Tiny girl, tall tunes: When 18-year-old Charice was just 4, her mother found her standing on a table, singing a big-ballad rendition of Happy Birthday. Amazed at her little girl’s towering voice, mom Raquel quit her job to focus on nurturing Charice’s talent. It turns out that her instinct was right.
Rise to fame: Born Charmaine Clarice Relucio Pempengco in the province of Laguna, Philippines, Charice started competing in local singing contests when she was 7. “It was my idea,” she says. “At first, my mom said no, but we didn’t have much money and I wanted to help.” Over the next few years, Charice sang in more than a hundred contests and eventually landed a spot on Little Big Star (2005), a Filipino show loosely based on American Idol.
The power of one: An avid fan helped Charice get her big break. David Duenas, 25, who went by the username FalseVoice, posted a few of her early performances on YouTube, and suddenly she found new fans. (She’s nearing 100 million views now.) Among them: Ellen DeGeneres, who invited the teen to perform on her talk show in 2007. Charice boarded a plane to Hollywood, and she’s been flying high ever since.
‘Glee’-ful time: Charice steps back into the spotlight when she goes toe-to-toe with Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) on Tuesday’s premiere of Fox’s hit Glee (8 p.m. ET/PT). In a recurring role, she’ll play a foreign exchange student who challenges Berry’s vocal supremacy.
Deserved success: David Foster (who’s worked with Josh Groban and Michael Bublé) and sister Jaymes Foster (Clay Aiken) executive produced her self-titled debut album, released last May. It went No. 8 on Billboard’s album chart, selling 43,000 copies in its first week. Oh, and Oprah just loves her: She’s appeared on Winfrey’s show five times.
One scary night: Charice grew up very quickly. When she was 3, “my father came home and started screaming at my mother,” she says. “And then he held a gun to her head. Our neighbors broke in and helped us get out.” She vividly remembers her father chasing them. “We jumped on a (bike cab) and screamed at the man pedaling to go faster,” she says. “We were so scared. That was the last I ever saw of him.”
Family means everything: “My mom would do anything for me and my brother (Carl, 15). And she has,” she says. “She loves Tagaytay City (a mountain town popular for its cool climate). So on Mother’s Day last year, I bought her dream house and a car. It was the best thing ever to see her cry tears of joy.”
Bumps in the road ahead: Charice faces an unusual challenge for a teen. While singing diva selections like Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing and Jennifer Holliday’s And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going has earned her plenty of grown-up fans, Charice hopes to attract a younger crowd. “Iyaz is featured on my single Pyramid,” she says. “And all my songs are about love, because I think that’s something that everyone experiences.”
Future aspirations: She hopes to work with Lady Gaga and Beyoncé one day, but she has a backup plan if her career doesn’t work out. A freshman at online college Southern New Hampshire University, Charice would like to be an entertainment lawyer. But whether she makes it in America or not, she’s confident that her Filipino fans will always support her. “I really miss home,” she says. “I miss hanging out with my friends and eating adobo and sinigang.”
By Korina Lopez, USA TODAY
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