Waking up with Cher

- Baby K. Jimenez -
L.A. Correspondent

It is 5 a.m. in the West Coast and my plasma, on a program mode, turns on cue: "This is KTLA-Channel 5’s morning news, first edition," the station prompts its 5 to 7 a.m. headlines. Then a captivating female voice vibrates to a resonant decibel making you look at the digital screen as she announces, "Private tapes have revealed that Pres. Bush acknowledged using drugs during his younger days…" A half smile, a second of a pause and an identification, "and I am Cher Calvin." Now you remain glued to give her a second closer look and you realize on top of that grey matter is a pretty face. And guess what? Here’s the real scoop: The survey is just out (as of March 3) that Cher and co-anchor Emmett Miller’s 6 to 7 a.m. slot is the No. 1 most watched news (they placed second to ABC on the 5 to 6 timeslot).

I can’t believe she’s the same girl I met in the autumn of the late ’70s in New York. Her Dad Roger Calvin, one-time actor and friend, heard I was in Manhattan and invited me to lunch in Benihana. Then we took the tram to Roosevelt Island to meet his wife Delia, a psychologist (she did not survive breast cancer) and only kid Cher–(was she four or five years old?)–shyly smiling as she gave me a peck, playing with the collar of her light ski jacket.

"I am now 30!" Cher tells me. She is sitting across me at the Five star Four Seasons Hotel’s café in Beverly Hills. "I am glad I am here in the film capital of the world. Can you believe this weather?" Her smile widens into a grin looking so good as the 77ºF temperature, on a winter’s day where some parts of the country are submerged in white flakes.

Yes, this weather, coupled with the glitzy-irresistible Hollywood, (where her posh apartment is right adjacent to The Grove, that ritzy open shopping mall; only three miles away from Kodak Theatre, scene of the Oscars; and about 17 minutes to Staples Center where you catch Kobe Bryant slam dunk) are among the factors that drove Cher into a drop-everything-and-proceed-to-LA judgment after two years of co-anchoring Fox 5 Morning News at KVVU Vegas. Not to mention the handsome fees involved.

"The offer came like manna from heaven," Roger on my right adds, "she called me and asked my advice–I said, let’s go!"

Cher’s resumé reads like a headhunter’s dream: Broadcast journalism graduate of NYU/Marymount, news desk assistant editor at TIME Mag and CNN, editor-in-chief at NY’s A-PlusList.com; historic start at GMA 7 ensued by award winning ventures at ABS-CBN and her fluency in French.

"I got a bit culture shocked in Vegas though," she honestly recalls as she works slow on a plate of scallops on a bed of greens with baby carrots and half-glazed potato bits in a light dressing, staying away from the high carb ciabatta, ever conscious of keeping that 1994 Ms. New York runner-up figure.

"There were two anchors on the desk and on my first week they took me to lunch and asked what I would be doing there. So I said, ‘I’ll anchor.’ Their eyes popped, unbelieving my info because it meant they would be out the door because of a new hire/replacement–and that’s me. It was not easy to thaw that nippy zone. Turned out that management did not handle it well for both sides. Look, I came from Manila — got spoilt by the Philippine media, the Philippine showbiz, I lost entirely my New York mold–no abrasive attitude that could turn people off and getting totally frank and telling them raw what I felt straight on their face. I got pulverized in Manila–becoming a true softie, so mahinhin, so very calm and simply sat under the radar. No egg shell china facade, I was simply stripped. This change though worked to my best advantage."

The media office in the city of hi-rollers rocked big time. Cher saw it all happen in almost one-and-a-half years: Her co-anchor quitting; most staff members gradually disintegrating and walking away from their jobs–a combo of tornado n’ earthquake, fire n’ rain. But the frenzy did not faze Cher. She knew from her heart she would not let fate be determined by a fast 25-cent play on a slot machine. "There are times you have to think long and hard and at that time, I really did. I wanted to quit too–and in my mind, I was planning to go back to Manila. I sent feelers and if I would go back, I had a new agenda ready–I would repackage myself and probably offer more than what I used to do." Just as she was in the middle of the re-inventing process, an unexpected break came. Management changed hands and Cher finally found herself jubilant. "Wow, the new execs showed an ultra modification. Now everyone came to work and loved it. Imagine seeing cherry blossoms on a desert." The current bosses wished her good luck when she was finally LA-bound. "I will always be grateful to them, I don’t burn my bridges."

Is she seeing anybody? "Nope. Nada. I just got out of a relationship last November. It was nothing serious. Actually I needed a break, a breathing space–and I am enjoying it right now."

So, who would be the guy? "I already know who and what the next time. "The kind of woman I am, I deserve someone who works just as hard as I do. I am very picky and detailed. I need someone who has the same drive and ambition. I do not want to see him sitting on the couch while I toil. One who can keep up with me, who can teach me things, one I can learn from, and can be competitive or better, even ahead — I want to have that excitement that makes you never get bored–I don’t know yet his name but I know what he will be." Cher knows it’s a tall order, "I cannot settle for less. He has to be professional and stable."

"And mature!" Roger quips to conclude, as if telling Cher to be extra careful with wolves.

Cher reacts with her silent lip movements looking at her Dad - trying to say, "He is so strict!" and later verbally, "But I have made him bend."

Then there’s this loudest whisper that George Maloof, that young millionaire business tycoon (only 40ish, owner of Palms on the Strip and also of the Sacramento Kings, not to mention his family’s shares at Wells Fargo bank) is after Cher? She giggles, "No naman, not that way. He is a very nice friend, he would throw parties for me–like last year (August 1, she’s a Leo) for my birthday, he provided two penthouse suites for me and my friends." George also hosted a big congratulatory send-off party for her at the VIP room of Palms and noticeably seen among the attending luminaries was Robin Leach of The Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous fame.

Will George see Cher when the Kings play ball against the Clippers or Lakers here soon? "I don’t know," her tone evasive. One thing I know for sure, George has her cell number.

Roger and Delia did not have a hand in making Cher choose her career. "This is what I really want to be and I am fortunate my parents gave me the liberty to choose."

"I told her it is okay if you want to be a movie star, it’s in your genes. But if you will, you have to be decent. Tipong Susan Roces! But Cher chose to go the other route and we supported her all the way," Roger says.

Cher is up so early–2:30 a.m. to get to work Monday to Friday, while it is a very short drive (situated on the eastern side of Sunset Boulevard, KTLA is affiliated with Warner Brothers and Chicago Tribune), she has to read all the newspapers, write and edit her stuff and really get ready for the live broadcast. She doesn’t usually leave the studios till about 12:30 noon. She loves talking to Stan Chambers, a broadcast institution who has been in the industry for 58 years (one of KTLA’s buildings is named after him). "He is so humble, he comes to my office, and answers all my questions – he’s a walking reference, he sure has a way of digging up his stories and shares me his secret."

Her weekends are spent on going to the movies, jogging and being at her favorite beaches like Manhattan and Huntington. "How nice to have lunch while viewing the blue horizon."

"I love my independence, my freedom, my privacy! My Mom used to tell me that I can say I have truly arrived if I get to be totally self-sufficient — and that includes being financially secure. Hey, I am getting there! I want to buy my own home next year."

So is it all career that should take precedence?

"Oh, you forgot to ask me how I picture myself a few years from now," she turns the table and volunteers to say, "I see myself surrounded with kids! I want a family! Now that will make me totally fulfilled!"

On that note, we all stand up to head for the lobby to retrieve our cars. She asks for my parking card and leaves me with Roger. Roger puts his arm around me and says, "It is okay, let her do it." We both watch Cher as she goes to the valet in charge. Her car is up first and Roger asks for the keys from her. Cher looks amused when Roger positions himself on the driver’s seat. Still Dad’s little girl? In a way maybe, as she hugs as if to say, "Let’s have lunch again po." You cannot miss how she has kept the good Pinoy magalang trait.

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