YES! MAGAZINE INTERVIEW NOVEMBER 2009 ISSUE
Part 3 Bato, Buhangin [Rock, Sand]
In the singing-contest circuit, there are those who are referred to as bato [rock], and those dubbed buhangin [sand]. The bato are the rocksteady veterans, while the buhangin are the newbies and the youngsters. Charice, being a powerful voice in a small package, came to be known as the buhanging nakakapuwing [sand that gets into your eye]. “Ayan na ang buhangin,” [“Here comes the sand,”] the veterans would say when they saw the little girl from Cabuyao.
“Even the older ones, she beats,” says Raquel.
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That was especially true when Charice pulled out the stops on the Dulce classic. “Ako ang Nasawi, Ako ang Nagwagi.” [“I was Defeated, I Triumphed”] . The song, a favorite among singing contestants because of its theatrical quality, almost always assured Charice of a slot in the winner’s circle. When performing the showstopper, she capped her knockout vocals and choreography with a juggling of her microphone at the song’s key moments.
“At singing contests, there are 3 rounds,” Charice explains. “We finish all songs. But whatever happens, that particular song, I always sing it last.”
She breaks into song – “Ako ang nagwagi. /Kailanman di maari pang masawi. /Sinong magsasabing ito ay mali?/ Kahit alaala ka bawat sandali” [I am the one that triumphed. / I couldn’t ever be defeated / Who can say that this is wrong? / Even if you’re a memory in each and every moment.] – and then proceeds to show us how she throws the microphone into the air and then catches it.
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With Charice becoming a regular presence in the singing-contest circuit, talent scouts began to take notice. They would text Raquel about the schedules of coming competitions. Mother and daughter would then make the trip to wherever the contest was to be held. Sometimes, they would join a group of other contestants from the same town, who chipped in for a rented vehicle. There were times when the Pempengcos didn’t have enough fare money. Raquel would then borrow from friends and hope that Charice would win, so they could at least afford the trip back home.
Charice recalls one such instance: “Mommy said, ‘Try to do your best ok? Because if we lose, we won’t be able to go home. We don’t have money for transportation fare.’ I said, ‘Game!’ I became more nervous, but all the more that I gave my best. The problem was, the other contestants were protesting against me. They were questioning why I was included in the children’s category of the contest, when my voice is so big. They said that I should be in the category for older folks. They were saying that I was already fourteen, but in reality, I was just ten years old then.”
To appease the protesters, the organizers took Charice out of the children’s division and placed her in the adult division.
“I just said, whatever, I’ll deal with it.” Charice continues. “I still joined, but we didn’t expect anything anymore. But, I actually was the winner.” She brought home P8,000 that day and was able to pay back the P1,000 they had borrowed.
But luck wasn’t always on their side.
Raquel recounts her daughter’s first taste of losing: “It was in Malabaguio, a place near where we lived. She lost there a couple of times. Her opponents were bigger than her. She said, ‘Mommy, I was really good, but why did I lose?’ ‘No, Ming, it is a gamble. Not all the time, you will win.’ She was crying then. She really felt bad.”
That was when Charice was seven, on her first year of joining singing competitions. There was also a time when Charice lost a contest in Batangas, and she and her mother had no money for the bus fare to go home.
“So what we did was that we asked if we could stay at the house of some folks we did not really know.” Charice says, picking up the story. Fortunately, the Pempengcos have often been able to depend on the kindness of strangers and good Samaritans. “If we chance upon nice, decent people, they let us stay with them. Then, the very next morning, we would look for a new singing contest where I could join.” In this particular incident in Batangas, it was a good thing there was a singing contest nearby the next day. “I won and we were able to go home.”
Charice is reminded of another singing contest in Binan, where she was nine years old.
“There were seventy-five contestants. I was number 10. Of course, I didn’t expect anything anymore since I doubted that I would get noticed among the many contestants. We were actually about to ride the jeep when they called the third and second place winners. They were all good. I said, ‘Ah, there’s really no chance.’ So we proceeded to ride the jeep. When we boarded, it was announced: ‘Number 10! Charice!’ We got off the jeep. I won! What I won there was P15,000. We almost tripped as we hurriedly ran back.”
When there were two contests on the same night, it was never a question of which contest to join but how to make it to both. Like the time Charice had to be in the town proper of Siniloan and in Barangay Pulo, Cabuyao – a half-hour’s drive away from each other – in one night. Charice and mom showed up very early in Pulo and picked a number for her slot, and were then driven to Siniloan by their neighbor (who’s now the family driver).
“So I sang in Pulo, then we hurriedly went to Siniloan, then went back to Pulo.” Charice tells us animatedly. She won third prize in Pulo, and first in Siniloan. On another occasion, she joined two contests in Batangas. “I won in one, but then got disqualified on the other because I arrived late.”
Eventually, the kid learned how to manage the highs and lows of singing competitions. She had performances where there was close to no applause, and performances where viewers shouted and screamed at the top of their lungs. She also had her brushes with sore losers firsthand. Fistfights were not an extraordinary occurrence.
“There were times when you’ll sing and there’ll be some people who despise you a lot and would then do despicable things, like unplugging the microphone, or they would bribe the DJ to mess your song up.”
Whatever negative writeups or unpleasant rumors come her way these days, Charice says, they are no match for what she went through in the past.
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But no matter how disheartening the results could sometimes be, the contests were always the one source of income they could depend on. Joining a contest was the first solution Charice thought of after she saw her mom devastated when their house was once robbed.
“What they left were just small change.” Charice recalls.
More importantly, the singing competitions–she estimates that she joined around 80 of these–taught the kid a lesson that would serve her well later in her life; she needed to work for the things she wanted.
“When she really wants something, it’s good that she’s able to get it,” Raquel says. “There are times that she’s not in a good mood. There are times that she doesn’t feel well. When it’s like that, I ask her, ‘Should we go home now?’ ‘No Mommy, we’re already here.’ That’s what I like about her. She says she wants to help. That’s why sometimes, when she has fever, she still goes on. She doesn’t complain about it. She’ll just say, ‘Mommy, just make me take medicine.’ She’s like that. After the contest and she’d gotten what she’s wanted by winning, then she’ll sleep.”
“It actually makes me cry because she shouldn’t really experience staying up late and then having to go to school the very next day. Sometimes even if she only gets two or three hours of sleep, she would still go to school. That’s why her teachers know right away when she’s just come from a singing contest. Her teacher would say to her, ‘Charice, next time, don’t go to school anymore.’ Her teachers in elementary school were so supportive. She in turn, returns her teacher’s kindness by giving them treats. She would ask me, ‘Mommy, please cook spaghetti and bring it to school, ok?’”
Next week, Part 4: NEXT STOP: TV
Note: the captions in English were added in the photos!
Mouseover to read : Yes! Looking Back… Part 1
Mouseover to read : Yes! Looking Back… Part 2
Much thanks and gratitude to:
CTV Crew – translated by JaYrOx, edited by Appin, photos scanned by Bbelj
Posted by Ladies´Team CM: AF, Capofret, DrTP, Eve, Schoen