MANILA, Philippines - When Filipino Alexander Martinez joined the reality contest “Poland’s Got Talent,” one thing got him going all the way to the finals: home.
For 13 years, he worked as an entertainer in this strange, faraway land with many unpronounceable names and a winter that is the direct opposite of the weather in his native Cebu. Poland also has a very small Asian – and even smaller Filipino – population. And even if he would perform the whole night every night in bars, he still could not save enough money to buy a plane ticket home.
“My earnings were never enough, and I really missed my family in the Philippines. I wanted to come home. This was my motivation, and with the support of my wife, I joined Poland’s Got Talent,” Alex told STARweek during his homecoming last Tuesday.
His story captured the imagination of judges and audiences of Poland’s version of the widely popular reality show that has spun off global franchises, including one in the Philippines. Still, according to his Polish wife Zanet, they had their apprehensions.
The biggest one was that his skin color might turn off viewers. “To be honest, there are not many dark-skinned people in Poland,” shared Zanet. While the show drew other foreign contenders who are also based in Poland, Alex was the only Asian who made the cut.
“Naturally, we were thinking Polish people would vote for one of their own,” Zanet added.
But Alex wowed judges and audiences alike in episode after episode, with his versatile vocal range that could even interpret songs like “Time To Say Goodbye,” which was originally sung by female artist Sarah Brightman.
So, from the thousands of candidates who auditioned, they were whittled down to 100, then 10, then the final three. The night before the finals, Alex was running a high fever. Doctors already grew concerned as they attended to him.
What pulled Alex through was the experience that he had seen days much worse than that. For Alex, who worked all over the Middle East as entertainer before settling in Poland, the show must go on, come what may.
He chose to perform an opera number entitled “The Final Countdown” and floored the jury made up of Polish actress Malgorzata Foremniak, rock star Agnieszka Chylinska, and controversial showman Kuba Wojewodzki, who gushed over his breathtaking rendition, showering him with superlatives and high praise.
“More than his talent, they told me that it was his good attitude that endeared him to the Polish audiences. It really shone through,” Zanet declared with overflowing pride.
While the total votes failed to catapult Alex to the top spot – it went to a 27-year-old accordionist – he still received 5,000 euros – plus an answer to his prayer. A travel agency sponsored the plane tickets to the Philippines for him, his wife and 10-year-old daughter Vanessa.
When an emotional Alex finally set foot in Cebu last week after 13 long years, he confesses that it no longer looked like the Cebu that he had left. He felt a bit like a stranger and said he has missed so much, indeed. But once surrounded by family and friends in his hometown in Minglanilla in the southern part of the province, where he once served as a barangay tanod, it was home sweet home all over again.
“I really wanted to show and introduce my wife and daughter to my family here, my neighborhood, where I grew up, where I used to sing in church,” said Alex.
The couple met when Alex was performing in a bar situated on a floor above the supermarket where Zanet was employed. Their relationship developed when Zanet, who was the only one among the employees who knew English, was always instructed by the owner of both the bar and the supermarket to communicate with Alex, who spoke no Polish then.
“I love it here, I love the people, I love his family, the place...everything,” Zanet enthused.
His homecoming also included a visit to his former alma mater, the University of the Visayas, where as a student he was a member of the campus choir, the UV Chorale. Asked to give some words of advice to the young singers, Alex said, “I just don’t like singing – I love singing. If you love something, you’ll get success out of it.”
Alex has since returned to Poland to fulfill concert commitments, one of which will be held at the capital in Warsaw. During the interview, he happily noted that what he earns for an hour now is equivalent to what he would get from an entire night of performances before.
He has already guested in several TV shows, and is treated like a local star, as he attracts crowds when he goes to the mall, and gets requests for photos and autographs.
His wife also reveals that many recording companies have expressed interest in signing him up, including Sony and Universal Records, and are waiting for his return to finalize negotiations.
But the former choirboy still has a special place in his heart for his home country, and still harbors the hope that he would one day be given the chance to embark on a musical career in the Philippines.