Six seconds. That’s how long it took for a pint-size Pinay in pigtails to stride confidently on stage in a South Korean talent show in the fall of 2007, belt out the words, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” and blow our collective socks off.
It was a performance for the ages. Charice might as well have been announcing to the world, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Settling For Anything Less Than Superstardom.” Her electrifying performance took our breath away, captured our hearts, and covered us in goose bumps. By the final note, we instinctively knew that this fifteen-year-old girl’s prodigious talent was eclipsed only by her pure heart and joyous spirit.
Charice was more than a teenage girl that day, she was a force of nature. With joyous abandon, she threw herself into her performance, transcended her surroundings, and became a walking, talking celebration of the music of life itself. Transfixed, we felt ourselves transported to the kind of world we all pray for when we close our eyes and dare to dream. Yes, Charice had arrived, and the world, and our hearts, would never be the same.
Who is this teenager from the Philippines who brings such joy and hope to her ever-growing legion of fans around the globe? Where did she come from and how did she come to grace our lives?
Charmaine Clarice Relucio Pempengco was born on May 10, 1992, in the town of Cabuyao in the province of Laguna in the Philippines. She started singing at the age of four, shortly after her mother Raquel left Charice’s father after a domestic disturbance. Raquel worked sixteen-hour days in a factory to support Charice and her little brother, Carl, but always found time to help Charice prepare for the more than eighty local singing contests she entered over the years, beginning at age seven.
Charice’s first big break came on Little Big Star, a talent show loosely patterned after American Idol that premiered on Filipino television on Saturday, September 24, 2005. Thirteen-year-old Charice did not get off to an auspicious start: she was eliminated in the first round. Resigned to her early exit, she was thrilled to be invited back as a “wild card” contestant a few months later. She made the most of her second chance, placing first in every subsequent round. In the Grand Finals, she finished third, largely due to her low total of audience text votes.
Thinking her singing career was over, a discouraged Charice set her sights instead on becoming a nurse. Ironically, a nursing student with the online name FalseVoice stepped in and resurrected her career. The videos he posted on YouTube of her performances on Little Big Star and other shows received millions of hits and made Charice an Internet sensation. Thanks to FalseVoice’s intervention, Charice was invited to Sweden in June 2007 to record seven songs for Ten Songs Productions.
Then came Charice’s defining moment, the performance that would launch her career into orbit. After viewing FalseVoice’s videos, the producers of Star King, a South Korean talent show, invited her to their stage. On October 13, 2007, Charice emerged from the wings and blew the gates off with her first note, instantly establishing the richness and maturity of her voice. Charice didn’t just command the stage, she owned it. As one man in the audience commented immediately after her performance, “It’s like the stage isn’t big enough for her!”
Charice’s sheer force of personality transfixed the crowd—her mid-air mic toss and deft audience interaction effectively declared, not just to those in attendance but to the millions who would soon be YouTubing her performance all over the world, that, ready or not, here was a force to be reckoned with. After finishing her song, Charice wowed the audience even further with her personality plus, bantering and singing with the other performers as if she were born to the crown.
This was the performance that catapulted Charice’s career into hyperspace. Our first glimpse of her on that stage was the precise moment that Charice left her childhood behind—no longer a girl but on the cusp of womanhood, no longer just a singer but a superstar in waiting. Instinctively, in that first moment, we knew this was so. And we had the goose bumps to prove it.
So did David Foster, the legendary music producer who arranged a meeting with Charice after viewing her triumphant Star King appearance. David was a valuable mentor to Charice, and helped her realize a dream by taking her to see her idol, Celine Dion, performing live in Las Vegas on December 15, 2007. However, Foster could not take Charice to the after-show party because she was a minor, and it would have been too hectic to take her backstage for a quick meet-and-greet with Celine. Charice’s first meeting with Celine would have to wait for another day.
What was Charice doing in the United States? She and her beloved mom had hopped on a plane after Charice received a personal phone call from Ellen DeGeneres inviting her to be on her show. On December 19, 2007, Ellen introduced her to live American audiences by saying, “You are going to be blown away. This is the most incredible gift of all the stuff we’re giving you today. You’re going to witness something; you’re going to go, ‘I was there that day that girl was on the show.’ Her name is Charice Pempengco and she is amazing.” Amazing she was. Charice received a standing ovation, which moved her to tearfully exclaim, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, thank you very much,” as the audience rewarded her with thunderous applause.
The snowball had started rolling, and there was no stopping it now. Thanks to David Foster’s recommendation, Charice was invited to perform on Oprah, the crown jewel of daytime TV. Oprah was so mesmerized by Charice’s blow-the-roof-off performance on her May 12, 2008 show (which was actually taped on April 3) that she personally met with Charice and Raquel afterward to pledge her support for Charice’s career. Oprah christened Charice The Most Talented Girl In The World and The Girl With The Voice.
Charice was also The Little Girl With The International Frequent Flier Miles. She and her mom flew directly from Chicago to London so Charice could guest star on The Paul O’Grady Show, a very popular daily program in England. On April 8, 2008, Charice’s two songs on O’Grady’s show earned the first standing ovation in the program’s four-year history.
Charice’s star had gone supernova. She was not only performing regularly on Filipino TV shows, she was flying back and forth to the United States to sing in a variety of venues, from Los Angeles to New York to Connecticut. A highlight was her coming-out party at the spectacular one-night only concert of Hit Man: David Foster and Friends at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas on May 23, 2008. The concert also featured Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bublé, Josh Groban and Katharine McPhee.
Bocelli was so impressed by Charice that he made his way to her dressing room after the show to congratulate her. Honored by the visit, Charice confessed that it was a dream of hers to sing with him. Two months later, that dream came true, as Charice flew to Italy to sing a stirring duet with Bocelli at his birthday concert in Tuscany on July 20, 2008.
Next up was the Netherlands. Thanks to FalseVoice’s relentless promotion of Charice on YouTube, soccer players from a Netherlands club called Feyenoord Rotterdam had watched a video of Charice’s rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone on a Filipino TV show. Since that was the team’s theme song, Charice was invited to come sing it on September 6, 2008 in front of more than 50,000 soccer fans.
Two days later, Charice was once again on Oprah, this time as the featured guest. After Charice, accompanied by David Foster on the piano, sang My Heart Will Go On, the signature song of her childhood hero, Celine Dion, Oprah shocked Charice by introducing her to her idol via a live video feed. Charice’s brief encounter with Celine speaks volumes about why Charice is so beloved by her fans. It is a sweet, genuine, and exquisitely tender and touching moment that reveals and revels in her childlike innocence and the beauty and authenticity of her spirit. When Celine invited Charice to sing a duet with her during her Madison Square Garden concert the following week, Charice burst into tears, overwhelmed that her greatest dream was unfolding right in front of her.
Charice’s concert with Celine is destined to be the stuff of legend. The atmosphere was electric as Charice joined Celine on stage to dedicate the song, Because You Loved Me, to her devoted mother, Raquel. Three days later, on September 18, 2008, Oprah recapped Charice’s appearances on her show and showed highlights from Charice and Celine’s duet. After their song, Celine asked Charice if she would invite her to perform at Charice’s first concert at Madison Square Garden. Imagine your wildest dream fulfilled in all its glory, and you may have the slightest of inklings what that night meant to Charice.
The remainder of 2008 saw Charice adding to her burgeoning fan base with numerous performances in both the Philippines and the United States. On November 18, she brought down the house on Good Morning America, accompanied once again by her mentor, David Foster. Nine days later, she sang on a float during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Charice was thrilled to usher in 2009 by performing at three events in Washington D.C. in the days leading up to President Barack Obama’s inauguration. One of the week’s many highlights was Charice performing an encore of God Bless America during a one-on-one encounter with Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, at the Pearl Presidential Inaugural Gala held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Maya, who held Charice’s hand while she sang, was reduced to tears by the power of Charice’s voice and her heartfelt performance.
Now a bona fide international star, Charice, who is affectionately called Ming by those who love her, remains humble and grounded, thanks to her family, her friends, and the caring, dedicated team of professionals in her corner who are guiding and supporting her career. Millions of fans all over the world now sing her praises, but ultimately, it is not Charice’s voice that matters so much, it is how her jubilant spirit touches us, lifts us up, and makes us believe in not only her goodness but our own. That is why this diminutive, unassuming teenage girl from the Philippines is a hero to so many. Charice’s mere presence in this world blesses us, makes us strong, and rekindles our hope for a brighter tomorrow.
by Phil Bolsta, “Triumph of the Spirit”
Phil Bolsta is a freelance writer who was so smitten by Charice that he created his own blog about her. Phil’s blog is titled “Triumph of the Spirit” and he was honored by Charice and FalseVoice when they asked him to write an introductory biography for Charice’s home web site.