Rizza Navales how shy Talisaynon became the Cebuana Diva in Las Vegas
Karla Rule (The Freeman) - February 2, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  Cebuana singer Rizza Navales’ music career began with a question.

When one of their neighbors in Talisay had wondered who was singing the Barbara Streisand tune, everyone soon learned that the voice belonged to Rizza. But despite knowledge of her talent, young Rizza needed a lot of coaxing.

“They would bribe me with coins and candy. I would take the mic and sing behind the door,” Rizza recalled in a “#MARKado Live!” interview of BANAT News, The FREEMAN’s sister publication.

Born and raised in Cebu, Rizza is the eldest daughter of tailors. Because life hadn’t dealt them with the right cards then, her family had their fair share of financial struggles, making ends meet and getting by with salt, oil, and even lumpia wrapper for meals.

She would sit on her neighbor’s staircase and watch airplanes cross the horizon wondering where they went and if she’d ever get to ride one herself. While she enjoyed playing games outside and never once complained about her upbringing, she did wonder what it would be like to ride a car or own a Barbie doll.

It wasn’t until she was around 15 that she had her first car ride, and her first doll was a lumpy toy from an ukay-ukay.

Her mom did what she thought was best and signed her daughter up for singing competitions across town in the hopes of helping the family. For a while, Rizza was reluctant and at times left the stage in the middle of a performance.

“Dili ko ganahan mukanta. It took me a while to realize na makatabang diay siya financially. Mahibong nalang ko naapil akong ngan sa Carbon, sa Inayawan. Mahibong ko kinsay nagpalista, akoa diayng mama,” she said.

Others saw, or heard, what Rizza couldn’t. It wasn’t long after her first unexpected win – she had been on her way out when she was announced champion – that Rizza began to perform earnestly.

She gained admirers throughout her performances in Gaisano Main and soon, fellow amateur singers didn’t want to compete with her anymore.

Rizza also joined to a band and sang in the lobby of what is now known as Marco Polo Plaza Hotel. She became the breadwinner and paid for her studies. Instead of pursuing a Nursing career like what she always wanted, Rizza put that dream in the backseat to study Hotel and Restaurant Management first in Cebu Institute of Technology University and then at the University of San Jose-Recoletos. She would trade her apron for a mic and keep singing on stage after her internship shifts serving hotel guests.

“Murag na pressure ko. I had to balance everything – practicing, memorizing songs. In school, as long as I passed my classes, that was it. I thought, if only my parents had enough money, I would be able to focus on my studies. So I chose a course that was relevant to my singing so I wouldn’t have trouble balancing.”

Luck soon smiled on Rizza and the young singer became among the favorite interpreters for the Cebu Popular Music Festival. From then on, the stage became her second home.

She later impressed Universal Records boss Bella Tan, who made her and Jed Madela sign a recording contract in 2004 and 2002, respectively.

Still in 2004, the duo was whisked to the United States as members of the first Filipino delegation to the World Championship of Performing Arts where Rizza won Overall Female Vocals World Champion and brought home five gold medals and a silver, and two more in a duet with Jed.

Even more doors opened for Rizza afterwards. The band and lounge singer flew in and out Manila on a weekly basis as she was taken under the wings of GMA Artist Center with the help of its then AVP/head Ida Henares who later became the WCOPA National Director for the Philippines.

“It was exactly like that song: be careful what you wish for,” Rizza mused. “From staring at airplanes to flying every week. Ako’y malipong.”

In 2005, when Rizza joined the Philippine delegation for WCOPA once more to perform as guest, an invitation to perform in Las Vegas came, and the rest was history.

From a shy girl, to a reluctant performer, to world champion, and resident Vegas singer, Rizza had come a long way from her humble beginnings in Talisay.

Now 41 years old with a 19-year-old son, Rizza has collected surreal moments brought by her singing career. Despite being based in Las Vegas since 2007 and going seven years of performing for her current show, Rizza still hopes to settle in Cebu someday.

“I always love to come home and perform for fellow Cebuanos. This is where I started, where I was discovered. I like to look back from growing up with nothing to having something,” Rizza said. “Lahi ra man gyud ang feeling being with friends. Among mga silingan, mga friends sa high school ma-shock sila nga mubalik gyud ko.”

Last month, Rizza dedicated her short vacation to return to the Cebu Pop stage and perform as special guest.

Despite being a breadwinner for her family still, Rizza is thankful for their support. Their current house will no longer be swept away by a storm like it once did when she was young. Because of her persistence, they won’t ever have to ask their neighbors for reject lumpia wrappers to satiate their hunger.

“I’ve been there in the limelight, I was in front of the camera all the time. For me success is being happy with your life. When you look back and there is development. When I sing in front of an audience and I can deliver and they’re happy. For me, that is success.”

Seasoned performer that she is, Rizza still wants to do more. Her singing career might have began with uncertainty, but it remains this day with faithfulness. From being reluctant to use her talents, she now enjoys it thoroughly, aiming to take invitations and opportunities to perform while her health and voice allow it.

Perhaps for those still trudging in their humble beginnings, still waiting for their breakthrough, the Cebuana Diva in Las Vegas has this to offer: “If you have dreams, just continue. Naa man gyud mu-discourage but ibalewala sila kay mga distraction ra na. Stay focused on your goals. Kung naay ma gagmay na kailangan i-improve, practice.”

RIZZA NAVALES
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