Disney Fil-Am star headed for big time
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2008 - 12:00am

Add Anna Maria Perez de Tagle to the fast-growing roster of Filipino-American (or pure Filipino) talents carving their own names in Hollywood (and other foreign places).

Anna Maria, one of the stars of Disney Channel’s latest smash-hit original TV-movie Camp Rock, admits relishing fame with enthusiastic young fans (and their parents as well) recognizing her wherever she goes. (Camp Rock premiered in the US last June 20 and will be aired in the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia in September.)

“I’m amazed that they are recognizing me more,” she told Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre.

“There was this girl who saw me in the mall and called me by my whole name, Anna Maria Francesca Perez de Tagle. And she knows my whole background.”

Anna Maria — Wengky to family and friends — is better known among Filipinos as the granddaughter of the legendary Sylvia La Torre. Her father is former TV personality Archie Perez de Tagle (now based in San Gabriel, California, with wife Evelyn Enriquez and two older sons, Juan Miguel and Jose) and her aunt is former child star Che-Che Perez de Tagle (now a mom of two and runs a Montessori school also in California).

In Camp Rock, which stars the megastar trio Jonas Brothers and Disney’s hottest find Demi Lovato (touted as the next Miley Cyrus), Wengky plays Ella, a talented yet not-so-smart girl who gets orders from the bossy Tess Tyler (Meaghan Jette Martin) to make the life of Mitchie Torres (Lovato) miserable.

In the end, Ella discovers she doesn’t have to be a follower of Tess to be recognized and let her own talents shine through.

The petite star — who looks fragile as a porcelain doll with her silky, smooth skin and pearly white teeth — has several moments in the movie and gets to display her singing, acting and dancing prowess with other performers that include fellow Fil-Am teen actor Roshan Fegan, a dancefloor dynamite who has the moves of John Prats and Rayver Cruz combined.

“It’s a good part for an Asian actress like me who is often stereotyped during casting,” said the home-schooled Wengky. “I’m really glad Disney is taking care of me.”

She looks up to Reese Witherspoon and Lea Salonga as her role models.

“Lea has an amazing voice. I love her voice; I love the way she handles her professional and personal life.”

Despite her being born and bred in the US, Wengky has never lost touch with her Filipino heritage. In fact, she’ll mark her 18th birthday on Dec. 23 with a debut party “Filipino style.”

Edmund recalled that when a Singaporean journalist asked her how Filipino she is, Wengky quickly replied: “I’m full-blooded Filipino...100 percent! I may not speak Tagalog, but I understand the language very well. I love adobo, lumpia, crispy pata and the sweet spaghetti Filipino style.”

And while carving her niche in Hollywood, Wengky reveals that she makes it a point to watch the TFC — yes, The Filipino Channel — and religiously follows her favorite shows like Kapitan Boom (featuring Jon Avila), Prinsesa ng Banyera (starring Kristine Hermosa), and Lobo (with Piolo Pascual and Angel Locsin).

“I love Jon Avila, he’s the cutest and I want to meet him in person,” Wengky gushed like any other teen movie fan. “I love Kristine Hermosa, she’s so beautiful. I love Piolo Pascual and Angel Loscin. I love Sarah Geronimo. I love Sam Milby. I love Richard Gutierrez and KC Concepcion. I also get to watch GMA shows.”

Wengky, who was a junior finalist at age 12 on CBS’ Star Search (she lost to American Idol runner-up David Archuleta), first found fame appearing with Mylie Cyrus in Disney’s blockbuster show Hannah Montana.

She also had a starring role on the CBS series Cake and a guest role on Nickelodeon’s Just Jordan, and has appeared in the movie Bee Season (starring Richard Gere).

She also hosted Disney’s Sing-Along Bowl-Athon and had a voice-over role in Playhouse Disney’s Higglytown Heroes.

Wengky told Edmund that she’ll start acting in September in an independent drama, The Forgotten Innocence, opposite Fil-Am actor Michael Copon (One Tree Hill), and will continue writing and recording songs.

Mai Tatoy, a Pinay executive for Disney Asia, said it’s not far-fetched that Wengky could follow in the footsteps of another Disney teen superstar, Vanessa Hudgens, who is also Filipino-American.

“Anna Maria is extremely talented, check her out on YouTube,” Edmund quoted Tatoy as saying. “The girl is a star material and she’s lucky she has wonderful and supportive parents who are always by her side.”

Meanwhile, Wengky said she’s thrilled to visit the Philippines “soon” and perhaps perform on ABS-CBN’s ASAP, another favorite show of hers.

“I’ve been to the Philippines twice when I was 10,” she volunteered. “I want to go there again, reconnect with people, check out the malls and some famous tourist spots like Boracay, you know, things I see only on the YouTube.

I want to perform with the Filipino stars. Those are the things I’m excited to do right now.”

(E-mail reactions at rickylo@philstar.net.ph or at entphilstar@yahoo.com)

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