MANILA, Philippines - When international singing phenom Charice celebrated her 21st birthday last May 10, she intimated to me that her party was her “coming out” of sorts. That night, she was ecstatic, elated and electrified because finally she was having her “birthday debut,” something that she did not experience when she turned 18 because of her hectic singing engagements abroad.
Instead of wearing a pink gown as she walked down the spiral staircase, she wore a pair of black pants, a pink long-sleeved shirt with a fuchsia bow tie on the night of her celebration. Instead of long locks stubbornly gathered in a bun, she wore a short do that was slightly licked with hair wax, the emphasis was given on her sideburns. Shod in a pair of Sperry, she dashed to the makeshift stage of Cool Breeze, a rented pool resort in Calamba City to regale her 67 guests with a mini concert. Most of the guests were her childhood friends from Gulod, a barrio in Cabuyao, Laguna. Charice was only seven when she, her mother Raquel and brother Carl transferred to this seemingly quiet, bucolic community.
For an hour or so, Charice was singing her heart out, as if telling her audience, if not the entire public, to hear her loud and clear. In her powerful voice, as she sang 15 songs that night, was a message of newfound independence, a clear shout out to the world that she was free, uninhibited, without apologies.
“I feel free as a bird, Ninong Büm,” she told me with a big smile crisscrossing her face before she began her performance. We were at her dressing room, which was filled with a few more pairs of pants, pastel-colored long-sleeved shirts and bow ties. That night, she was to have, as she put it, “three costume changes.”
“Where is this feeling of freedom coming from, hija?” I asked her as I tried to help her fix her suspenders.
“I’m able to express myself better now. I have come to accept the real me. I have come to love the real me. I now celebrate the real me,” she said, expressing her thoughts in one breath, in straight English without her acquired American twang.
“Even if you have earned a sizeable amount of bashers?” I probed.
“Noong bata pa po ako na wala kami halos makain, may nangungutya na sa akin. Ngayon, kahit i-bash nila ako nang i-bash, nakakakain na po ako at ang pamilya ko,” she meekly explained, adding that her financial status now “is still very, very good.” (In fact, just last Saturday, Charice bought herself a silver BMW, which she paid in cash and nicknamed “Captain.”)
“Even if I don’t work for 10 or more years, I know we will still eat. But why will I do that? The only thing that is changed in me is my look, my perspective. My voice remains the same.”
Charice said she is committed to do shows in Indonesia and Germany soon. In June, she will be back in Los Angeles to fulfill some recording commitments. She will also do a show and recording in Japan soon. A guesting on Ellen is also in the offing. She’s still in contact with Ellen DeGeneres, she said.
Charice also told me Oprah knows about her bashers. “Oprah just told me to keep my cool and not be affected. I assured her, ‘Yes, Oprah, I can handle them. My spirit is made of titanium I will not break’.”
She humbly added: “But I’m thankful to my bashers, too. They make me so much stronger. I love them. I offer them peace. And I will forever be grateful to those who have loved me since Day One.” She also mentioned her gratitude to the worldwide Chasters, her fans club.
Charice also said she found a friend in Barbra Streisand. “She was one of those who told me I don’t owe anybody any explanation.”
Before I could ask another question, she ran to the door with her right hand tightly clasping my left hand. She was hurrying me to go to the stage ahead because that night, I was the emcee. And she lovingly requested me a week before her bash to be the one to introduce her to the crowd before her special performance.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I began, “she doesn’t need any introduction not because she is famous now but because she grew before our very eyes… Charice!”
“Hindi pa po ako kakanta,” she cautioned me from the table in front of the stage, giggling. “Mag-bo-blow muna po ako ng candle sa cake.”
“Never mind, just come up the stage,” I hushed back, smiling. She came up the stage. We held hands.
The cake was presented to her by Glenn Alcabasa Aldueza, a young businessman from Gulod and a very close friend of Charice. Glenn will soon be the business manager of Charice in the Philippines, I was told.
I led the singing of the Happy Birthday song. And immediately after, Charice, with a silent, serene and sparkly smile, made a wish; then she blew the candles on her birthday cake. Everybody stood up and gave her a thunderous applause. Then she gently took the microphone from me, signaled the band whose members were also from Gulod and began to regale the crowd with her distinct melodious voice. (Believe me, she sings so much better now!)
Included in her meaningful and well thought out repertoire that night were the following songs: Hinahanap-hanap Kita, Nasa Iyo na ang Lahat, Ako’y Sa’yo at Ika’y Akin, Bleeding Love, Moves Like Jagger, Locked Out of Heaven, Cool Off, Kisapmata, Mirror, Pusong Bato, Love on Top, Just Give Me a Reason and, of course, Pyramid. When she sang Yeng Constantino’s Salamat, she became emotional. Later on she confided to me that that song was for her mother.
The crowd went gaga, especially when she beautifully breezed through Pink’s “Perfect,” the song, which, she told me during our ninong-inaanak bonding a week before her birthday, best described her life now.
“You’re the man, Charice! You’re the man!” I shouted animatedly in my utmost admiration of a pure and humble talent before me.
Charice, perspiring profusely as she enjoyed her party, just winked at me.
That night, indeed, the international singing phenom was very free.