Rookies of the year
(The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – These days, talent isn’t the only thing that gets your name out there. With so many aspiring individuals trying to get their 15 minutes of limelight in every possible platform available (television, film, print, online), it’s easy to mistake  popularity for legitimacy. What sets the great ones apart is their hustle— that drive to truly prove their worth. It’s not enough to be just good anymore, the past year has proven that we’ve demanded far more talent than ever before — whether it’s from fashion, music, film or art. That said, here are Young STAR’s Rookies of the Year, the breakout stars of 2015, and why the new year can only get better for them.


Contrary to popular belief, Abbey Sy didn’t graduate with a degree in the arts. In fact, she’s an advertising major from De La Salle University. Even before finishing college, she already made noise online through her lettering work. She even made it in Young STAR’s Fresh Grads feature in 2014.

After graduation, she spent 10 months working for a top advertising agency. In true millennial fashion, she quickly realized that the office environment wasn’t for her. She did what most people are afraid of: she followed her gut and made the jump to the freelancing world. It was her best decision yet.

Within weeks, she landed a book deal and spoke at TEDxUPM about her passion for lettering. And that was just the beginning. The following months were dedicated to designing more things. From postcard sets to Havaianas slippers to a conference dedicated to typography, Abbey knows how to execute what she wants. Even with her hands full, she still had time to explore the world and share the things she learned on the road to her 74,200 Instagram followers.

Her first few months of navigating the “real world” might have been a bit rocky, but the following days got brighter and brighter. Maybe her success can be attributed to her innate ability to make things happen or her brief experience in the advertising world. But either way, her drive is admirable. She’s always hungry and striving for more.

Just like what Jimmy Eat World said, waiting forever won’t get you anywhere. So she never did. Abbey just turned 23 and we can only expect bigger things from her. She’s here, she’s now and she’s ready more than ever. – Maine Manalansan


MJ Benitez rarely says anything. And when she does, it’s usually to say that she thinks what you’re doing is sh*t. That might sound a little harsh but in an industry where butt-kissing is the most recognized mode of currency, it’s also refreshing. Here’s a collaborator who will really level with you, who finds value in keeping quiet if there’s nothing to say, but will open her mouth easily when she needs to talk you out of a bad decision.

In a time when the stylist has become a thoroughly glamorized job, the kind of calling that seems to attract the worst aspects of millennial entitlement, MJ Benitez has cut through the noise by keeping her head down and consistently churning out visually arresting work. In the last 12 months, for example: A career-making Preview cover for Janine Gutierrez, a star-studded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club tribute for Esquire Philippines, the unraveling of Isabelle Daza for Rogue magazine, a pastoral fantasy for a Vania Romoff campaign, timeless elegance for Bench billboards starring Pilita Corrales and Eddie Garcia, a thoroughly viral cover for photographer BJ Pascual’s bestselling book.

I started working with MJ two and a half years ago, when she was still a promising editorial assistant at Preview magazine. We laugh about it now but the truth is, she was practically a mute then. She’d keep to herself for most of the shoot and not say anything to anyone. Through the years, she’s learned to wield that silence as power, as leverage for decision-making, as a way to separate herself from the pack.

2015 was the year MJ Benitez announced herself as the young stylist to watch out for — and she did that by keeping quiet and working hard. After all, nothing speaks louder than damn good work. – Raymond Ang


Filmmaker Antoinette Jadaone wants you to know that she knows how you feel. That’s the impression many of us get when we watch her films or follow her hit show. She’s been in the industry for years now, but only in 2015 did we get a chance to really see why we fell in love with her work in That Thing Called Tadhana, and why we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) stop quoting it in 2014.

2015 was arguably a big year for Antoinette, writing and directing four feature films that were received well by audiences in varying degrees: You’re My Boss, The Breakup Playlist, Walang Forever and All You Need is Pag-Ibig. Each one of Antoinette’s films had the makings of a solid romantic comedy, the kind that western cinema churns out in regular doses. Her work is made even better by an awareness of local culture; there is no snobbery about how Filipinos talk and feel and fall in love. In many ways, her work simply casts it all in a softer light, one that really highlights the furrows of our collective love language. The dialogue in Antoinette’s films is consistently clever, and the plot is believably cheesy. We finally got ourselves our own Nora Ephron, writing the kind of love stories where tearful bitch-slapping and amnesia aren’t part of the story arc. Sure, we cried, but they were tears we readily shed. Because, goodness, are we finally getting the cinematic romance we’ve always wanted?

If only to prove what a heroine Antoinette really is, she brought her brilliance to the small screen with what might be her greatest undertaking this year — and the one most people rooted for: the sitcom On the Wings of Love, which is equal parts sad and cheesy, done with so much understanding of every kind of love. Through breakout stars Nadine Lustre and James Reid, OTWOL tells the story of Filipino migrants who fake a marriage in order to be allowed to stay in the United States. It’s a familiar story for many of us, but Antoinette managed to prove in every episode what many other local TV shows failed to do. A great show doesn’t need a crazy plot, just fleshed-out characters and great chemistry. And by chemistry, we don’t just mean Nadine and James. Antoinette’s filmmaking magic is just as much a part of it. She knows how much we’re itching for a great love story, and it seems that the feeling is totally mutual. – Marga Buenaventura


You’d think that after Red Bull Music Academy, JP del Mundo — a.k.a. John Pope a.k.a. Arms Akimbo a.k.a. the six-string-slinger of Never the Strangers — would be content to rest on his laurels. The guy just came from participating in one of the world’s most prestigious musical lecture series platforms, held in Paris.

But last we spoke, JP was already well into the creative grind. CRWN’s EP with Jessica Connelly was the most recent release to sport the golden touch of his production work. Curtismith’s upcoming EP will come out with the same blessing. As of this writing, JP’s also working on his upcoming EP as John Pope, so I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time this comes out, he’ll have already dropped some groundbreaking thing on the scene’s head and rendered it speechless.

More subtly, his brilliance manifests in his work as a producer — his work with CRWN and BP Valenzuela for The Neon Hour ample evidence of this. On his position in the local music scene: “I just think I’m in my own weird bubble just in the corner, but at the same time, I’m also kind of in the middle of everything because I am working on other people’s stuff as well,” he says. “The bubble description also works because I ‘float’ between different parts of the scene.” Being John Pope and Arms Akimbo and the guitarist of Never the Strangers allows JP to navigate between and through the band scene and the beatmaking scene, two cultures that might seem mutually exclusive to the uninitiated. They never were. JP is proof of this, his career symptomatic of a culture that condemns creative compromise yet praises inclusivity.

And that’s what makes JP del Mundo — and his separate musical “personae” considered — so distinct. For him, “experimental” isn’t just a style. It’s a mindset. Dip your hands into foreign waters, you’ll never know what you’re gonna fish out. You might just be panning for gold. – Jam Pascual


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