MANILA, Philippines - It’s easy to draw parallels between Kimpoy Feliciano and Justin Bieber. Apart from Kimpoy’s parody of the Biebs’ Boyfriend teaser video, both boys exploded into pop cultural consciousness via YouTube. While Justin Bieber’s career took off with videos showcasing his ridiculously good pipes, Kimpoy’s fame started with an awkward delivery of pick-up lines, fueled by an innate charm that has made his target demographic (mostly teenage girls) whip up into a frenzy. It wouldn’t hurt to see a dance-off between Kimpoy and the Biebs though, and judging by the former’s “Teach Me How to Dougie Video,” Kimpoy can definitely rock a dance number, something that he showed on a Party Pilipinas recently.
This all still seems too strange and unreal at times for Kimpoy. He has spent most of his life as a regular schoolboy, trying to get good grades and figuring to get his “ka-torpehan” out of the way. Four years ago, his family moved to Dunedin, New Zealand, where his father now works. Kimpoy made a Facebook account to keep in touch with his friends back home. And that became the trigger that turned his life on its head.
“Ang purpose talaga nung Facebook ay para makausap ko pa mga kaibigan ko dito. Suddenly, out of nowhere I’m receiving friend requests na sobrang dami. Wala pa akong ginagawa nun. Yung mga naga-add sa akin were asking me if I had a Tumblr account. Alam ko yung ate ko may Tumblr din so gumawa ako ng blog sa Tumblr. Dun dumami yung followers ko. Yung mga pino-post ko doon just about myself, pictures, random quotes, nasundan ng ‘Pinoy Banats’ video na nanunang pinanood ng Tumblr followers ko. Naging viral kasi dinala nila sa Facebook,” he recalls.
A digitized celebrity
His rise to fame seems a likely phenomenon in this digitized age. In some ways, he is a mass-marketed avatar of the times; an online presence whose perceived level of cuteness pushes the right buttons for his target market. He didn’t need a talent center or a reality show; the web is a huge channel for wannabes and starlets preening for our attention spans. In a pocket of this universe, Kimpoy holds thousands of starry-eyed kids, which he fondly calls “mga mahal,” in his sway.
For Kimpoy, this fame is more of a happy detour than a steady career path. “Gusto kong magkaroon ng sariling restaurant,” he says. “That’s why I took Business Management. Kasi, importante pa rin yung pag-aaral. Maganda pa rin yung meron ka pa ring degree. Pag-usapan namin ng family ko if kailangan na nandito, dito ako mag-continue mag-aral pero hindi ako mag-stop.”
Living up to responsibilities
But this steady gain of followers, as well as awards (he was recently hailed a “Thought Mover” by the Globe Tatt Awards, which he received via Skype), also adds pressure and responsibility to Kimpoy. His blog and Twitter account have become a repository of pep-talk quotes and advice on different adolescent issues ranging from relationship woes, parental disconnect, and personal problems. His Tumblr Ask inbox receives about 500 messages per day. It was all mostly harmless until someone asked him whether she should get an abortion.
“Nagulat ako dun,” he recounts. “Natatakot sya baka kung anong gawin ng parents nya. Yung boyfriend naman nya hindi raw sya iiwanan so sabi ko maganda yung ganun na nandyan sya para sayo. Natatakot kasi siya na baka kung anong gawin sa kanya, o palayasin sya since nagaaral pa sya. Sabi ko sabihin nya sa parents nya kasi kahit anong mangyari, magulang mo pa rin sila. Nung una, nagalit yung dad nya, syempre yung (expected) reaction from a father pero eventually naging okay na sila, lalo na nung lumabas na yung baby. Pagkatapos ko siyang sagutin, nawala sya tapos nagulat na lang ako na sinabi nya na hindi nya tinuloy yung abortion and she named her baby after me, si Baby Paolo.”
Educating younger markets
One can throw many accusations at Kimpoy: that he’s a wannabe, or that he’s shallow and irrelevant, but unlike celebrities that are content with just being a figure, Kimpoy steps up to the challenge of becoming a model for his followers. He knows that interaction with them shows how much he cares, even if he’s in New Zealand most of the time. He finds little ways to talk to them, occasionally doing TwitCam chats. But Kimpoy doesn’t perceive himself as a celebrity, or someone a cut above the rest. He’s still that kid who just happened to have an opportunity to blaze a trail and realize a dream. Even though he has a manager now, every meet-up he sets for his followers is still the same informal event, untouched by marketing gimmicks or budgeted sponsors.
“I don’t take them for granted. Masaya ako na andyan sila at sinusuportahan nila ako. Saka yung alam nila na pareho kami, na nagiging inspiration ako sa kanila. Na from a nobody, ngayon lalabas na sa TV, nagkaron ng commercials, parang naiisip nila na ‘Ah, may pag-asa ako!” he says.
This innate relationship with his peers is what made Universal Records and his managers believe that he can be a powerful change agent. After a 10-day visit to Manila, packed with recording sessions, TV guestings and fan meet-ups, Kimpoy takes this all in with his signature puffed-up smile and a tweet spreading nothing but good, good vibes.
“Over the years, music formats have evolved and we are currently in transition from using the CD format to digital downloads to enjoy our music. Kimpoy is part of the new generation of music lovers,” explains Kathleen Dy-Go, managing director of Universal Records. “Though him, we hope to educate the younger markets to download legally. Plus, unknown to many, Kimpoy can really sing and it’s evident in the singles that we’ll be releasing. The songs capture Kimpoy’s persona — romantic, funny and youthful.”
There have been a lot of personalities made and unmade by the democratic power of the Internet. Some cyber-celebrities have a shelf life as short as a radar blip. Once-prominent faces every day become eclipsed by fresher batches of memes that will soon also be swallowed by the black hole of the internet. As for Kimpoy, haters will probably dismiss him as a fleeting pop cultural phenomenon — a tag that is only up to Kimpoy and his legions of fans to prove otherwise.
“Ang gusto ko lang dati, makita ko sarili ko sa TV or makasayaw ako sa Party Pilipinas. And naging dream come true na! Amazing,” Kimpoy quips. “Saka tinanong ko yung lola ko nung nannood kami ng PBB (Pinoy Big Brother), kung gusto nyang ako na maging housemate o makita sa TV. Ngayon natupad pero wala na sya ngayon. Saying hindi nya na makikita.”
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Special thanks to Universal Records, Orion Entertainment, and Cocoon Hotel (Scout Tobias, Quezon City).
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