Up Close with Lea Salonga

Up Close with Lea Salonga

For a moment, the gloomy noon of March 17 was eclipsed when two bright artists, both Filipino talents who have gone international, met up in Winnipeg. In the faces of the Tony Award Winner Lea Salonga, the YouTube sensation Maria Aragon, her family, that brush between Lea and Maria at Inn at the Forks was truly priceless.

International artist Lea Salonga, who came to Winnipeg for her concert, surprised ten-year old Maria Aragon, who has now become popular after singing Lady Gaga’s Born This Way on YouTube. Though starstruck, Maria still offered a song “Part of Your World” to Lea, which made her like the young Winnipeger even more.

Meanwhile, the Filipino Journal interviewed Lea Salonga, who entered the music and entertainment industry at such a young age, and made it to the top and international. She shared her thoughts and experiences as a performer, as an artist, as a Filipino, and as an inspiration to the budding artists like Maria Aragon.

Filipino Journal: This is not your first time to do a concert in Winnipeg. How do you like it here? How do you find the crowd’s response whenever you perform in the city?
Lea Salonga: Both times I have been here, it’s been cold. As to the concert, I always do two nights here in Winnipeg. The first night is the players’ invitational. This is exclusive only for those who patronize the Casino. The first night is a little more conservative, not bad, but just more reserved. The second night is made for public. The second night is a little more enthusiastic; things can go crazy.

FJ: Does it really matter much for an artist to know what the crowd is like before they jump into the stage to perform?
LS: It is always a surprise because I never know what a crowd is going to be like. I am not always responsible for how the crowd will respond. It is one of the things you can’t really determine until you get there. Usually after the first ten seconds on stage, I already have a feeling how my concert is going to be like. After the first song, I already know what’s going to happen.

FJ: You started in the music industry at a very young age and there was no stopping since. Now, here’s Maria Aragon making a name at a young age too. What can you say about her, and the other budding Filipino artists who want to excel in the industry?
LS: I am actually really, really mean. I am really, really harsh because I am finding myself increasingly frustrated that there are some people who fancy themselves as singers but they can’t really sing. You know, I love Bruno Mars. I love Darren Criss. They are both Filipino talents, and they are not apologetic about their roots. There is a whole thing about the Filipino pride. Well, I don’t think if it’s necessarily a Filipino pride, or just the thrill that we all come from the same place.

FJ: Some people have used the words ethnocentricity and racism to describe how we react in every Filipino’s triumph. We’re so proud when Manny Pacquaio wins or when Maria became popular.
LS: It is interesting because I also read a lot of stuff in the internet- both those for Philippine pride and those who question it. There are those who ask: “Why am I as a stranger proud of the other person who is also a stranger when I make no investment whatsoever in that person’s success?”.
Well, Filipino pride is what we may call it, but there might be something else too. We come from the same island. I am able to relate to you. You are accessible to me because of where we are both from. Nakakataba ng puso.

FJ: You think this is part of our culture too? Our sense of connectedness?
LS: That’s it! You are connected, in some way, to that person who gained individual success. If this person was able to succeed, then I should be able to do something with my life.

FJ: Talk about Filipino pride, I know you are one of the Filipino personalities who continue to believe in the Filipino talent and represent the country internationally.
LS: I am proud of our music and our artists. There are some individuals who are on the flipped side though. But if that kind of music is high-quality, that’s the stuff that I encourage the people to buy and make. Then we can really say, “this is ours”.
When I do sing Filipino songs in my concert and I usually sing two, I have to be picky because I am aware that there are non-Filipinos in the audience, and Filipinos who do not know about our language. If I have to sing music from home, I’ve got to bring the quality stuff. Songs have to be good. And I’d like to think that I am influential enough that this is what good Filipino music is supposed to sound like.

FJ: Talk about Filipino talent, I know back at home there are so many reality TV shows which scout talents from the general population. Do you think these shows really sustain in promoting Filipino talents?
LS: It’s a yes and no. If the talent that would apply to the show is a mediocre, then chances are, a mediocre will arise. It’s the excellent talents I am hoping to apply to the shows and rise to the top, and become famous.

FJ: Do these shows give hope to those whose talents have gone unnoticed?
LS: It gives people an opportunity. If nothing else, it gives someone who otherwise would not be able an opportunity, a chance. It is something to hold on to and strive for. With my experience in Saigon, I thank the audition held in the Philippines. See, you have to audition to get in.

FJ: A while ago, you saw Maria Aragon and her family very supportive of her. I understand that your family has been supportive too especially in your formative years.What can you say about Maria’s family acting as her primary support system in her love for music?
LS: It is good. It is important. Both my brother and I are making music- that fact is a testimony to my family’s support to us, which is not always present in a lot of artists’ families. There are some people who, after they became famous, were confronted by their families, “so, when will you stop this and become a doctor?” or “when will this end?”. The thing is, families have to realize that not all their kids want to become a lawyer, a doctor, a plumber, or a fireman. Some take the artistic path which sometimes could be lonely, difficult and trying.
So, the kind of support Maria Aragon has needs to be there. She needs everyone to be behind her and to always be honest to her. That support also has to come by not always saying “yes” to everything, keeping her humble, making sure she does her chores, goes to school, and practices her songs, and making sure that she maintains her passion. The impetus to dream to become someone should also come from the kid. It cannot come from the parents, or else it’s going to lead to a whole slew of problems.

FJ: Do you entertain the possibility that you two will sing together in one show?
LS: I would like to. That girl can sing! She sang acapella for us. I love how deep her voice is. She’s really good!

FJ: How do you see Maria Aragon, 10-20 years from now?
LS: When she gets 18- 20, and she’s gone through the change (puberty), and has come out of the tunnel, I would be interested what her voice is going to sound like. It’s going to be fun.
Maria seems to be very together kid for someone that young. She is very poised. She looked starstruck, and that was really cute.

FJ: Were you starstruck?
LS: A little bit, given this little kid, in a very short time, has been able to do, and on the endorsement of one artist, given that she’s one of the biggest pop artists in the world right now…
At first, when I saw Maria in YouTube, I asked “So, who’s this?”, and I wondered how auto-tuned her voice is. Then she sits, and starts to play the piano. Then she sings. You cannot autotune what comes out of the microphone. There I said, “Now, I like her”.

FJ: What is your advice to Maria and her passion in music?
LS: Follow it. Throw yourself into it.

Lea, as a performer, continues to travel the world. Aside from that, Lea is a columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. A mom and housewife, Lea said that whenever she’s at home, she does all the chores ordinary wives and mothers do. 🙂