Confessions of a former child star
Confessions of a former child star
TOFF of the world - Christopher De Venecia (The Philippine Star) - March 14, 2014 - 12:00am

While everyone was playing with Lego blocks, this writer was headlining a top-rated show on a major network. What’s the price of pre-school fame?

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. — Andy Warhol

I suppose there is a side to everyone that wants to be famous. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see their face (or crotch) blown up on EDSA, right? That, or enjoy the company of beautiful people who evolve (or devolve) based on this idea of co-dependence wherein “It” begets “It”? Or have your phones vibrate endlessly to the thousands of Instagram likes that follow anything as thoughtless as a foodstagram post or a selfie? What more, an ultimate selfie with a bunch of your fellow A-listers (not to be confused with the recent Star Awards version)? I mean, the most likes I’ve ever gotten on Instagram was a post on a local ballet production I had seen. And though it was mind-blowing, that probably wasn’t for anything else other than the fact that Instagram had crashed that evening and mine was one of the last posts to make it to the top of everyone’s feed. Three hours with no new posts from actual influencers coming in meant 100-plus likes for @imcalledtoffee. Trés yey! Hardly the stuff that would make Twitter, or in this case, Instagram crash, though.

This desire to become famous has catapulted an unstoppable wave of local reality TV shows, star searches, and across-the-board media whoring from your everyday Gen X-er, especially the millennial. Not to mention social climbing, social media climbing (a relatively new phenomenon), and other startling devices that the 21st century Manileño has leveraged to his disposal. After all, it’s not just about fame these days. It’s also the perks that come with it — gold, guts, glory, or better yet (slash the guts), access, tons and tons of access. Oh, what it must be like to have Papa P. or P-Noy on your speed dial.

It is no surprise then that people work all their lives towards achieving a certain degree of fame. Some are candid about this lifelong trajectory, especially small-town girls and/or artistas whose candor and off-the-cuff sincerity are actually quite refreshing. Yes, they dream of wanting to appear in a shampoo commercial all their lives but, also, to give their family a better shot at living. Nothing wrong with that.

Others, in particular the “artists,” prefer to be sub rosa about it and lace it with the intention of making it all about the work (Fame? Oh, please!). And then there are those who are just so meta about the idea of fame, the hipsters, or the pedigreed lot who like to bitch in circles about the jejeness or pretentiousness of fame and act as if they abhor it, only to find they secretly enjoy the vocal stylings of Anne Curtis, the thrill of Instagram likes or seeing their faces appear alongside those whose company escapes the true, authentic outsider — the faceless, everyday Juan de la Cruz. That’s another thing about fame: while it’s a lot about validation or quelling our insecurities, it’s also about survival, both in the hand-to-mouth sense, and having to stay relevant in a world characterized by A.D.D. and the constant search for the “next big thing.”

Enter: the child star

What happens then when the opposite happens, when fame precedes the toil that the journey to fame precludes? A reversal of this Warholian trajectory-slash-prophecy in which the 15 minutes of future fame happens even before a person is old enough to say “ego.” This is a secret I have long kept through all my years of writing behind this byline, but one that is dinner table conversation (and catalyst to my guaranteed annoyance-cum-shame) among family and friends.

Yes, I was a child star. And once upon a time, you could say that I was actually famous.

I got my break, not through the traditional route in which hopefuls endure hundreds of VTRs, auditions and callbacks but by way of my family’s connections in showbiz (from the get-go, a copout). At that time, Sampaguita Pictures, a film outfit my grandfather started back in the day, was still in the business of show business, at least in TV production. I don’t know what got into my mom’s head but somehow she thought that I might actually do well in showbiz. What was she thinking?

They got me a guest stint on that top-rated show on GMA, Ober da Bakod, as a child peddler named Dagul who sold everything from soft drinks to a spaceship (true story!), and in one episode wherein the cast was somehow in heaven, angel wings. Gotta love the ‘90s for all its camp! Blame it on my chu-bibo hotdog energy but somehow, the guest stint evolved into a five-year regular stint on the show with movies, endorsements, and other TV shows on the side, the most infamous of which would have to be my one-year stint as Billy Bilyonaryo, a local version of Richie Rich (not to be confused with Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club). To this day, it is the indelible ink marking my shattered ego that I simply cannot rub off.

I was six then and what seemed to me like pretend was apparently real life for others. I was surrounded by working actors who were out there pursuing their passion and/or a shot at newfound (or continued) fame while there I was, keeping to myself in my trailer (read: Vanette), watching Care Bears and complaining about the childhood I was missing out on. As my cousins were taking art lessons and my friends were walking over to Glorietta to play mini golf in Glicos, I was rushing to go to a taping all the way in Fairview.

The thing about being a child star and achieving a certain amount of fame early on is that you miss out on the things that matter. And, at supposed pivotal moments in your formative years, also called “the hidden years,” an unlikely form of substitution happens. The traditional humdrumness that fills your recollections of ages past (also the point when you can look back and say, “Ahhhhh, simpler times!”) is replaced by this extraordinariness that is, quite simply, hard to recreate. It’s a gauntlet or ghost that follows you to the grave — what Grotowski calls “the other.”

How am I supposed to top my six-year-old self that lived life unsullied by the corrupted ego? Also, are those memories of me dancing on GMA Supershow, playing nephew to Rudy Fernandez, or giving Jocelyn Enriquez a plaque of appreciation on Master Showman real, or imagined? In a time when everyone needs proof in the pudding rather than personal legend or the essence of a myth, it might as well be the latter. In this case, truth really is stranger than fiction.

In the dog-eat-dog world of show business, I was the kid who was promised by Donita Rose (a.k.a. Barbie Doll) that she would someday be my date to prom (alas, it never happened), the kid who people took pictures with when I was out with my family in Megamall. I was the kid who received tons of fan mail, the kid whose entire clan would accompany him to the premiere of his first movie, Pretty Boy, and the kid who was mistaken for Andrew E. by fans outside the bus. Nope, sorry, it’s just the kid who got kidnapped alongside his lil’ brother played by I.C. Mendoza and got blown away by a kapre in a nightmare sequence (true story!). I was the kid whose reality was warped by a world of pretend. You saw raindrops. I saw butterflies.

Early on, I learned what it was like to fashion somebody else’s clothes but also, to live under a shadow, not just of my parents’ and my brother’s, but a shadow cast by my own self. The thing about achieving fame as a child star early on is that it precedes you and your dreams when at the core of living is actually finding out who you are instead of being told who you’re supposed to be. At the core of living is also working hard and having something to aspire to — whether it’s fame or working hard to obtain a comfortable life. Sure, everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame. But the true artist is someone who is on a mission to establish for himself a name that is authentic, reliable and takes not five years but a lifetime in the making.

The thing about fame, not early on, but in general? It almost always escapes you, even when it’s right there in front of you. It’s no coincidence then that the absoluteness of it, the zenith of it, coincides with status insignias and opportunities that don’t necessarily last forever — show business, politics, “it-ness,” or making the front page. Fame is as fast as it is fleeting. It is corrupting as it is emancipating. Mine just happened even before I could realize that I was sitting on the threshold of it, that I was actually, once upon a Billy Bilyonaryo, famous. “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Okay, time’s up!


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