Toni talks about ‘passion project’ that feeds the soul

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Toni talks about �passion project� that feeds the soul
Toni Gonzaga: ‘It’s so much fun when you’re doing something that feeds your soul. That’s the best thing. It just feeds my soul everytime I talk to people, I hear their stories parang grabe yung baon. I feel blessed to hear their story, and to earn that right, na pagkatiwalaan nila ang Toni Talks to share their story. Sobrang blessing yun.
STAR / File

Call it her passion project or an experiment that worked, but Toni Gonzaga has found a platform that, in her own words, “feeds my soul.”

This is Toni Talks, the 37-year-old actress-host’s YouTube series of in-depth interviews with different people, from in and out of showbiz, but all with incredible stories to tell.

A number of these Toni Talks videos became No. 1 trending video on YouTube, including her most-viewed What Candy Did For Her Son Quentin To Graduate, where comedienne Candy Pangilinan talked about her life as a single mom raising a child with special needs. The video earned 5.6 million views in just a month. Also a must-watch are her videos about Catholic lay preacher Bo Sanchez’s COVID journey and book author Joy Mendoza’s story of forgiveness after she was raped as a teenager by seven men in her own home.

It isn’t hard to realize that through this talk series born during the pandemic, Toni gets to do what she does best — and more. It has also helped the once-reluctant YouTuber reach close to 4 million subscribers on YouTube as of writing.

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, Toni said that the idea of opening up her own YouTube channel originated from her younger sister and “vlogging queen” Alex Gonzaga, who at first wanted them to have a joint account.

It took some time to convince Toni because she felt the platform didn’t suit her personality. More so, she thought she could never be as upbeat and open as Alex, and pull off what she does — pranks and all — in her own channel.

“Para kaming yin and yang, na it took me so many years to accept that it’s her personality. We always clashed back during our teenage years because I wanted her to be like me, a little discreet ganyan, and then I realized we’re born with different personalities and we have to respect that,” Toni said.

Even though in the movies, she is the “perky one” and likes “doing that part in my job as an actress because yun talaga ang mga gusto kong roles, mga rom-com,” Toni is laidback and quiet in real life. “Ganito lang naman ako, kalma lang ako na tao.”

Nevertheless, when Toni finally said yes to YouTube in 2019, she thought her first video entries were “boring”. “Pinanood ko kay Alex. Sabi ko, ano ba ‘to?! Okay ba ‘to? (Sabi niya), ‘Yan ka naman talaga eh, so wala ka naman talagang magagawa.’”

And that’s what she learned from her sister — to be herself. “What I love about my sister and what she really taught me is that you have to be unapologetically true to yourself.”

Toni admitted that when she started vlogging, she wasn’t sure about making a career out of it due to her “day job” at her home network ABS-CBN. One thing clear to her from the onset though is that each video needs to send a message. “I just didn’t want to share what’s going on behind the scenes in my life. Somehow, I wanted to convey a message in my video. So, the first video I uploaded was Why It Pays To Wait. And it was very clear, when I did that video, that the intention was there’s a prize if you wait for the right time.”

Her YouTube channel discovered a new purpose over the pandemic after the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise. Toni remembered telling her husband, film director/producer Paul Soriano, “Shucks wala na kaming work, because of what happened with the network. Sabi ni Paul, what’s left with you, ano natira? Sabi ko, I have my YouTube. He said, then work on what’s left. And then from there, you build yourself, you build your dreams again. Parang, just work on what’s left and look what’s in front of you because great things can start from the smallest things you have if you just use them for good.”

Toni, who’s also celebrating her 20th year in showbiz, talked more about how she’s now using her channel to share the stories and life journeys of other people in our recent virtual chat. Read on.

On how Toni Talks came to be:

“The idea came from Paul. Nakita niya ako buong pandemic, all I ever did was watching interviews that can stir my soul, change my mind, really uplift me and instill positive mindset because di ba, what we went through with our network, tapos pandemic pa, parang sabay-sabay, so nag-shutdown ako sa mga ingay sa labas. And it helped me a lot. Nawala yung darkness kahit papaano, nagkaroon ng lightness. Hindi ka na nag-focus dun sa masama, naghanap ka sa mga bagay na mabubuti pa ring nangyayari sa buhay mo.

“Then Paul said, why don’t you do something like that? Sabi ko, like what? (He said) yung mga talks that you are watching, that you like to watch… you have your platform. And so, it actually just started with me, Paul and AC (Sales), my road manager. Three lang kami. Tapos siya na naghanap ng editor, sa office lang namin shinu-shoot. It really started as a three-person project.

“Although now, in all honesty, wala na rin say si Paul (sa guests)… basically it’s just me and AC brainstorming and doing the work of 10 people. The work of the production is divided between two people. Tapos si Paul yung parang (ABS-CBN COO) Cory Vidanes (laughs) report-report lang kami, ‘Ah ito yung mangyayari (laughs).’ He is the overseer.”

On how Toni chooses her guests:

“Nakakatuwa kasi nag-go-grow na siya, nakaka-earn na kami ng mga ‘yes’ from the guests. Of course, it’s a humbling experience for me because I personally ask the guests kung pwede sila to sit down with me. Some will say no and some will say yes. And then, ang cue ko nga lagi if nag-yes, maybe it’s God’s will. ‘Pag hindi naman, it’s not time siguro.

“In life naman talaga (may nag-no-no). But that’s the beauty of it, sanay na ako sa ‘No!’ nung bata ako (laughs). All the auditions that I attended as a child gave me ‘No.’ So, it’s no longer personal for me and also, it’s not yet the right time.”

On her YouTube talk show being story, not personality, driven:

“When the show started, maraming mga names, ideas and then you get overwhelmed. And the worst, for me ha, that you could ever do for something like this is to read comments of people because malulunod ka sa mga suggestions nila… But we came up with this intention also that we don’t want to give people what they want to see. We’re giving them who they need to hear — the stories they need to hear. It’s story-driven.

“(Do I pray before choosing a guest?) Lahat may divine intervention...yung umuupo sa amin. Even the flow of the conversation, di naman siya intentional that it will lead to there. It just so happens that I’ve realized that I’m at a point in my life where I like having these life conversations because I’ve been hosting different shows already with ABS-CBN, medyo na-experience ko na yung mga talk show, variety show, so medyo alam ko na yung mga bagay na gusto ko naman pag-usapan. I’m at a stage of my life where I want to talk about life lessons. Yung more than controversial, let’s look at something substantial. Yes, it so happens that (some guests are controversial), but their story is worth sharing.”

On her most impactful interviews (so far):

“Every interview has a different impact on me. Lagi kong sinasabi, the best yung episode na ‘to, tapos nag-air kami ng bagong episode, iba rin ang tama sa akin nito. So, the one with Ms. Joy Mendoza, iba yung tama sa akin nun, about forgiveness. And then, when we aired Bro. Bo Sanchez’s episode where he talked about the real meaning of surrendering when he experienced COVID, yun naman ang naiwan sa akin to this day, habang di pa kami nakaka-upload ng latest episode namin. Nag-linger sa akin yung message na pag-gising sa umaga, when I’m thinking and worrying about something, I surrender this now, ayaw ko na isipin ‘to.

“Yung kay Candy, naglulupasay ako dun kasi nung una pinapanood ko lang yung interviews niya. But to hear her story one-on-one and face-to-face, and to feel her energy and see her eyes, because I don’t just listen to their words, I also listen to their body movements, nuances, the stillness of the moment, so ramdam na ramdam mo yung bigat, lalo na nanay ka...Dun talaga ako naiyak, di ko kinaya yun. The others — I don’t want naman to lose myself in front of my guests, na mag-iyakan nalang kami… Although I have breakdown moments during the editing because nag-si-sink in na, nararamdaman ko na.”

On the core message of her interviews:

“That’s exactly the message that we wanted to share: Sometimes, ang dami nating mga maliliit na problema, mga hinanakit sa buhay, meron din naman tayong mabibigat na problema, tapos pag narinig natin yung mga ganitong story, maiisip mo, ay maswerte pa pala ako, may mga tao pala na mas grabe yung pinagdaanan kaysa akin.

“Because sometimes, we could feel this, ‘Ah nagdudusa ako. Ako lang mag-isa dumadanas ng ganito.’ But when we hear stories like this, we can relate to them, we can associate ourselves with the pain that they feel, that we’re all going through brokenness, just different levels, but still, (it’s) pain. And the message that Toni Talks is really just trying to serve them is that if our guests are able to go through and surpass the hardest times of their lives, maybe the people who are watching can also do the same.”

On how Toni Talks has changed her as a host:

“It’s so much fun when you’re doing something that feeds your soul. That’s the best thing. It just feeds my soul everytime I talk to people, I hear their stories parang grabe yung baon. I feel blessed to hear their story, and to earn that right, na pagkatiwalaan nila ang Toni Talks to share their story. Sobrang blessing yun.”

(Check out Toni Talks via https://bit.ly/3uR3MOz.)

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