What Nina Gave Up for Singing
- Almond N. Aguila () - April 3, 2005 - 12:00am
Among the various things Nina gave up for singing, it is the simplest and the most basic that feels the most like sacrifice.

"I always order halo-halo without ice. If I want to eat ice cream, I have to let it melt first or else microwave it. I also don’t eat spicy food or mint candies. I don’t know about other singers but sa akin kasi maganda na ang ganito," explains Nina as she scoops out the ice cubes from her iced tea.

That doesn’t sound much of a big deal considering she makes a good living using her vocal chords. But this diligence is not a result of her recent popularity as a recording artist and concert star. The truth is Nina has been on this unusual diet since the age of five when her father realized she had the potential.

"Of course, it was hard for me especially since he imposed this rule on me as a child. But you get used to it. No, I have never been tempted to cheat,"insists the singer who looks younger and more petite (at only an inch over five feet) in person.

There is no real proof the diet actually preserves her voice but Nina swears it takes her no more than three days to recover from throat infections. Aside from the diet, she also keeps fit by playing badminton with her non-showbiz friends. It helps that her manager, Girlie Rodis, keeps her schedule at a reasonable pace–totally junking Nina’s crazy four-gig days that used to take her in and out of Manila within a few hours.

Obviously, she has come a long way since her father started her on a repertoire of Frank Sinatra, Matt Monroe and Julio Iglesias songs. Gone were the days she vocalized while submerged (ala Regine Velasquez) in drum of water. Filbert Giraldo’s unconventional training came from his experience as a member of the Bayanihan Boys’ Choir. But unlike Mang Gerry who has never wavered in supporting his daughter’s singing career, Nina’s dad changed his tone as she grew older.

From a professional music career, Filbert diverted her attention to earning a college degree and eventually joining him in the US to find work. Nina took up Accountancy at Miriam College. The choice was not that difficult since she was good in numbers and he too was an accountant.

But, after Accountancy, her dad wanted her to go to law school. "Saan na papasok ang kantahan?," she would ask. "Siya nag-push sa akin nun tapos biglang ayaw na niya. Hindi ko alam. Siguro frustration niya na hindi siya naging singer–wala din siyang napuntahan maski he was a member of the Bayanihan singing group. Nag-travel din siya. And he saw na wala siyang future with the group kaya ayaw niyang mangyari din sa akin yun."

So Nina went against his wishes and joined a band at the age of 17. He gave up trying to stop her but insisted she maintain good grades. This, she says was not that hard to do since she preferred studying to entertaining guests between sets. In fact, Nina was consistently a dean’s lister. She earned her degree in 2000 even though taking the Accountancy board (a requirement for practicing) is no longer a goal.

Instead, she became a seasoned vocalist in bands like XS, The Big Thing, MYMP, Silk and Essence. Nina calls herself a papa’s girl. But, in time, she learned to do things on her own. She developed her own musical taste at the tender age of seven–idolizing powerful female singers like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Ella Mae Saison. Then, two short months after her dad died suddenly of a heart attack in the US, Nina signed her first recording contract with Warner Music Philippines.

"Ang huli niyang habilin talaga sa akin ay: ‘Hoy, magtrabaho sa States ha.’ Yun ang gusto niya sa akin. Naku naiiyak ako," she says unexpectedly while wiping instant tears. "‘Ayaw ko talaga eh,’ sabi ko. Gusto kong kumanta talaga eh. Eto na, eto na tapos ayaw talaga nya. Everytime sasabihin ko yung tungkol sa singing, iniiba nya yung topic."

Despite her dad’s disapproval, Nina produced an amateur demo tape with the help of a friend. It was just Nina’s voice recorded in a home studio with a guitar for accompaniment. That was really all it took. Ricky Ilacad, the managing director of Warner, was so impressed he wanted to sign her up without even seeing or hearing her in person.

Nina Heaven,
her debut album, was released in December 2002. Instant hits were cuts like Jealous, Loving You and Foolish Heart. It achieved double platinum status. Nina Smile, her second album, is certified gold. Her third recording project was a compilation of Diane Warren love songs where Nina was honored to be the only Filipino joining the ranks of Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, LeAnn Rimes, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Shanice, Brandy and Expose.

Her rendition of I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend gave her the chance not only to get her foot into the international market but also to play the piano live for the first time.

"I play a little bit of the guitar and the piano," she explains. "Pero kina-career ko na ngayon ang pagpa-piano. Hindi kaya ng daliri ko yung guitar. Piano kasi hindi ka magkakakalyo at bagay sa babae."

Nina knows mastering the piano is her ticket to becoming a composer. She has written the lyrics of one of her songs (Can’t Say I love You in her second album Nina Smile). But she has yet to write melodies. A keyboardist friend is now giving her private lessons until June when he leaves for a stint abroad.

Her interest in the piano should be credited to her brother King who is also pursuing a singing career. The act was far from selfless though. It was a case of the kuya talking his nine-year-old sister into substituting for him when he didn’t feel like going. "Dun ako natuto ng Do-Re-Mi. Hindi naman nagtaka ang teacher na ako ang nagpunta instead of him," she recalls with a chuckle.

The guitar was a different story and involved a different kuya who was into that particular instrument. This time she expressed the interest in learning. Nina can play guitar chords and can follow charts on her own. But piano won over the guitar.

Says Nina, "My first public appearance playing the piano was on TV pa sa Pop Ko ’To.’ It was a big concert sa Kodak Theater with all the Warner artists. I played the piano siempre with the accompaniment of the band for the song I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend, yung bago nga ni Diane Warren. Piano based kasi siya kaya talagang pinag aralan ko yung song para maka-play nga ako on TV. Warner has been supportive of me playing the piano. Of course, they want people to see a different side of me as a performer."

Her current album, Nina Live, features her at her best. The live recording contains 18 songs she sang in a show at the Metro Walk in January. Aside from Wednesday performances at Bagaberde with her band Essence, Nina is seen weekly on ABS-CBN’s ASAP.

If you believe rumors, you shouldn’t be fooled by her public persona. Intrigues have it that she is hiding a dark secret. Take your pick: She is pregnant, a single mom, a pervert or Jimmy Bondoc’s bitter ex-girlfriend. Nina and those who know her best (even Jimmy who keeps denying ever being more than just a friend) laugh at all the wild stories.

At 24, she enjoys going out with friends but is not actively dating. She has never had a boyfriend and isn’t exactly looking for one. "Pag siguro nakita ko na yung guy for me. Yung gusto ko nang makasama forever. We have to get along well at napapatawa nya ako. Kasi mahilig akong tumawa. What about marriage? Basta before I’m 30."

For now, it’s enough that singing occupies most of her time. The thing that excites her most these days is a two-night concert at the Music Museum on May 27 and 28. Even it’s working title–Nina Just Wanna Have Fun–promises to be different from those she has done before. "Ngayon pa nga lang, nagsimula na kaming mag-rehearse ng dance numbers. Yes, I will not just be singing but dancing as well," Nina gushes while incidentally explaining why she is in jogging pants and her head covered in a bandana.

Ironically, she doesn’t like watching concerts. She wasn’t even tempted to see Michael Jackson or Boyz 2 Men. The first and last she ever watched since becoming a professional singer was her idol Mariah Carey’s Manila performance.

But mention American Idol and Nina sits up and listens. She rarely gets a chance to catch the most successful TV singing contest to date. So, whenever someone updates her on the comings and goings of AI contestants she is rooting for, she is all ears. Nina didn’t hide her disappointment when told that Mario Vasquez backed out due to "personal reasons."

The show hits close to home for this AI fan. She is, after all, a singing contest veteran. Her first TV victory was on GMA 7’s Lunchdate where she was declared a daily winner in the Bulilit Jamboree in 1985. The most unforgettable competition was, no doubt, Tanghalan ng Kampeon which was then hosted by Bert "Tawa" Marcelo and Pilita Corrales. Twelve-year-old Niña Giraldo (her real name) reigned champion for seven weeks in 1991. Among her winning songs were Better Days and Mariah Carey’s Love Takes Time which are still in her repertoire to this day.

Asked if the Nina we know resembles the Niña she used to be, the singer quickly replies: "Niña is a very shy girl. Talagang kung hindi mo kakausapin, hindi siya makikipag-usap talaga. Sobra akong mahiyain–yun ang naging problema ng dad ko sa akin. Pero nung naging Nina na ako, kinailangan ko nang magsalita. I have to express my opinions and talk to people. Kung si Niña yan, di na yan magsasalita. Pero si Nina mas open na sa tao."

DIANE WARREN I DON MARIAH CAREY NINA NINA SMILE PERO PIANO SINGING WHITNEY HOUSTON
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