All hail the teen queen
Cate de Leon (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Fifty percent ng guests hindi ko kilala,” Kathryn Bernardo candidly said about her then-upcoming debut. She was taking a very quick, very late lunch break at the Supreme photo shoot, held two weeks ago.

“Of course! You’re up there!” someone on set proudly answered, hand gesturing toward the ceiling.

At this Kathryn lowered her eyes, her expression unreadable, and continued to eat her cold pizza slice — one of the few left by those who got to eat ahead while she patiently submitted to a two-hour makeup process and a shoot with a whole entourage obsessing over the tiniest details.

Her expression was hard to read because it was a mixture. There was a very subtle smile on her lips that seemed to acknowledge that yes, she was blessed. And at the same time, a mild and barely noticeable disagreement in her eyes, which she wasn’t about to voice. And indeed, she gave no answer.

Real girl

In an industry known for its glitz and glamour, coming off as a so-called “real girl” is the socially ideal image that many artistas are well advised to portray. It’s a cliché that I normally wouldn’t want to waste prose on (e.g. “She’s so nice despite everything no?” Hindi ba dapat naman talaga maging nice?). The thing about these perceived clichés, however, is that they can suddenly prove refreshing when they’re embodied and true, and Kathryn is just that.

Kathryn’s the type who will excitedly pipe up, “Wow, barquillos!” when she’s offered some in the middle of an interview, and automatically proceed to munch — not because she’s being rude, but because she’s just really excited to eat them. She also seems to have mastered the art of chewing while answering without breaking the rules of etiquette.

A far cry from the super shy and soft-spoken girl we featured in 2011 with Julia Montes in “Pretty Young Things,” Kathryn has grown to be gracefully comfortable around people, laughing and gushing like a 16-year-old — the age she admits she still feels like. “Hindi ko talaga nararamdaman na 18 na ako.” And as she is set to be the envy of teen girls across the country tonight, her beauty and glamour romanticized in the limelight for all their hopes and daydreams, she admits that she never really wanted a debut. “I wanted a private party with friends, or to tour out of the country. Pero kailangan daw eh, so gagawin ko ‘to para sa fans. Milestone daw siya sa buhay ng babae so … Okay, experience natin yan. Debut na tayo,” she jokes like a child who is not sure what the fuss is all about.

What excites Kathryn the most about her debut is actually doing the photo and teaser shoots, as she wants to have pictures to treasure years from now. That and the after-party, when all the formalities will be done and which she hopes will turn into a meaningful reunion. “Kasi feeling ko dun ko lang ulit makikita yung mga friends ko na andun sa isang lugar.” She lights up as she enumerates how she invited her grade school best friend, her high school friends — both the showbiz and non-showbiz people she holds close. And for someone who often has to be the only one missing at her barkada get-togethers, this means the world.

Aspirational teen queen

She has been fearlessly marching into auditions since the age of seven. Fast forward eleven years,Kathryn Bernardo is proof that whatever you want, if you work hard, you can get it.

We ask Kathryn about the legions of girls who will be watching, wishing they could be like her and have their entrance into womanhood celebrated in such a manner — girls without the resources afforded to an aspirational teen queen.

“Actually, if you don’t have money, you can make even a small house party grand. It’s not about the place or the gown you’re wearing — nasa mga tao na kasama mo. Pwedeng ang ganda nga ng lugar, pero hindi mo naman kilala yung mga tao,” she laughs. “It’s about how you enjoy your life and your party. You don’t need a lot of money, nice clothes, or the perfect place. All you need is the perfect company,” she finishes, mostly in the vernacular. Again, it’s another cliché, and the part of my brain that cares about spaces, good clothes, and good food insists that it won’t be the same. The difference is that wide-eyed Kathryn, while you may argue that she’s lucky enough to be able to say such things, really does mean it. And she’s right, of course. I’m reminded of all the times I felt awkward and lonely in a sea of well-dressed people and waiters serving wine, mind drifting to the people I actually talk to.

Turning 18 for the 16-at-heart Kathryn means being able to get her driver’s license, and being given more trust, freedom and decision power by those around her, “kasi medyo may alam ka na sa tama at mali.”

As a closing, we went back to the girls who look up to her, both as an inspiration and a life peg. If she could choose what they got out of watching and following her, what would it be?

“Whatever you want, if you work hard for it you can get it,” she answers, having braved countless auditions, herself since she was seven. “I waited for the perfect time, the perfect project, and the perfect partner (Julia in Mara Clara, which gave her her break). Just be patient and everything else will follow.”

Indeed while Kathryn is one to giggle and doubt that she’s achieved the maturity level that’s supposed to come with the big one-eight, from where we stand it seems that she’s already been there for quite some time now. 

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Watch out for the #Kathryn18 TV special soon on ABS-CBN Sundays Best.

Tweet the author @catedeleon.

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