Thursday, September 30, 2010

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.

Having been unfairly pitted locally against older, more established belters not by marketing or strategy but by catfights among fanatical followers, and having limited solos or very little local appearances, and exclusively to just one network at that—even if it was alleged that she never really had an exclusive contract with it save for an album hastily put together by its recording company which Charice recently revealed took only a month to put together after her debut on Oprah, and to which she had obligation to promote—Charice was never really given enough exposure to be recognized for what she really possesses.

When foreign audiences took notice, Charice became more visible on the network's shows. However, she still hadn't a real career in the Philippines and only took what came. She hadn't even a compleat management team, one which should’ve had a strong publicist, or a stylist, at least, and, more importantly, an industry-recognized music trainer. Anyway, so did many singers, many of international calibre, save for a select few, for that is how Philippine showbiz is: an industry with a surplus of talents but without a workable blueprint on how to deal with them.

Occasionally, she'd be a wedding singer to help make ends meet. Whatever career path she thought she may have had in show business was still so unsure at this point that she admitted to Boy Abunda of resigning to being an OFW’s child as her family had almost put Plan B in place — until Oprah’s unexpected call to guest in her show came, that is — meaning, for her factory-worker mother to give up mothering and work abroad.

After Oprah and with a new local CD release to her name — finally — were the occasional, obligatory album promo tours in Metro Manila and sub-urban malls which were announced on short notice that Charice fulfilled. In most of those tours, she’d be given a small stage and puny PA systems that, more often than not, were driven beyond its threshold whenever she hit the powerful notes.

On the side, she would, by this time, appear on the oft-maligned but popular Wowowee, a show in the same network which even the middle-class considered “uncool” and by the elite as uncouth.

If she ever guested on the network’s big Sunday show — an upgrade in status, in that case, as it was a showcase of the network’s premium talents — she was in a tandem or trio. Until recently, she and other singers only sung parts of a medley, most of which, like in contests she joined, would be of difficult cover songs aimed at out-belting fellow singers because it was what the program thought the audience lapped up.

Glossing over Hollywood | What is more known of Charice today is how Oprah — the self-made Forbes Magazine’s most-powerful-people-in-American-entertainment-and-business list favorite Oprah Winfrey, if you hadn’t have heard — put her career on the line for this little known and often misunderstood Filipina singer.

To the masses, this fact seems trivial even today for Oprah Winfrey, as they may have later discovered, is just another black American TV host, if they ever got to watch her shows at all.

To the yuppies, she’s their mother’s favorite after-lunch cable TV companion. To the students closer to Charice’s age, Oprah was simply not in their zone. Meanwhile, those who had the capacity to understand Charice's success or might have had appreciated her talent early on without falling into academic or philosophical rhetoric were just too busy to notice.

To the rest of the working classes, the self-appointed geeks, the machos and their mates, the recently financially-empowered fashionistas and the iPod-toting crowd enveloped in multi-media stimuli, it was beneath them to even know of  Charice as they would rather be seen and heard immersed in technical or esoteric jargon, grooving to the latest dance mixes, be wining and dining at talk-about-town bars and bistros.

They believed, and still do, that the mere mention of her name or affirmation of anything remotely connected to Charice is the death knell of their careers. In other words, they allowed a perceived social stigma to infect them even before they could grab at the chance of rising above it by looking on her phenomenon with an open mind.

A passive reaction | On the other hand, it seemed odd that the local entertainement industry was mostly quiet when then-16-year-old Charice, who, after she appeared on Oprah a second time, shared stage with and was given the limelight by Celine Dion herself, “The Diva” whose songs were covered much on big Sunday variety show productions or in glitzy concerts of the celebrated local divas, and whom the New York Times said of Charice as "impressive...explored the song’s heretofore unheard rougher edges" and The New York Post as the "brightest moment" of Celine's concert.

The industry, for the past three years, seemed rather uninterested that David Foster, a multiple Grammy winner and discoverer of talents that command pricey concert seats, composer of many songs in the repertoire of local productions, would be not just Charice's mentor and producer but her pianist on many events and promotional tours. Could it have even occurred to the hordes of bejeweled, spa-pampered Filipina followers of Josh Groban, Michael Bublé and Andrea Boccelli, talents who Foster discovered, that Foster had lost his mind for agreeing to take this "little upstart" and unsophisticated child-woman Charice into his wings?

It also seemed incidental, his decisions questioned by a public suddenly more aware of Charice that television producer Ryan Murphy, the co-creator/director of smart and successful TV shows and movies of late, picked Charice from among thousands of hopefuls worldwide to finally make her musical series TV debut on Glee as rightful opponent to its Broadway-trained star Lea Michele.

They, the local industry and the general public, were suspicious of his choice and the circumstances around it, even as far as suggesting that Oprah may have tapped Murphy’s shoulders to take a look at her protégé and by-pass all other online auditionees that included two Filipinos identified with Charice’s local network-producer.

Assuming there was any truth to the latter speculation about Charice on Glee, I'd have to say it IS something to even be hand-picked by Oprah Winfrey from among thousands of talented Filipinos for her to twist the arms of a Hollywood colleague and forcibly do her a favor.

I couldn't even start to comprehend how a public would agree to such an anomaly had it been another Filipino singer chosen instead. Could the Filipino from across classes have fallen to such low self-regard as to actually entertain the idea of "making it" — no matter what — by holding on hard to coattails of power and not because of talent or hard work, dedication and commitment? How sad.

Ok, so Charice could sing but could she act, many asked. She hadn’t even done a movie nor credit a box-office hit to her name in the Philippines.

Could she dance? She certainly could, some say, but hip-hop style if not an awkward imitation of Michael Jackson. The audience and judges of the popular Korean StarKing show knew she had the moves when she sang there three years ago, however. The older, more veteran judges of that show even wanted to “learn [to sing like that] from her” after thrilling them with a flawless rendition of the technically difficult And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going), a song usually reserved for older or more mature performers but which Charice sang like she was simply having a good time with.

Charice is spontaneous and does not mind moving with the music, sometimes gracefully, other times times awkwardly, as if the spirit of the notes and rhythms of intricate arrangements had entered her body pressed to possess.

Indeed one of the things I find interesting in Charice is her knack for rendering difficult songs, many not even in my sphere of interest, and make it look like she was enjoying herself throughout.

 original video upload by smee |
(Album promo, Robinson's Dasmarinas, 08/08/09)

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