Toni returns to her roots
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Toni Gonzaga returns to her roots, in more ways than one, with the release of her brand-new album. For one, it is (real) self-titled with Celestine, her actual name. It also reminds listeners that long before the 30-year-old Toni became popular as a host, her original plan was to be a singer and recording artist.

Produced by Star Records, Celestine features 10 tracks and her songwriting, with two songs — Awit ni Ginny (inspired by her movie character in the box-office hit Starting Over Again) and This Love Is Like — she wrote and co-wrote (with Jonathan Manalo), respectively.   

One can say that singing is Toni’s first talent, first dream, first love. She recalls to entertainment reporters, “Ever since I can remember, I was always singing, starting at the age of three or four. My parents were both choir members, my auntie is a conductress in our church, so I grew up in church choirs. At the age of eight, they already included me in a praise and worship band.

“Eventually, I said I wanted to pursue singing. I started looking for different auditions here in Manila because I’m from a small town in Taytay, Rizal. I auditioned for singing competitions, noontime shows — sometimes they would get me, sometimes not, then I would win, then lose. The biggest competition I joined was the Metropop search in 1997. I was the youngest contestant at the time. I made it to the Top 13 but wasn’t fortunate enough to win it. Since nothing was happening (with my attempts), I became a lounge singer for three years in different hotels.”

Then, in 2001, Toni was cast in the unforgettable I Love You, Piolo softdrink commercial, which opened wide the doors for her to enter showbiz. She got her first break as host on GMA 7’s Eat, Bulaga!, moved to ABS-CBN to do more hosting, made movies in between, and as she was getting noticed and somehow gaining a voice in the management of her career, “so I said, I also know how to sing. In 2005, they (ABS-CBN) trusted me with my (first) album.”

Toni acknowledges that she’s more identified as a host these days, although becoming one was unintentional. Interestingly, it was through her singing that her gift of gab (not to mention comic timing) was discovered. “In the beginning, when I was starting in the biz, I was getting all this recognition (as a host). Sabi ko, hindi ko talaga alam ang buong konsepto because my original plan was to be a singer (but) I realized that it wasn’t really the plan of the Lord. When I was singing in lounges, I did more talking because it kept the guests entertained. (Little did I know,) I would become a host. Right now, I’m a host that can sing, that can act,” says Toni, who does the weekly sitcom Home Sweetie Home with John Lloyd Cruz and is back as host of Pinoy Big Brother and very recently, The Buzz. 

To recall, Toni left The Buzz when it was reformatted late last year. She says the break has served her well. “I embrace it now fully because it’s given (to me). I came from (the talk shows) ETK, then E-Live, you know, I was so hungry to get there, to be a talk-show host, to be a showbiz-oriented talk-show host. I was so eager that I couldn’t chill and relax. Now, when I was given time to rest from the show, I was able to breathe, to enjoy again the things happening in my life when I returned on The Buzz. I’m firmer with my decisions, and better at handling issues and controversies.”

With all the excitement going on in her career, she says that nothing keeps her more grounded than going home and being surrounded by family. â€œI still live with my parents, so I always have someone to talk to and have someone to remind me who I really am. And I’m very thankful this album was (titled) after my real name because it reminds me…of what my core is. It’s like going back to your roots, to who you really are as a person.”

With her enviable position in the biz, the question on whether she fears losing her relevance as an artist (becoming laos or a has-been) naturally crops up. Toni turns introspective, “When I was younger, around 20 or 21, I made my first hit movie, D’ Anothers, then You’re The One, hosted Pinoy Big Brother, then we released the We Belong album. Everything I was doing at that time was surprising. While all that was happening, at the back of my mind there was such fear and worry that I would always question, until when will these things last?

“But I realized — because I love reading, I read a lot of books, I read the Bible — parang He (God) spoke to me not out loud but just an impression to me. Parang nagugulat ako sa mga nangyayari tapos I got so caught up with the world as to how to stay the pace, how to be accepted by everyone, and it could be tiring. Tapos parang sabi nya sakin… hindi ikaw ang may kagagawan ng lahat ng ito, ako ang nagbigay n’yan, wala kang kailangan alalahanin…I realized that.

“From now on, I don’t have any fear because it’s hard to live with fear. You’re always on the edge and when (good things) happen, you won’t be happy. I have realized that fear only happens when we feed what we fear. The more you worry, the more you think about it, the more it grows and it will consume your whole being. And when it eats you up, you cannot enjoy the blessings given to you anymore.

“In my heart, I’m not afraid of it now… kasi darating at darating tayo dun. Artistas have an expiration date. And as long as you are given the chance and the trust, you have to give your best, maximize all your opportunities, so that when the time comes that you feel (your career) is about to ‘expire,’ you can rest and tell yourself that I’ve already done what I’m supposed to do. That’s why I’m saving up. Because should the time come when (people) have grown tired of you, you have nothing to fear because you know you gave your all.”

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