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Lea Salonga has something to say |


Lea Salonga has something to say

Irish Christianne Dizon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Lea Salonga’s name conjures images of sold-out concerts in big-league venues like the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Singapore’s Esplanade, Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, Hong Kong Cultural Center, Bangkok Convention Center, and Carnegie Hall in New York City. If you haven’t seen her perform live, there are countless YouTube clips of Lea’s most notable performances (i.e., as Kim in Miss Saigon and as Eponine/Fantine in Les Miserables). In each one, a standing ovation from an ecstatic crowd almost always follows. This is Lea Salonga: daughter of fortune (when asked about why she thinks she is where she is now, meaning, an icon, her sincere answer was, “My life is a series of divine interventions. That has a lot to do with it.”); possessor of sheer, prodigious talent that has earned her fans from Manila to Ottawa.

But it wasn’t always like this. What biographies fail to mention is how, once upon a time, even Princess Lea (the title of an actual children’s book about her inspiring life) had to endure deafening boos from irate teenagers inside a jam-packed concert venue.

“I was 14 years old, getting booed at Folk Arts Theater,” she recalls, a wry smile on her lips. Menudo, the equivalent of One Direction back in the day, was in Manila for a series of shows, and Lea was the lucky girl chosen to be their front act. In every gig, Lea had to soldier on and keep performing despite the jeers. Good thing she was a toughie even back then. “Okay lang i-boo ako because the boys were cheering me on backstage,” she says with a triumphant grin. To this day, whenever she bumps into ex-Menudo member Ricky Martin, he still reminisces about those days, extra nostalgic about a production number they did involving umbrellas. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God. Ako nga nakakalimutan ko na. Ikaw naalala mo pa. It says a lot.” 

’80s Baby

Though unpleasant, that Menudo front-act experience had a great effect on Lea. Being chosen for that job imbued her with unshakable confidence early on. “I think that’s partly why I don’t have hang-ups about my looks. I figured, ay ang ganda ko to be able to do that,” she says, tongue (firmly) in cheek. Lea believes growing up in the ’80s era showbiz industry was very good for her psyche. “The atmosphere then was very different. I mean, you compete, but it was healthy, not catty. We were all friends. Hiraman pa kami ng lipstick,” she reminisces. In the variety show That’s Entertainment, there were 20 girls and 20 boys, each one different from the other. “You had people like Nadya Montenegro, Tina Paner, Manilyn Reynes, Lilet. You had tisay, kayumanggi, chinita; different shapes, heights, sizes.  It was so much more diverse than it seems to be now, where everybody has long hair, is payat, chinitapare pareho yung hitsura,” she observes.

In short, there wasn’t a mold they had to fit. The ’80s were the pre-glam team age, so the girls’ looks were truly their unique creations. “Back then, it wasn’t, ‘I have to be pretty’ for the show. It was about what you could do. It was about your talent.’” And that mindset hasn’t left Lea two decades later. For her, it still boils down to one’s skill set. She knows hers and can speak about it objectively (“I can act, sing, dance, and write. That’s what I do.”), but cautions people against equating hype with ability. “When the flowery adjectives start coming into play, that’s when I’m like, ‘tama na,’” she says, hands pushing an invisible compliment away. “You have publicists who are paid to drum up hype, to make you look good. And the worst you can do is believe yourself to be any more than what you actually are. Just believe in who you are. Period.”

(Trivia: That super flattering Buzzfeed list-icle Definitive Proof That Lea Salonga Is A Living Disney Princess? Lea has seen it and thinks it’s “pretty cool,” but she has never shared it on any of her social media accounts. Our turn to say: It says a lot.)

Surprise: She’s Not a Vampire

Even though talent is king for Lea, fact is she’s also blessed with a winsome face that never seems to age. She considers fellow ageless stars like Cherie Gil and Agot Isidro beautiful. “Iba yung pretty sa beautiful,” she stresses. “What makes someone beautiful for me is when, all of a sudden, they open their mouth and they’re smart and they can recite poetry or they know what’s going on in the world; or they’re witty; or they’re funny! When it’s pretty lang with the long hair, the good skin, pero tanga ka naman…” She leaves it at that. 

Lea got to 44 years old without plastic surgery, and would like to get to 50 without it. The most she does to delay aging is to have regular facials at 20-year-old skin clinic Facial Care Centre. (Lea swears by the Deep Anti-Bacterial Facial to combat her nemesis, adult acne; and UltraFace, a non-invasive facial contouring treatment, for a slimmer, more defined face.) But really, aging does not scare her: It’s inevitable and she embraces it. (“I celebrate my birthdays. I really look forward to every age I turn into. Every year above ground is a blessing.”)

What scares her about aging isn’t the idea of losing her youthful looks; it’s losing her mind. She narrates how her 86-year-old father now asks the same questions every five minutes and shudders at the thought of that happening to her someday. “I’m more afraid of not being able to memorize music or songs, just losing my mental faculty.” 

She’s 40-something years away from her 80s, so instead, she gamely shares the things that she does now to age gracefully: Moisturize every night, drink six to eight glasses of water, lay off the junk food (“I love burgers though.”), and try to work out regularly. She’s also an advocate of snoozing, saying “I try to sleep as much as I can, but sometimes, I’ll have sleepless nights from thinking too much.”

Invisible Bricks

On Sept. 26, Lea had one of those sleepless nights. She tweeted a harmless midnight thought that was blown out of proportion: “Okay lang sa akin ang kababawan, pero hanggang doon na lamang ba tayo? #NagtatanongLangPo.” People assumed it was a thinly veiled invective against the wildly popular love team #AlDub and started to pounce on her without verifying their assumptions. That drama has died down: Lea clarified her tweet had nothing to do with #AlDub (She even asked for links so she could acquaint herself with the current national obsession) and pointed out it was just a matter of bad timing. (The day she tweeted was the same day #AlDub was celebrating “National Pabebe Wave Day.”) 

Lea is all for kababawan (“Chances are, I will be more focused on an episode of Teen Titans than on anything more serious.”). But she insists on balance. Translation: Enjoy your favorite Kalyeserye but maybe watch a brilliant indie like Heneral Luna, too. Addressing the Pinoy audience, she pleads, “Don’t be afraid to explore and watch everything. Don’t be intimidated just because you think it’s beyond your reach. Chances are, it’s exactly the one thing you’re supposed to see and watch, and hopefully be touched by. Watch a movie kahit hindi mo masyadong kilala ang mga artista. Watch a concert na classical, baka magustuhan mo. Try it once. Kung ayaw mo, e di ayaw mo talaga.” Her dream for the Philippine entertainment industry is “variety, as in something for everybody,” and “for everything to be affordable enough for everyone to take in and enjoy.” 

Her Twitter account is relatively quiet these days, the silence only broken by the occasional posts about show schedules and “career highlights of the day.” “Right now, I’m too busy with Allegiance to have much of an [online] presence,” she shares in a direct message. Which is too bad, if you think about it. Her musings may not sit well with everyone, but they encourage discourse; they make you think.

This is not the last time Lea Salonga will receive hate tweets from assuming trolls. (Being a national treasure apparently does not grant her immunity from Filipino bashers.) And the good news is, this is not the last time she’ll slay them all with class, with that signature sass. 


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