Earlier, a little past 10 p.m. I'd say, in the middle of a late-night, weekend project discussion, came a few bars of the chorus of "Pyramid" coming from the living room. Curious as to what channel the TV set was on, I stood up from where I sat to check.
To my surprise, it was a promotional clip of mostly GMA-7's prime time shows. For a split second there I thought my mother had shifted channels. Throughout what looked like a 30-second video was the chorus of "Pyramid" as sound bed.
An OTA War
You might be wondering why this 30-second experience is a most welcome breath of fresh over-the-air air.
The Filipino public has been subject to a war waged OTA for a couple of decades now, considering that the television industry is dominated by just two—TWO—networks vying for the viewership of 13 million or so households.
Like any war, the broadcast version is not at all pretty. The Filipinos' obsession with watching television average about 200 minutes daily, second only to the Japanese*. This results in a live spectacle of nasty word wars, say, between program hosts on television, which can be ugly especially on each network's other talents who, by choice or circumstance, simply report for work to do their job properly and without prejudice, yet get caught in the middle of the crossfire, later to discover their reputations besmirched in public without their knowing it.
Otherwise, when talents are identified with one network, the other network will simply refuse to give (or choose to ignore) any sort of recognition due that talent no matter the achievement he or she may have brought not just to their persons but to society.
There are exceptions, of course, like the boxer Manny Pacquiao who once allowed himself to get caught in the middle of the conflict between the top two networks (with regards to contract and airtime), nearly disrupting his preparations for a major fight; or Kris Aquino who, anyway, seems to be untouchable and "un"-criticizable despite her erratic public behavior and presumptuous ways.
The other exception is when talents, in general, are the meat of scandals, thereby making them open to unwanted airtime and unnecessary babble on both networks.
That 30-second audio clip
Why, then, does this 30-second clip smell like some kind of victory?
Charice (Charice Pempengco), the talent behind the current pop and catchy song "Pyramid", has been so synonymous with ABS-CBN particularly in the past 3 years—the equivalent amount of time she has since logged in flying from time zone to time zone to sing in venues no Filipino artist has gone to before—that the rival network, GMA-7 has chosen to simply squeak news about her. Rare is a better term for it, and in those rare moments, she merits about 30 seconds of mention (perhaps even lesser) that when you blink, you miss the story altogether.
I guess the fault does not always lie with the announcer but with management.
Anyhow, I've always wondered why that was when either networks easily stretch time in the form of entertainment news (good and bad), gossip, or both—all in the guise of some kind of enlightened talk—about other talents from both sides anyway.
Not to sound naive about how networks engage in a war over ratings and viewership, but when it comes to Charice, I have so far observed that one network drumbeats, the other almost zips its mouth shut.
I guess because the purported "mother network," ABS-CBN, drumbeats, the other is inclined to simply ignore good news only to be chatty when it comes to unfounded negative topics, like alleged issues about Charice's mother or family and such.
Her triumphs as a Filipino talent invited to grace international venues, sing and collaborate with distinguished artists abroad and bestowed with support she never really had to pull strings for, all within a short period of time, is a feat never been accomplished by anyone at her age. (She just turned 18.)
Haven't we been all looking for the next Lea Salonga or similar other artists of calibre before her like the jazz singer Marlene de la Peña, she of superstar status in Japan since the late 70's with about 30 albums to her name, and Pilita Corrales, "Asia's Queen of Songs" and first Filipino artist to sing at the Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas Nevada?
We've heard about how Filipinos through the years have tried, with a lot of heartbreak and misfortunes, to break into the western music industry, and not many of them making it quite successfully as the names above have. There have been sad stories of how fellow Filipinos in the US have taken advantage of homegrown talents, thereafter crushing their hopes of even opening a show as a result of deceit or mismanagement.
What's admirable about Charice is how she, at pre-legal age, has maintained composure and propriety throughout what can be considered more than a big deal: she has kept the trust and confidence of the very influential Oprah Winfrey who, just by her guts, gambled on a talent—at that time unknown and, more seriously, foreign and not very articulate in English—and helped open up opportunities only dreamt of by any other artist, both established and unknown.
Contrast this to what may have been an earlier manifestation of a Charice in the person of Jocelyn "Banig" Roberto, so far the only homegrown singer to have ever won the International Star Search contest in the US and got the whole local industry excited in the 80s when her talent was recognized in the US and actually made several appearances on American television, sang the American anthem in the NBA and recorded an album.
While their early career paths are strikingly similar, their personal lives are lived differently. For one, "Banig" has stayed in the US for good (she now writes songs for other artists), while Charice has chosen to keep her Philippine passport and call her country of origin her home and instead travel abroad for commitments. She is not any different from other overseas Filipino workers in that sense except that she is, so far, the youngest of them.
Handling "luck" in a tug-of-war
Charice has handled her "luck" very well so far despite what is an apparent wait-and-see attitude among her own fellowmen back home, particularly in the industry she's from: "wait" for what comes next, and "see" how well she handles her rising fame, perhaps even to the point of wishing her some degree of failure. It is an unpleasant thought, but it's a fact.
Even Charice's most loyal followers, those who have supported her from her contest days as a child, are of the opinion that she gets the raw deal even from the very network she is attached with, ABS-CBN: bad make-up, bad wardrobe, bad audio, or that she simply gets cut off in the middle of a phrase or line while singing. She was also once labeled bratty for coming in late to the very noontime show she comes home to after arriving from abroad just hours before, and in the process attracting all kinds of unsolicited advise from talents across networks, on radio and in the papers about being "professional" and "staying humble".
Probably the worse accusation this young singer got, along with another artist who has had an international break, Arnel Pineda, is being labeled nothing but copycats and likened to monkeys (perhaps a circus monkey is what was meant) by no less than Freddie Aguilar on television. Another is when Charice was insinuated to have lied through her teeth in a newspaper column by a noontime host on GMA-7 when she said in a taped interview aired on ABS-CBN that she would have been part of the Michael Jackson UK tour had it not been for his untimely death. Both these incidents happened in 2009 just weeks from each other.
Still, Charice has taken these negative comments and prejudgment all in stride. Surely she must have hurt but never once did show it publicly. I suppose there is never a bigger ball thrown around the network gossip mills than the diminutive Charice particularly in the past 3 years.
Conciliation is music to the ears
Sometime in the last quarter of 2009, I thought heard the strains of Charice's earlier US-release single, "Note To God", played briefly on GMA-7's Eat Bulaga just before commercial break. A singing contest for kids in said the program was being held at that time, and surely my ears were not mistaken about getting the somg right. Perhaps the show's spinner got the chance to sneak in the audio in the hope of getting away with it. After all, the single had just been released in the US and merited Charice a slot at the top 10 on the iTunes store, a first for a Filipino artist. Had the spinner gotten the green light from management to play the song, however, would have been a sign of a good sport.
Therefore, when I heard the chorus of "Pyramid" played on GMA-7's program promo clip last night, I thought it was, at last, an extended hand of conciliation. It did not matter that it was but a snippet of the song. What matters is that petty rivalries are set aside, even for brief moments.
Thing is, I do not expect Charice to even be allowed (by her network) or be invited to promote her first international album live on other networks other than that which she calls her home (ABS-CBN may just be too possessive to share the talent it once wrote off as "not having enough star power". Her consolation is that she happens to have very sincere supporters in her home network, even in the times when her star power was still dormant), though to be proven wrong would be the best sign of "unity" the broadcast industry would ever show publicly. That would be such sweet music to the ears.
Postscript: Grateful and a wild album launch grind
Charice had just turned 18 on May 10. In the 3 years she's been flying in and out of the Philippines, she has worked her lungs out in engagements and schedules that do not even come close to a diplomat's. She'll sing and give it her all in spite of a bad cold; she'll dance to please despite fatigue. She deserves to be recognized for her hard work at her age and, more importantly, congratulated for standing in as the other parent-provider of her family while maintaining the time to savor teenage life and just be herself.
Filipinos are wont to handle rags-to-riches situations badly. Charice is the type of singer whom many will love AND hate, yet how many can lay claim to the achievements she has had so far? How many can genuinely say that they have taken care of their good luck and fame to not let these slip away too soon? How many can really handle their dreams coming true in such a short time?
|Charice celebrating her 18th with kids from World Vision in lieu of a debut party.|
[IMAGE: Michael Varcas from manila_bulletin account/twitpic]
Charice's self-titled album was released worldwide a few days ago, and has since established records that put the Philippines on the international music map: landing at no. 8 on Billboard's top 200 in the week ending May 16, 2010. Before that, the carrier single's "Pyramid" remixed versions have topped the UK dance charts in late April and scored high rankings in Europe as well.
Prior to coming home to celebrate her birthday with underprivileged children belatedly on May 22nd, she was in about 5 key US states to promote her album, opening with a 5th appearance on the Oprah show in Chicago on May 11, a day after her birthday, and ending on a high, profound note with performances for the annual Power Of A Dream gala in Washington D.C., where influential members of the entertainment, civic and political arenas in America were in attendance.
In Manila, she launches her album tomorrow, May 23rd, then flies to Japan to record for Warner (Japan), after which she goes back to the US and Canada to do more promotions and fulfill commitments in June and July.
Charice is fortunate to have all of these coming at a young age when her active body can hack upside-down weather conditions and killer schedules and still get to experience being celebrated by fellow Asians in Asia, Filipinos abroad and by foreign audience for her successes.
We were given one chance at giving Charice a break when she sought for it but we missed, and I guess all we can do to give back is wish her all the best, as we should do each other every time.
I see her always being grateful for our support and doesn't seem to demand for much more.
It's not too much to ask, is it?
"CHARICE" the album is now available in music Philippine stores (CDs) and online.
The "Pyramid" remixes are available from iTunes as downloads
*data from the Nationwide Urban Television Audience Measurement (NUTAM) and the Asia Television Advertising Coalition (ATAC)