YES MAGAZINE INTERVIEW NOVEMBER 2009 ISSUE
Part 5: THE UNTOLD STORY
Meanwhile, the staff of The Oprah Winfrey Show had also learned of the little girl with a big voice from the Little Big Star videos on YouTube. They decided to invite Charice to join the show’s “World’s Smartest Kids” episode. The show was to be aired on May 12, 2008, just two days after Charice’s 16th birthday.
Unlike Ellen, Oprah was someone Charice had seen on TV. Raquel didn’t have a clue. “I told her, the one that had Tom Cruise as a guest,” says Charice, referring to the controversial episode where the American actor was jumping up and down the show’s couch, proclaiming his love for the actress Katie Holmes.
So it was off to the U.S. again for Raquel and her daughter, this time to Chicago, home of Harpo Studios, the Oprah-owned company that produces the talk show. Day One was devoted to rehearsals, but while Oprah was in the building, she kept to her office. Her staff had already briefed her about Charice and how amazing the voice of this girl was. But Oprah told them she wanted to be surprised for the live show scheduled the next day.
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True enough, Oprah was bowled over during the show itself, where Charice sang Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” After a short on-cam interview, Charice and the host did not see each other again, and Raquel thought that was that. Just like in the Ellen show, Charice would have her less-than-15 minutes of fame and then be sent home to the Philippines. Her daughter would again be a star–but only for a day.
Little did they know that the hands of fate were already at work. On Day 3 in Chicago, Raquel and her daughter had already comfortably taken their seats on the flight that would take them back to Manila. The engines had started running. Suddenly, for some reason, they stopped. The plane entrance door opened, and in came two uniformed men looking for a Raquel Pempengco.
We let Charice tell the rest of the story. She says this is the first time she is telling the media about the day that changed her life.
“My Mommy said, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ I said, ‘Mommy, they’re looking for you. Don’t raise your hands.’ But then, it might be something important so we eventually raised our hands. ‘Yes?’ They said that we should get off the airplane. It is all the more that we got scared. But we did get off the airplane. My Mommy said to me, ‘I told you we shouldn’t have raised our hands.’ The plane left without us, with our baggages still in it. We were already very excited to go home to the Philippines then. My Mommy was even asked, ‘Are you working with Harpo?’”
“My Mom said, ‘Oh, Harpo! Maybe you destroyed one of Oprah’s dolls, didn’t you?’ ‘No, I didn’t,’ I said. ‘Maybe it’s you Mommy. Maybe you took the shampoo from the hotel.’ We were just joking around because as you know, in reality, you can take the shampoo. But we were really nervous because we didn’t have any idea as to why we were being held. Then the police even asked me, ‘Are you famous?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then why (are) you so special? Why (does) Oprah want to see you?’”
“All the more that we became nervous. Why? Then we were just talking and then they brought us outside. My Mom incidentally was just wearing a sleeveless blouse. It was so cold. My Mommy said… (Charice pretends to shiver) She was shaking. We were then picked up by the limo. At this point, we’re still wondering about everything. Nobody has told us anything at all or have given us any clue as to what’s to happen.”
“We went straight to Harpo. When we got there, we were asked to wait at the office. They asked us, ‘Where are your baggages?’ We told them, ‘They were already on the plane headed to the Philippines, without us.’ So they gave us money so that we can buy some clothes, etc. But of course, we didn’t buy any.”
Why not? We ask.
“It’s because we don’t want to waste the money,” Charice answers, laughing.
Raquel and Charice were then sent back to their hotel and were asked to return to the Harpo Studios after two hours. When they returned, they were ushered into a conference room, but still had no idea why they were there. And then a door opened.
“It’s Oprah! She smiled and said, ‘Hi, sweet!’ Of course, I couldn’t just sit there. I gathered all the guts I can muster and I hugged her. She sat in front of me. She said, ‘I want to help you.’ Then she told me the story why she had asked me to come back.”
“She said that after I had performed, after I left, everyone in her staff was singing what I sang. Even when she got in her car, her two drivers were talking about me. So, when she was already lying down on her bed, it was me that she was thinking of. ‘How am I going to be able to help this kid?’ Even after she has already fallen asleep and had woken up, I was still the one she was thinking of. When she arrived at her office, she asked her staff, ‘Where’s Charice?’ ‘About to fly to the Philippines.’ ‘Stop the plane!’”
Raquel says she couldn’t stop herself from crying as Oprah talked to them: “It’s like, ‘My God! This is the angel that you’ve sent.’ My tears were just falling.”
Oprah asked Charice to tell her more about the Pempengcos’ life in the Philippines. Charice told her she had always wanted to sing, how many contests she had joined. She spoke of the struggles she had to go through growing up, even the abuse that her mom had suffered from her dad. She told Oprah, too, about the people who were telling her she didn’t have the right to dream of becoming a big star.
“I told her that there were many who were ridiculing me, saying that I am not talented. She was very angry, especially when I said that they were even telling me that I was not pretty. She then asked if I had a recording contract.”
Charice said she had none, and that she was already losing hope that she would ever make a career for herself in the music business. “Then, she said to me, ‘No! I promise you something big will happen.’”
Right then and there, Charice and Raquel became witness to how powerful this woman was who could stop an airplane only minutes before take-off. Oprah picked up the phone and dialed a number–David Foster’s number.
David Foster is a legendary music producer and composer on the international music scene. He has 15 Grammy Awards, and is most famous for co-writing the Whitney Houston hit “I Have Nothing” for the film The Bodyguard. He has worked with such music-industry top guns as Cher, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, and Michael Jackson.
Before Charice and Oprah met, the Filipina had already met David. His sister, Jaymes Foster-Levy, a music producer, had seen Charice on Ellen, and had sent the Ellen video clip to David (she also sent a copy to Oprah, but the staff never got down to watching it). Sometime after the Ellen show, Jaymes got in touch with Charice and brought the girl to meet her famous brother. David took a liking to the young talent, even bringing her to Las Vegas and showing her around. He treated the kid to a Celine Dion show–this was the first time Charice saw her idol in person. The young Pinay fan, armed with pen and paper, and camera, was ready to meet Celine at a party after the concert, but alas, the fan was a little too young to enter the club where the party was held.
But back to that fateful moment inside Oprah’s office.
“‘I want you to work with this kid.’ Blah-Blah, like this-like that,” Charice says, barely recalling Oprah’s words to Foster over the phone. “Then David said, ‘But she’s too young.’ ‘What?!’ They raised their voices already. David said that they still have to wait until I reach eighteen. Then the other said that it should be started now and not wait until I turn eighteen. But of course, in the end, David agreed.”
And so the wheels started turning for the Charice-for-Stardom machinery. In no time, she was part of Foster’s touring show, David Foster and Friends, which feautures the musician accompanying singers such as Peter Cetera and American Idol’s Ruben Studdard on the piano. Within a few days after her Oprah debut, Charice was debuting on the international concert stage via Foster and Friends at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Last May 20, a year after her first appearance on Oprah, Charice was back on the daytime talk program to sing her first-ever international single called “Note to God,” backed up by an orchestra and a chorus. The song, a collaboration between Foster and Diane Warren, composer of Celine’s “Because You Loved Me” and other Oscar-nominated songs, placed Number 2 on Amazon.com’s MP3 Downloads Bestsellers and Hot New Releases” section within days of the launch, and climbed up to Number 9 on the Itunes chart.
Hooking Charice up with Foster was only the beginning of Oprah’s many surprises for the talented little girl. At a small private dinner that followed their meeting at Harpo Studios, Oprah had casually asked Charice who her favorite male artist was, and Charice’s quick answer was Andrea Boccelli. A few days later, Charice was sent to New York for an “interview” with a TV crew. She had no idea what the interview was for. The interviewer kept asking her about her experience on the Oprah show.
“I just kept on answering however which way I can,” says Charice, referring to her struggle to converse with the interviewer in English. And then the phone rang. Charice was handed the phone. “They told me to answer it. I asked, ‘Is this part of this?’ ‘Answer it!’ So I pressed the loudspeaker button. ‘Hi! Is this Charice?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Ah! This is Andrea Boccelli.’”
She couldn’t believe it at first and thought the heavy Italian accent to be Filipino. After a while, she burst into tears. “He said, ‘I would like to invite you in my birthday and sing with me The Prayer.’” The song is his most recognized hit, and Charice’s personal favorite. “That’s when I learned that Oprah called Andrea Boccelli so that I could do the duet with him.” Charice sang “The Prayer” with Bocelli at the Teatro de Silenzio in Tuscany in September 2008.
Thanks to Oprah, Charice also got to meet and work with two other musical idols of hers. Josh Groban and Michael Buble.
Alittle known fact about Charice is that she has kept a “dream journal” through the years. It’s a sketchpad on which the singer has drawn portraits of the music greats she dreamed of one day meeting. On the first page of that journal is Bocelli, and on the succeeding pages, Groban, Buble, Whitney, Mariah Carey, and Celine.
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The idea of a “dream journal” was right in Oprah’s alley. She is known for promoting the idea of a “gratitude journal,” where you list down what you’re thankful for everyday, and once devoted an entire episode of her show to the book, The Secret, which is all about having intense visualizations of your dreams for them to come true. When Oprah found out that Charice had a dream journal, she simply asked for it and the girl willingly gave it to her. Little did Charice know that she had met the one person that could make all those journal pages come to life.
The sketchbook is still with the talk show host, Charice says. And the young singer’s dreams are still coming true.
During the YES! Magazine interview and pictorial in August, she has just wrapped up the shooting and recording for her role in the new Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel, where she plays a slightly revised version of herself: a young girl with a big voice battling it out with the famous rodents in an inter-school singing contest. The producers decided to work Charice’s persona into the film after seeing her in the auditions. The movie is set to premiere in December.
The month-long holiday in the Philippines last August was a special request from Raquel to Mark Johnston, Charice’s manager in the U.S. She knows her daughter will again be working nonstop in the States from the first week of September to the second week of December. The Foster and Friends tour resumes in October, the same month she returns for another guest appearance on Oprah. Then there are the promotions for the Chipmunks film and for her first U.S. album, which she finished recording just before coming home for this month-long break. She is also part of a Christmas album featuring various artists, including Madonna and Carrie Underwood.
Is Oprah Charice’s manager? Raquel answers that Charice’s manager is Mark Johnston. So what is Oprah to Charice? Raquel figures that the lady is like a senior consultant. But when Raquel relates anecdotes about Charice’s career in the States, Oprah really sounds more like a fairy godmother.
Raquel once overheard Mark over the phone, asking Oprah if the Chipmunks project was a go. Yes, says the familiar voice on the other end of the line. How about this Disney script where she might play a rich, young rockstar type role that’s a little daring? No. Script proposals, raw photographs for album covers–all had to go through Oprah. And once in a while the talk-show queen would personally call Charice to check on her.
Though Charice has been hobnobbing with the rich and famous (she performed in three of the inaugural-ball parties for U.S. President Barack Obama), her mother keeps reminding her:
Don’t ever put it in your mind that these people that we get the privilege to encounter are famous people. Just think of them as our friends so that you will not get swellheaded. Like it’s just natural, like it’s just us.”
The one big gig that got away, however, was the Michael Jackson concert tour that was scheduled for this year. Jackson’s staff had seen a video of Charice performing “Billie Jean,” and had already gotten in touch with Charice’s U.S. manager. It would have been a real treat for the little girl, and Oprah would have approved.
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Still, there’s no reason for Charice to sulk over losing that one gig, no matter how important it would have been for any singer’s career. After all, thanks to Oprah, Charice has now met, or even performed with, every celebrity in her “dream journal.” Or has she?
Well, close. So who else is in her “dream journal”?
Charice, ever the kid, tells us: “The last page of that is Tweety Bird.”
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
Mouseover to read : Yes! Looking Back… Part 3
Mouseover to read : Yes! Looking Back… Part 4
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