A sentimental homecoming for Marlisa

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - She brought pride to the Philippines last year when she made history as the youngest champion ever of The X Factor Australia. Amidst a busy post-win schedule, the Fil-Aussie singer Marlisa Punzalan has finally found time to revisit her Pinoy roots.

Accompanied by her family (parents Lito and Andrea as well as brother Martin), Marlisa has been doing the rounds of appearances on TV and in Megaworld Lifestyle Malls to promote her self-titled debut album (distributed in the Philippines by Ivory Music & Video), which has already reached Gold status in Australia.

Tomorrow, she will be afforded a grand welcome at the hometown of her parents in Samal, Bataan (where, incidentally, the mother side of American Idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez — who also congratulated Marlisa on her big win October of last year via Twitter — originated).

The STAR had an exclusive chat with the 15-year-old teenager, who was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. Marlisa was able to visit the Philippines when she was nine. “It feels really awesome to be back. The last time I was here I was nine years old; it has been six years since then. I’m really, really happy to be back here and to see every Filipino and my supporters. It’s nice to come back here as a singer because last time, I was a (regular) person,” she said in an interview last Thursday night at Discovery Suites in Ortigas.

 Marlisa proudly spotlighted her cultural heritage during the X Factor Australia contest with her mentor, the famous Irish crooner Ronan Keating, even participating in a traditional dance.

“I really love the Filipino culture, especially the food. Dinuguan is my favorite, I love it! And I love how Filipinos love music a lot; I think they’re more musical here than in Australia,” said Marlisa.

In terms of Filipino values and customs, she said they always make it a point to do the mano gesture to show respect for elders. “I’m blessed to have my Mom and Dad. They teach us to be humble and to be respectful. We couldn’t speak Tagalog at home but we still try to be respectful to others,” she said, adding: “Mom and Dad are really strict with our education because they always stress its importance, how it’s gonna lead us to a happy life. I’m doing homeschool now, as I left my (regular) school. They want me to grow up like a normal teenager so they call up my friends to come over whenever I’m free. (But) they are quite strict (in the sense that) they limit my going out with friends. They don’t want me to get distracted, as I’ve got work to do and I need focus on getting it done.”

Asked if she’s allowed to entertain admirers or like some youngsters her age, have a boyfriend, Marlisa said with a laugh, “No, we’re definitely not allowed! And I don’t think I’m really interested, anyway. So yeah, it’s good in a way!”

According to her father Lito, they spotted early on Marlisa’s talent in music. (Lito is a mechanical engineer who migrated to Australia in the ’80s and then married his Bataan neighbor, Andrea, right after her college graduation at UPLB). At two years old, Marlisa was already singing with her late maternal grandmother as her first music teacher.

“At two years old, she already knew how to sing, meron na siyang tono. At that time, we knew we just had to nurture her (gift),” said Daddy Lito.

Word about Marlisa’s talent eventually spread among Filipino communities in Australia that she became active in fundraisers and guested during the concerts of visiting big-name Filipino artists like Sharon Cuneta and Jose Mari Chan, who also affirmed the young girl’s gift.

The family didn’t think too much of the praises from other people though. “We were not really expecting it,” Lito said of her daughter’s foray into the Australian music scene, “(When the X Factor Australia opportunity came), we thought she’s still too young. But sabi ng teachers niya, give it a go. So, we gave it a go. Everything was just a surprise. Our advice to her now is to keep going, always believe in yourself, always be humble and keep on learning. Ganun lang.

During the X Factor competition, she wowed audiences with her powerful vocal chops, youthful eagerness and fighting spirit, and the sweet victory at the end of the show transformed her life in ways she had not imagined. “My life has changed dramatically! People recognized me a lot more, but they respect me, too, and yeah, they also always ask for photos, and I’m like, yes, sure! It’s really awesome to live my dream.”

What makes her even happier is the fact that she has made Filipinos proud of her. “To be treated like a celebrity, you do feel a lot of respect (since) you’re famous in a country other than the Philippines. So, I think the Filipinos have a lot of respect for me. Yeah, it matters a lot (that Filipinos have respect for me) because that’s my background. They’re die-hard fans.”

Marlisa knows that things are just beginning for her and that there’s so much work to be done. “This is my ultimate dream. Living it is just awesome but it’s just the beginning. It’s not fully there yet. I’m gonna work on myself to become better (bigger). I’m working hard to be recognized.”

Part of the hard work is being receptive to comments. Yes, she reads the comments on social media, whether good or bad. “There’s a lot of constructive comments on social media (laughs). I don’t have anything against them. I take them on board because they’re for my own good. I think they’re just for my improvement.”

Nevertheless, for the young singer, who looks up to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, the main challenge for her now, is to be able to release more good music.

Of course, to gain recognition in other countries is another big dream of hers “but I’m just taking it one step at a time.”

“Yes, that’s my ultimate goal. I don’t wanna rush,” she added. “I wanna build on my career if I can. I’m still lucky to have this opportunity, it’s one in a million, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

And she believes that being Filipino will serve her well on this aspect. “I think it’s a really good advantage because Filipinos are everywhere in the world. If they spread news about me, then more people will recognize my music.”

After the success of her first album, which contained the 2014 X Factor Australia winner’s single Stand By You that debuted at No. 2 on the Australian Recording Industry Association charts and charted in New Zealand, Singapore and other neighboring territories, Marlisa is releasing a new single soon and planning to release another record this year. Marlisa is currently signed with the record label Sony Music Australia.

Marlisa said, “It’s a pressure for me but I’m living my dream, and I consider that really, really lucky for me. I don’t think much people will get to experience it… Yeah, I feel like I’ve taken a huge opportunity at a young age. But I’m really grateful! Yeah, sometimes I feel like, ‘Oh, has God chosen me?’ And I do feel, maybe, I’m not ready yet because I’m still young, and I didn’t expect this at all. But I feel that there’s a reason for everything.”

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