave Duenas, a licensed nurse from Cavite, uploaded Charice’s video on YouTube. The two didn’t even know each other when Dave created a showdown on YouTube between Charice and Bianca Ryan, a grand champion in the debut season of “America’s Got Talent” – singing “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going” one after the other.
Dave, known in the Internet world as FalseVoice, has since posted other videos of Charice on YouTube. The first to “discover” her on YouTube was StarKing, a popular TV program in South Korea, where Charice was invited to sing in October 2007. The host and the singing contestants on the said television show went gaga over Charice’s rendition of “And I’m Telling You…” and their superlative reaction was again uploaded on YouTube.
A staff of Ellen DeGeneres saw the video and soon Ellen herself was looking for Charice. Charice, for the first time, flew to the US with her mother to guest on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” in December 2007.
“I could smell a star in her,” Ellen said of Charice after her mind-blowing performance that elicited wild applause and a standing ovation. The following April, Charice had another standing ovation performance on the Paul O’ Grady show.
On May 12, 2008, Charice became part of Oprah’s “World’s Smartest Kids,” where she sang “I Have Nothing” and received two standing ovations.
Raquel recalls that on the day of their flight back to Manila, Oprah’s staff got on the plane and asked her and Charice to go back to Oprah’s Harpo Production office. There, Oprah sat down with them and offered to help Charice in her singing career.
A few days after that meeting with Oprah, Charice performed at the David Foster and Friends concert in Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, sharing the stage with the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bubble, Josh Groban, Peter Cetera and Brian McKnight. That evening, David Foster said, “A star is born,” referring to Charice.
Since then, Charice has appeared as a guest on different shows and concerts abroad. She sang “The Prayer” with Andrea Bocelli at the Italian tenor’s concert in Tuscany. She was also a guest at Celine Dion’s “Taking Chances World Tour” in Madison Square Garden in New York. At the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade last November, Charice had her own float and performed with fellow teen superstars like David Archuleta and Miley Cyrus.
In January 2008, Charice sang “God Bless America” at three pre-inauguration parties of US President Barack Obama. She also did a movie, “Alvin and the Chipmunks 2,” that will be shown this December. The album “David Foster and Friends,” where Charice recorded “And I’m Telling You…” remains a favorite worldwide.
In the Philippines, Charice has made her mark in the local music industry. She has recorded two albums for Star Records; her first album “Charice” is now certified Platinum and her second album, “My Inspiration,” is a certified Gold. She was also awarded as one of People Asia magazine’s People of the Year for 2008, sharing the limelight with the likes of former President Cory Aquino, Vice President Noli de Castro, Sen. Manny Villar and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney. Last June 12, Charice graced the 111th anniversary of Independence Day at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila and sang “Lahing Pilipino,” an original Manny Pacquiao song.
One of Charice’s greatest assets is that despite her stardom, she has remained humble. “Everything I have now are blessings from God,” she acknowledges.
Once, Charice recalls, Oprah told her, “Keep your feet on the ground even if you’re wearing a nice pair of shoes,” pointing at her Louis Vuitton sneakers. Charice used to buy her shoes in the markets in Laguna.
Raquel recalls the times when what Charice would wear in her TV guestings in the Philippines posed a big problem. Often times, for her TV appearances, Raquel would borrow clothes from friends in the neighborhood for Charice to wear. They used to also have to commute from Laguna to the television studios in Manila, but that isn’t a problem anymore because Charice was able to buy a big second-hand white car.
Two weeks ago, she surprised Carl with a second-hand red car, but, she laughs, since Carl still can’t drive, she got a driver also.
The two siblings are now on a home study program – Charice is in third year high school, Carl is a year behind. She also gets to pursue other interests like photography. Of late, Charice, who can also strum the guitar, is seriously studying how to play the drums.
They now have a condominium unit in Parañaque. She has also invested in a house and lot in Tagaytay, and is building a seven-door apartment-for-rent in Cabuyao. These are wise investment decisions for such a young woman, but Charice points out that she knows what it is to be poor, so she spends her money wisely.
“My mom taught me to sing from the heart. She remains my coach to this day,” Charice said, adding that her singing career in the US is guided by a formidable team.
Managing Charice’s career in the US is Align Entertainment, the same company that manages the likes of David Foster, Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. Her legal representative is the famous lawyer to the stars Ed Shapiro (of Grubman Indursky and Shire), who is also the lawyer of Chris Brown, Usher and Jennifer Lopez. Oprah remains her mentor while David Foster is her album and show producer.
“Sir David considers me like his daughter. He sometimes introduces me as his daughter to famous singers like Mariah Carrey,” Charice says in between giggles. Like a real daughter, she (with the help of her mother) prepared bistek Tagalog for David once and the Canadian music producer fell in love with the dish. Charice admits though that she brings her food to the States – 555 sardines, Century Tuna and Purefoods corned beef – “because I cannot eat the food in America.”
Everything that has happened to her now, Charice says, are products of her constant dreaming. Before she became a teenager, she would draw her dreams on bond paper. One drawing shows Charice sharing the stage with Celine Dion, another sketch shows her singing a duet with Andrea Bocelli. Her other drawings depict her desire to provide a house, a car, food on the table for her mother and brother.
Everything in her dream-drawings have become reality.
Charice takes center stage in The Journey Begins on Saturday, June 27 at 8 pm at the SMX Convention Center at the SM Mall of Asia. Tickets available at all SM Ticketnet outlets, tel 911-5555.
Author: Bum D. Tenorio, 21 June 2009
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