Young starlet Charice set to take on the world after being noticed on Youtube.
Charice Pempengco is every bit a songstress diva. She hummed a few melodies here and there to fill the void during our interview, and upon request to sing a Happy Birthday tune for a local magazine, Pempengco, better known as Charice, had no qualms. She immediately stood up and rendered a most beautiful version of a frequently heard song with wild hand gestures and strong facial expressions.
The effect was chillingly haunting, for it was definitely ”the voice” that we have heard so often, from the time of her YouTube explosion until now, when her debut single Pyramid has reached the Billboard Top 10, making her the first Asian artist to do so.
”I still can’t believe it. My dream was always to become a famous singer in the Philippines. I never expected any of this. … It’s really an honour to represent Asia. It just feels great when I hear a lot of people saying they’re proud to be Asian,” she said.
And it was this very voice that drew a large crowd to occupy every inch of Siam Discovery last Friday. A true vocal prodigy, Charice didn’t let fans down with her easy charm and powerful-yet-sweet vocal chords. The pint-size diva exuded the same aura in person when she spoke with smiling eyes, constantly moving her hands to emphasize her points. From the shy, nervous girl captured on Oprah, Ellen, The Paul O’Grady Show and on stage with Celine Dion, the 18 year old has blossomed into a lively, chatty young lady with an almost-perfect American accent.
Charice’s recent success is taking her all over the world to promote her international self-titled debut, and her story is a true rags to riches venture. Charice grew up with little money in San Pedro, Laguna, the Philippines, raised by a single mother after her abusive father went out of the picture. Her innate talent and amazing ability to tackle big songs at a young age shone through since the age of 7 when she started joining various singing contests to help support her family. In 2005, Charice joined a TV singing contest show called Little Big Star where she came third, gaining her recognition. But her fame began to wane shortly after, and it took the intense adoration of a avid fan who kept posting her performances on YouTube in 2007 to relaunch her career.
”Now we’re friends. His user name on there is ‘FalseVoice’, and at first I thought he was another hater, but it turned out that he initially thought I was lip-syncing!”
Listed as one of the most successful YouTube stars, Charice’s path is what all hopefuls are now vying for, but the 18 year old has a little something to pass on.
”I’m just lucky to be like Justin Bieber. A lot of producers these days look for new talent on YouTube. It’s one of the best ways to get discovered. … It’s like magic, but it’s not easy. You have to be patient. I was just so lucky to get discovered quickly. The key is you have to wait, and you can’t rush everything. It can take years and years. I see a lot of talent that keeps posting every day, and that’s a good thing. You have to keep on doing it,” she said.
FalseVoice’s posts of Charice propelled her onto a global stage where the world was wooed by her young age, incredible range, untrained talent and exquisite ability to belt out hard-to-pin-down songs from the likes of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. The internet wildfire landed her a spot on popular Korean talent show Star King, and eventually on talk shows on both sides of the Atlantic.
But it was her appearance on Oprah in 2008 that truly lifted the tiny diva to another level, for Ms Winfrey didn’t just feature her on a one off show; she went on to reel in her personal friend super producer David Foster and urged him to take her under his wing.
‘We weren’t in the Philippines at that time. We got an email from [the Oprah producers], and we didn’t believe it at first. We thought it was a joke. My mum was like, ‘Oprah who?’ since she doesn’t really watch TV. I was like, ‘Mum, she’s like one of the most powerful women in the world.’ I didn’t believe it until the producer called and asked me to be on the show. I was flipping out,” she said.
Charice’s appearance on Oprah was life changing _ needless to say the most major career move that anyone could imagine. Under David Foster, who is now her godfather, Charice made her international concert debut in his tribute show, called ”Hitman: David Foster and Friends”.
She performed a legendary medley of Whitney Houston songs, further establishing her as a vocal prodigy not to be overlooked.
With all the international recognition, the home-grown fans readily embrace Charice.
”In the Philippines, people really recognise me. It’s crazy because I can’t stay in the mall for like 10 minutes. If I am wearing a hat, for example, they will try to take it off to see if it is really me. It’s crazy! But it’s okay because it was always my dream [to become a singer].”
Given her expertise and iron lungs, many speculated that her international debut album would thrive on power ballads to highlight her unique ability and vocal prowess, but the album has a surprisingly contemporary feel to it rather than the much expected grandeur around the vocal works and dramatic renditions.
”As an 18 year old singer, it’s one of my dreams to be able to sing a pop or R&B song. I want to go with the flow with what’s popular in the US. We actually [selected that direction] because we want to reach a teenage audience. You have to accept that the teenagers now don’t really listen to power ballads. David Foster and I decided to put everything from rock to pop in my debut album and there’s ballad also, but on the top of it, it’s pop. Now, at my shows, a lot of teenagers can sing my songs. I’m happy about that,” said Charice.
But fame always has a price attached. Charice in particular finds it rather difficult to deal with all the prying eyes and the inevitable negativity. Her record company gently asked that we should avoid talking about her upcoming participation in Glee since it relates to her preparation for the recurring role, which includes the infamous Botox treatments to slim down her naturally round face.
”It’s really hard actually, especially when you have to face controversy or negative comments. That’s the hard part. The rest of it is all fun. But I’m loving it. People try to bring me down, but actually those negative comments are also my strength too because they make me feel that I have to do my best. So I have to thank them. I’m still hoping and wishing that they’d stop hating. … But you can’t please them all,” she said.
Charice admits that her schedule is packed, and she has missed out on a typical teenage life or childhood, but it doesn’t seem to bother her much.
”I mostly stay inside my hotel room or house and go online. If I want to see my friends, I’ll just call them to come over. I’m not really the hang-out-at-the-mall type. When my friends are over, we just play around and jam together. They’re really used to hearing my voice, but sometimes they go, ‘Wow’, which is quite funny,” she said.
Charice is set to come back to Bangkok in October as a major part of David Foster and Friends concert, and everything looks set for the petite star. You should get as much of Charice while you can because she doesn’t plan to stick around forever.
”I go to school online. That’s really my priority. I want to be a lawyer. I love to sing, but I don’t want to be an artist forever. I want to pursue my dream to be an [entertainment business] lawyer, have my own business, and support my family. I just want to be normal. It’s really hard sometimes because some people really want to know about my private life.
”I’m just doing this for my family and fans now,” she said.
”But really I don’t want to do it forever.”
Writer: Onsiri Pravattiyagul, Entertainment Editor, Bangkok Post
Charice is shining now
Dropping by Bangkok, the kid with the show-stopping voice talks about the dreams that all came true
Charice Pempengco is “almost” an average teenager. Nestled into a backstage armchair ahead of her show at Siam Discovery last Friday, the Filipino singer sported a frilly white top, jeans, silver nail polish and stylish accessories.
“Oh my gosh!” she exhaled when asked if she was tired. But she was laughing. She’s lapping it all up.
Her 10-decibel voice and remarkable range is making her a global star, and she’s still only 18.
Ever since arriving in Bangkok from Tokyo on a tour promoting “Charice”, her debut major-label album, she’d barely had time to breathe. Word of her formidable talent proceeds her everywhere she goes. People jostle to meet her.
Charice’s mum knew that her kid had an extraordinary gift when, at age four, she nailed a karaoke version of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.
At age seven she hit the singing-contest circuit, coached by her mother. “The best thing she taught me was how to sing these songs and how to reach those high notes perfectly,” Charice said.
That powerful, mesmerising voice eventually earned her second place in the Philippines’ version of “American Idol” and was soon racking up viewer hits on YouTube.
The videos – and Charice’s determination to help her single-parent mother – got Oprah Winfrey’s attention. The American talk-show queen introduced her to David Foster, the record producer who’d discovered Charice’s own idol, Celine Dion.
Winfrey had picked up on Charice’s “dream journal”, a notebook in which the youngster had been writing down her hopes since age 12. Oprah started making those dreams come true.
First it was meeting – and singing with – the opera tenor Andrea Bocelli, in Italy. Then she got to actually meet Celine Dion and join her onstage for a song they dedicated to Charice’s mum.
“I was shaking!” she said of that moment. “She told me, ‘Don’t be nervous – just think that all the people here, all these 20,000 people, are your family, brothers and sisters, and think of this song you’re going to sing to your mother.’”
The lofty aspirations of the dream journal were ultimately all fulfilled. Charice partied with Whitney Houston and met Mariah Carey by chance in Las Vegas, and then, through her own hard work, she realised the big dream that was on the second last page: a house and a car for her mother and her.
“I made it come true for my family,” she said.
With David Foster now her mentor and producer, Charice began recording her first album two years ago. It has love songs – some of them about broken hearts – and inspirational songs that will reach out to a wide range of listeners.
“David’s always telling me that it has to be great, not good,” she said. “That’s why, when we were choosing the songs, he was, like, ‘We have to choose different genres.’
“Because, for me, I don’t want people to feel like they’re in the wrong place because this is just all ballads. So we actually put in different genres, but still with the pop touch.”
Her own favourites on the CD are “In the Song”, which Foster co-wrote for her, based on her life, and “Reset”, which she co-wrote.
And working with rapper Iyaz on her single “Pyramid” was a memorable experience, Charice said.
“I was thinking it was like ‘No Air’ with Chris Brown and Jordin Sparks. I thought Iyaz was perfect for it. His voice is very pop and he can do rapper too.” “When I’m with him he’s like my big brother,” she laughs. “If someone’s, like, ‘Hey, Charice, you single?’ He’s, like, ‘Over my dead body!’ He’s very protective!”
In common with many of today’s most popular singers, Charice has her good-luck ritual before every performance. She prays and thinks of the people she loves – and she exercises that voice.
“I always should hit one note, a very high note, so it makes me less nervous. But I think prayers bring the best luck.”
In the packed Grand Hall, Charice stepped onto the stage wearing big heels and smiling and laughing. The voice that had been reduced to a whisper by numerous interviews came roaring back when she wanted it.
She belted out song after song, the crowd cheering wildly.
Charice said the toughest change she’s had to deal with is her private life becoming public. “Sometimes I’m not really used to it yet. Each move they’re all watching you.”
They’re watching to see what happens next, but many in the audience are waiting to see if she’ll make their dreams come true too. And Charice rewards them with inspiration.
By Paula Ho, Special to ‘The Nation’
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