Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unboxing Charice and our traditional archetypes (a 3-part post)


IN JULY 2009, THERE WAS MUCH ADO in the entertainment scene that stemmed from a statement on TV by OPM legend Freddie Aguilar about Charice, Arnel Pineda and other Filipino talents making a name abroad (although specifically addressing a question about Charice), on being famous by imitating—like monkeys...because we don't hold our own,1  said he—Western singers and their styles.

The issue lasted for about a month and has since died a natural death. At its peak, however, the issue dragged other Filipino singers into the scene. Needless to say, it drew all sorts of reactions especially online, and created a real-world gap between followers of the performers mentioned and those who agreed with Aguilar.

It also added a degree of stigma already attached to talents like Charice and Arnel and their respective fan bases and pouring fire into existing heated rivalry specifically between Charice’s fans and of other female singers older than she and whom she'd often been compared with.

To some extent, the issue above was aggravated by online activities participated in by fans across sectors as a consequence of technologies we currently have.

Our preoccupation with fast information and viral issues, and of the marketing and appreciation of talents we see and hear about, has in fact taken a much different approach to the traditional, even if the so-called “traditional” modes still exist, for example, through sleek local talent-search TV productions instantly available with just a click on the remote and a lot of free viewing time, but with minimal focus on the search for real talents.

These technologies, along with the current "traditional" ones like TV and radio, have also changed the way we interact with or react to issues whether they be real or perceived, and have become the defining influences in our choices.

A trichotomy | Like in most developing countries, our reality is living in a world of wide and rigid differences in terms of preferences and prorities.

For instance, we have, on one hand, premium-rate entertainment services and its selective, privileged market, and, on the other, shows on free TV that, like in murky public markets, dispense what its producers think the masses deserve. There simply isn't room for options.

Between both is the broad middle class sector, many of whom help expand the trichotomy having advanced from near-destitution to affording things on demand (thanks to remittances by relatives abroad) and have become consistent spenders on middle-class pleasures.

Charice, who comes from the masses, has made dream-like success look easy and fluid because of YouTube and her undeniable talent to sing cover songs — the big, difficult ones at that, from as early as 7 years old if we take into account her publicized starting age at joining contests.

It is interesting that, having come from a family of modest means herself, many of her detractors whom she actually represents and whose ideals she lives up to are themselves the first to put her down.

This circumstance may have to do with not just the perpetual rich-vs-poor rationale against a third world background but also with complex factors that have to do with the entertainment industry in general in which marketing and sales rule, packaging matters.

On the other hand, if popular belief is to be pursued, events related to Charice may have to fall back to status conflict because it seemed to have happened to her when she, having been a clear choice in the last singing contest she joined on television five years ago, was edged out through what many believed were unfair systems not once but twice, probably even more, of what may have been her only ticket out of poverty in her early teens.

An example is the recent admission of singer-songwriter Jim Paredes on his blog about his judging a special segment of the contest Charice was in and to whom he and his fellow judges apparently gave high scores. He disclosed that they were asked by the contest staff to reconsider their tallies which appeared to have given Charice the score advantage over all the other contestants.

I, in fact, came across a YouTube video of a segment some years ago in which a wide-grinned and visibly amused head-bobbing Jim Paredes was clapping behind the judges’ table to Charice's song-and-dance performance of I Wanna Dance With Somebody. He may have been referring to that particular special segment in which Charice won.

And then there is the legendary grand finals of the same contest in which Charice, having been called back as a "wildcard" contestant, lost.

p.2 Unboxing Charice and our traditional archetypes (a 3-part post)

PART 1, p2 | Previous p1 ] [ Next p3 ]

The Oprah effect | Perhaps the one significant moment that Charice suddenly became more present in the consciousness of the local cable TV market, i.e. the middle and upper-middle classes — and the general public — was her “Oprah moment” (May 2008) despite her being flown to the US to debut on American television by Ellen DeGeneres for her self-titled show the year before.

Charice, then an awed, over-zealous, US TV greenhorn, appeared fumbling for the right words in English in replying to Ellen in her interview. Her performance, however, merited a standing ovation from the audience and Ellen was still taken over by Charice the next day that she couldn’t help but mention and replay a portion of Charice’s previous-day performance. "It's something to be sitting next to that and you could just smell the star on her," she said back in 2007. "You could just smell it."

For the locals, the Ellen Show appearance came and went despite it being one of the most-watched day-time shows not only in America, in part because it was televised months delayed in the Philippines on cable channels, and partly because Oprah is the more motherly, more affectionate host Filipinos are more aware of and had closely identified with; even local talk show celebrities Sharon Cuneta and Kris Aquino were fans of hers and patterned their earlier show formats after hers.

In between the two American shows was another little-known invitation to perform in London at the Paul O’Grady show. Charice’s passport was stolen just before leaving for London, and poor girl made an appeal on TV about it. She was lucky to have been given a replacement and performed on Paul O’Grady flawlessly albeit nervous and seemingly uneasy conversing in English in interviews with him. His audience let the interview pass but noticed her performances enough to give her another standing ovation.

In her Oprah debut, Charice was more candid. Having just arrived in Chicago straight from the Philippines hours into her number, she sang with the same confidence as in Ellen’s, Paul O’Grady’s, StarKing in Korea in 2007 and all other singing contests she had joined in the Philippines. Her audience gave her an ovation midway through her song and Oprah was stunned. "That was fantastic! Who are you!?," she asked and said, "Thank you so much for flying, all day all night, fifteen hours, and come here in such perfect form...".

Charice would later guest four more times on the show.

Do you see what I see? | Surely there was something in Charice that the seasoned entertainment celebrities in the West saw, their audiences felt the first time they laid their eyes on her but which we, the locals, seem to have missed.

p.3 Unboxing Charice and our traditional archetypes (a 3-part post)

PART 1, p3 | [ p1 ] [ Previous p2 ]

“Glee” | Since confirming speculations about her being cast in the Emmy-awarded Glee series in June this year, and up until the recent airing of its second season premiere in which she appeared, Charice was once again attacked from all fronts by Filipinos even as young as 13 on the Internet.

By this time, Facebook and Twitter had taken over the lives of billions and it was easy to use the cloak of anonymity to vent out ire on someone they did not know personally, had not experienced or seen perform live and hadn't done them direct harm.

For the teens, it may be a case of envy because someone like Charice whom they thought they had the right to verbally bully online looked like one of them. They disliked her because they thought she was cocky, which, really, sometimes Charice may unconsciously, unintentionally come across on stage as being.

Maybe she even looks like their arch-nemesis in school for Charice could put on all expressions on her face when singing and this looked weirdly funny it piqued them. Her movements annoyed them, her songs were old-fashioned. Worse, she sang their parents' cheesy, monumental songs like a grown-up.

At 18, Charice hadn’t grown any taller and developed into a svelte enough young lady since she lost in that singing contest to even come physically close to their preferred local or foreign idols.

A local male DJ and gossip show host known for his sweet but curt jabs at people, in a rare, polite moment on TV just a few days ago, voiced out preference for another Filipina (female) singer to be on Glee in Charice’s stead but did not state why. It sounded like a reflection of an industry that sat out through most of Charice's accomplishments in silent envy, a victim of its self-imposed sanctimony.

Perhaps the DJ's preference might have impressed him as more deserving because she had sex appeal that excited him besides her having certified box-office hits to her name. It didn’t matter how his choice sang, or, to many, how Charice could outsing most every one else with ease. In fact, it didn’t occur to many of Charice’s detractors what Glee’s co-creator was looking out for in the first place.

Their role was to get into the kind of prejudice they knew of that has existed in the consciousness of Filipinos for generations. Meanwhile, most everyone else with little or no access to news about Charice, save for mentions on local gossip shows and magazines, rendered quick judgment on her and they judged superficially they failed to even see the unique nuances of her versions of songs of others.

A well-managed lung power | Thank god for authoritative Hollywood godmothers and godfathers, Charice was taken seriously as a singer.


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