Jona is fearless in the face of pandemic, career uncertainties

Vanessa A. Balbuena (The Freeman) - February 25, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  She doesn’t seem quite at ease with the title of Fearless Diva. Die-hard fans in fact have been trying to lobby that she instead be re-christened as Asia’s Canary.

While the tag is a bit awkward for her, Jona concedes she must have imbibed the qualities of one unafraid to tackle a challenge. Be it high note after high note. Or the maelstrom of 2020.

As is customary these days, celebrity interviews are replete with how the pandemic upended their careers and their lives. For many of these stars, their careers ARE their lives.

Throw in the fact that her network lost its franchise, the talented singer had plenty of reason to lose sleep. But surprising even herself, Jona said she was, yes, fearless.

“Wala akong naramdamang takot for myself, kung paano na yung music career ko or financial status ko,” Jona said during a media conference to promote her turn as the first Filipino artist to headline YouTube Music Night. “I just entrusted everything to God. Siya nagbigay ng lahat ng ito, and siya din ang may control sa lahat ng bagay. Alam ko na hindi niya tayo pababayaan.”

Last year saw her spending more than she was earning, if there was any earning at all. Even then, Jona didn’t worry, saying she believes the funds she coughed up to help others will be returned to her in some form. She’s also certain that the entertainment industry will, in time, resume a semblance of normalcy.

“Kailangan lang maghigpit ng sinturon. I just spent on the essentials and for emergencies. Kung sino lang talaga yung may super na pangangailangan,” said Jona, who was more concerned about colleagues that were barely getting by.

When ABS-CBN’s problems began, Jona revealed that bosses immediately called for a Zoom meeting where assurances were given that they will be taken care of. Executives didn’t stop brainstorming for projects and drawing up plans for their talents. “Nakakatuwa dahil nakikita mo yung sobrang effort ng mga tao to come up with new ideas despite what happened,” she shared.

Among her fellow “ASAP” mainstays, they buoyed up each other’s morale by exchanging uplifting messages over a mobile messaging app.

“Medyo naging malakas yung faith ko sa magagandang bagay na mangyayari in the future. We have a Viber group ng mga ‘ASAP’ artists…sila Tito Gary, Tito Ogie, Ate Reg. Sometimes we prophecy that we believe there will be greater opportunities for ABS-CBN. From traditional viewing we are now shifting to the digital age. Makakahabol na tayo sa ibang countries in producing quality content. Kaya ganoon kami ka-confident na hindi kami pababayaan ng ABS-CBN.”

Recently, Jona took a break from the Sunday musical show to supervise the completion of a personal project. An animal lover, the 31-year-old focused on building an animal shelter for her rescue dogs and cats. She found the perfect spot in a mountaintop somewhere in Rizal, and she envisions the place to also serve as a rest house for her and her family.

“Hindi naman siya magara. Its just very simple. Basta meron lang access to clean water. We also need a decent place for the caretaker. Sobrang secluded siya, nasa itaas ng kabundukan,” she said.

Once construction is done, Jona said she’ll feel better equipped to work full-blast. Among those surely waiting the “Pinoy Pop Superstar” champion are digital shows and concerts that have become the norm in the pandemic. Jona is embracing the pros and cons of such set-up.

“Ibang klase pa rin ang pakiramdam when you’re performing in front of a crowd – nakikita mo yung reaction ng tao and you feel their energy. You feed them your energy and they give back that energy. So parang mas masarap mag-perform. Nakaka-miss din yung ang dami namin performing on stage, kasama yung full, live band. Iba pa rin ang pakiramdam na may nagla-live session, kasi ngayon puro minus one kami. Yung nakaka-duet mo sa stage, hindi mo din malapitan since you have to be six feet apart. Of course we have to prioritize safety.”

On the upside, Jona said singers like her tend to focus on the camera, and have thus explored how to speak better to an audience thru its lens. She’s learned to emote more.

“There are also fans and viewers saying they like the set-up of ‘ASAP’ now because they can concentrate on the artists,” she added. “Mas nararamdaman nila ng buo ang isang performance because the camera is focused on the artist.”

Told by a reporter she’s among the country’s singers who is able to capture a song’s emotions so well, Jona admitted that it wasn’t always the case. Her long-time manager, Arlene Mayer, would often chide her for performing like a robot during her early days.

“Magpapasalamat ako sa manager ko ever since I was still with GMA, yung pinapanood niya daw ako sa TV, actually she’s one of my biggest critics. She really tells me upfront na ‘O, para ka lang kumakanta sa karaoke. Dagdagan mo pa ng feelings. Tumingin ka sa camera. Hindi yung nagbabasa ka lang ng lyrics sa prompter,” she said. “So through the years, that has been instilled in me and I’ve learned to deliver the right emotions for a song.”

Once, a project fell through because she didn’t deliver the needed emotions, when all this time she thought she already gave her all.

“It’s a positive love song. I gave my best and feeling ko ang galing galing ko. Pagdating sa executive producer, sabi niya walang ka-feelings feelings. Naiyak ako sa feedback. Binigay ko naman lahat ng kaya ko talaga. But still, wala pa rin daw feelings.”

“I guess that was one of my triggers, one of those that fuelled me to inject more emotion in my recordings and performances. Aside from having a good voice, you have to internalize and be an actor too.”

Acting, in fact, is a craft Jona has dipped into and is open to revisiting given the right material. In 2019, she was invited to audition for a project but the role of a young hooker was thumbed down by her management.

“My early days in GMA, I was able to try acting but na-stop because I concentrated on singing. Before I moved to ABS-CBN nakapag-try din ako ng indie films, nakasama ko si Glaiza de Castro for ‘Cattleya.’ Nasabi ko sa sarili ko that I want to focus on music first. So for many years nagtrabaho muna ako on my music, recording songs, albums and doing concerts. But sometimes sumasagi din sa isip ko, ‘What if I try acting?’”

When it comes to matters of the heart, is Jona fearless too? Asked if she is dating at the moment, Jona said she is biding her time because “I’m at the point where I don’t wanna waste time or play games anymore.”

Hinting of past heartbreaks, Jona said she’s all the wiser now in choosing whom to bestow her selfless affections to. “During these developing years, nalaman ko yung mga personal kong gusto. Standards para sa future na mamahalin ko. Its okay to be choosy because you deserve only the best. We shouldn’t settle for less. Yung mga taong nakapaligid sa akin they truly care for me especially my manager and they constantly remind me not to waste my love, effort and time...kasi alam nila kung paano ako magmahal.”

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