D’ Strafford levels up: ‘Proving’ the upwardly mobile phantoms of the elections

You have to give the guys from D’Strafford credit for cheek, for cobbling a parallel #Halalan2016 universe.

You have to give them credit, too, for causing very respectable and decent folk to hyperventilate with joy.

d strafford

Never mind that the morning after, the equally respectable Manila Bulletin had to take down the   news item about Mar Roxas “sustaining” his lead over rival wannabe-presidents Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay and Miriam Santiago.


I guess it’s hard for professionals to ignore the reality of D’Strafford’s latest press release. Guess it’s hard to defend a survey firm’s credibility when their release mentions candidate Poe twice, under different rankings.

poe twice

It’s also hard to keep a straight face when the Sun Star — whose editor got into a tussle with social media critics after its report on Strafford’s debut — placed in ”      ” project manager JM Balancar’s defense of their methodology.

It’s the “proving” question, dudes, Balancar told journalists in  press conference following the release of their April 13-18 alleged survey.

He was asked why their press release had nothing to back up the claim that Roxas surged because Duterte ‘s rape joke scared off some fans. He said other things, of course. Feel free to read the quotes.


Unlike other survey firms, D’ Strafford sends out a press release, instead of a detailed report that includes mechanics and sub-topics.

We still haven’t seen the actual “proving” question. So we don’t know if voter-respondents got lost in the racing syntax of D’ Strafford’s pollsters. It’s a trademark.

Read: Ro-Ro and the Funny Survey

Maybe Balancar’s just exciteable. Maybe its ecstasy. Hey, you can actually “feel” them breathless with admiration whenever they tweet about Roxas.

It’s the kind of wide-eyed wonder that gals and guys fall for. They’d be lovely in front of the television cameras, yes?

Except it’s also hard to get a handle on these guys. They are virtual phantoms. Read Thinking Pinoy’s latest report.

All that money spent for this reported un-commissioned major survey by a “family-owned corporation with five members” — if the SunStar got the details right.

I got some names during an earlier interview with an incorporator named Mark Lim.

But D’ Strafford dudes go through names as fast as Balancar rushes through his sentences.

Lim said their in-house, corporate survey lead was a Jeffrey Concio, credentials a top secret.

The SunStar story said it was in-house consultant Ralph Fuentes who did the honours of presenting results of the first survey.

ralph Fuentes

But they seem to have levelled up fast, if we can trust the tabloid Abante, another eager chronicler of D’ Srtafford.

They apparently now have a “survey director” by the name of John Stevenson. 


When I clicked the share button on that story, here’s what came out.


So I googled John Stevenson.

And, hey, these dudes must be real movers and shakers!

Imagine that, a Conservative British MP for survey director?

stevenson mp

Or so Abante claims. You would think they’d bring a photographer to a press con announcing the results of a major survey. You would think any reporter these days would have a mobile phone with a still and video camera.

Instead, we get a file photo and a leap of faith on the part of the editors. The story actually sounds lifted from yet another wacky press release — though I’ll lay the blame for the photo on Abante.

I was tempted to write to Mr. Stevenson but suddenly thought of the embarrassment that could bring Roxas, the man who would be President. But I will. Tomorrow.

Meantime, let us rejoin in the miracle! And let us enjoy the cosmic tweets from the phantoms of this election.


American Idol: ‘Artists’ shine on Top 10 performance night

Who dares wins — if you got the talent to back up that courage.

A Top Ten night on American Idol is often a make or break event. Faced with so many hummable tunes, some contestants will transform the show’s snazzy stage into some sleazy karaoke joint. Some will choose a great hit and spin it around a bit “to make it their own”. And then there will be the brave ones who will take on the unexpected song.

On a night when the artists forged ahead of the pack, a 16 year-old young woman — still in braces — tamed everyone with the manliest of songs.

Malaya Watson, 16 Photo from Wetpaint.com
Malaya Watson, 16 Photo from Wetpaint.com

Malaya Watson has never received flowers nor has experienced that great HHWW teenage rite of passage (holding hands while walking). Yet with Bruno Mars’ “When I was Your Man,” that lament to things that could have been, she went through the scale of emotions with a pitch-perfect delivery.

Seated throughout on a stool, Malaya eschewed egregious diva runs, throwing just enough power to remind viewers she’s this season’s belter.

She nailed every note.  But what will remain with us are the lines that drop into quiet pools, punctuated with husky murmurs of pain. And her face, ageless, a woman of such great power she doesn’t have to change a word in what’s the modern equivalent of a barroom confession.

Completing the top three are two white boys with guitars and a shared aversion to smiles.

Alex Preston  Photo by Wetpaint.com
Alex Preston Photo by Wetpaint.com

Alex Preston, the pompadoured guy who’s sometimes too precious for his own good, went with One Direction, an uber pop gang of puppies as only the British can make them. Wisely, he chose one of the group’s few songs with a reasonable amount of depth.

Preston infused “Story of My Life” with a smidgen of country crossed with rock and roll. This guy is the strangest thing. He can stand there, hardly acknowledge the crowd. Yet, as J-Lo demands, he can own the stage.

It’s almost like watching MTV, with the camera bringing us into his inner world. Some people are entertainers who will do anything to please the audience. Some people are artists who challenge the audience to take a walk with them. Preston’s with the second group.

I doubt Sam Woolf has the habit of asking people to take a stroll. It probably takes a lot of energy just for Woolf to stay and deal with a world that has demanded so much from him.

Remembering last week’s disastrous “Come Together” —  that really deserved a bottom three result — I cringed on hearing he’d chosen  “We are Young” by Fun and Janelle Monáe.

It’s basically a sly ode to the wild (and slightly addled) ones, those rebels without a cause. The song comes with a gruesome but fascinating video that clobbers anyone who fails to get the lyrics’ message.

Woolf did a nifty that’s all him — the great outsider, inarticulate, with eyes that seem to be on the watch for the first kick of the night. He started the narrative in musing mode.

Keith was right during the auditions. The guy’s pitch is superb. He naturally slides into every note. Maybe there could be more oomph in his movements. But once he got into “we could set the world on fire,” I imagined a horde of gals and guys jumping to it. He also has very sexy deeper notes — check out “so between the drinks and subtle things”.

Woolf’s not going home. That ending? That’ll keep him in the top half of the group. Then he can slay everyone with his original songs, masterpieces of pain. Check him out on YouTube.

Jena Irene Asciutto should be safe with her energetic, confident cover of “Clarity”. It’s the kind of song that makes you move, though none of the melody will stick. (Harry’s right but he could have said it nicer.)

I’d choose Jena’s genuinely fun version of a so-so song over Caleb Johnson’s pretentious take on Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory”. He has a great voice but he’s just too Jack Black. I want to take my rockers more seriously.

Two other female contestants gave almost but-not-quite performances.

Maybe Jessica Meuse really doesn’t want to endorse homicidal behavior. Maybe she should have chosen another song because Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” deals with that and only that.

Or maybe she could have calibrated her smile. A sarcastic smile, check. A semi-leer, check. A manic smile, yes. But a pageant smile? Come on. It’s enough to induce some homicidal behaviour. (And J-Lo should learn to read or, at least, stop pontificating on songs she hasn’t studied. So what if it’s a dancing tune? Has anyone seen Eddy Grant smile while doing “Gimme Hope, Joanna”? Or the Cranberries doing “Zombie”. Or Bob Marley doing “Buffalo Soldier”?

Majesty Rose did well to give Avicci’s “Wake Me Up,” a folksy twist. But she still sounded like a lost Disney soul and has too many affectations and unnecessary notes. Enough with the Bambi eyes. Let’s see some grit, please.

The bottom three include two contestants I really like:

Last week, MK Nicollete’s gauche vibe was just perfect for  “To Make You Feel My Love,”  a Bob Dylan original brought to glory by Adele. Her cover of Pink’s “Perfect” was just painful. I’ve seldom seen body language so antithetical to one’s get-up. She was all over the place, sleepwalking, ambling, treating  the stage was a sidewalk. A pity because she has one of the best voices.

I never really liked Dexter but good ‘ol country dude might just hang on there, the beneficiary of brand loyalty.

The one I’m really scared for is CJ Harris. He just fell apart. It was ugly. And I don’t think he’ll survive Harry’s righteous criticism.

Not a particularly stellar night. The most memorable moment? The Harry-Keith catfight, with the latter sassing the sometimes pedantic Connick with a barrage of multisyllabic words.


Former Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, courtesy of his Facebook page
Former Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, courtesy of his Facebook page

It really takes two to tango. Everyone knew the recent off-tangent attacks of Sen. Juan Ponce-Enrile would not go unchallenged. We have this pungent Tagalog saying, “lintik lang any walang ganti.” (Only a lighting strike does not invite revenge.) And so it happened.

Much of what Sen. Miriam Santiago’s rants — carried live by everyone and witnessed by 200 students she had personally invited to the opera — were historical “truths”.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, courtesy of her Facebook page
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, courtesy of her Facebook page

Perhaps, only Enrile believes otherwise, lost as he is in his games. We’re  all waiting for the Ombudsman to strip him of the last of his statesman posturing.  100 days since the surrender of everybody’s good friend — Janet Napoles — we’re still waiting.

Miriam had a good thing going. But she had to go ruin it with prurient, unnecessary stuff and psycho-babble.

Truth didn’t win this round — we still don’t know just HOW he became plaster mastermind and that was what I was waiting for. The biggest loser: the Senate as an institution.

Lest Enrile gets underserved underdog status (and, no, neither is Miriam), here’s a short blast from the past, courtesy of the senator from Iloilo:

 “My attacker is the icon of shameless lying. Under President Ferdinand Marcos, he claimed that as defense secretary he was ambushed, thus laying the ground for the imposition of martial law. Under President Corazon Aquino, he retracted and admitted that his ambush was faked and staged. Then under President Benigno Aquino III, he retracted again and he now claims in his memoirs that the ambush was genuine after all. He eats his own words for breakfast. In the law of evidence, he has absolutely no credibility. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. False in one thing, false in all things.”

 “In 2012, the Communist Party of the Philippines sent an email to media, with the following condemnation of Enrile as delusional in his notorious memoirs: “Enrile was Marcos’ hatchet man and the one who signed countless warrants that led to the capture and detention of thousands of former leaders, workers, students, activists in the Church, and other critics and opponents of martial law. Enrile’s hands are forever stained with the blood of close to 4,000 people ‘salvaged’ during Marcos’ reign of terror…. Enrile exposed himself as a liar.” (Inquirer Visayas, 10 October 2012).

 “During martial law, Enrile was the almighty defense secretary, when I was appointed the youngest RTC judge in the mecca of judges, Metro Manila, serving in Quezon City. In 1985, when gasoline prices went up, some fifty students from UP and Ateneo joined a street demonstration in Cubao to protest the martial law regime. Most of them were seniors scheduled to take their final exams and to graduate from college. Enrile ordered the military to arrest the students, on the basis of a martial law presidential decree that defined the crime of illegal assembly as any gathering opposed to the administration, and that imposed the death penalty.

“I was assigned to the case. I suspended trial in all other cases and continuously heard the illegal assembly case morning, afternoon, and evening. The issue was: Does martial law automatically cancel the right to bail? My decisive answer was no, and I ordered the release of the students. However, the military defied my release order, and in fact filed a second charge of inciting to sedition. The accused appealed, and the Supreme Court in effect upheld me. This was the 1990 case ofBrocka, Cervantes, et al. v. Enrile, Ramos, et al., 192 SCRA 183 (1990).

From the very beginning, Enrile has always resented that Supreme Court decision and held it against me, for refusing to kowtow to him even during the dark days of martial law, when he swaggered around town as if he owned it. The Supreme Court slapped him down, ruling: “that the criminal proceedings had become a case of persecution, having been undertaken by state officials in bad faith.” The Court pointed a finger at Enrile, and criticized “respondent’s bad faith and malicious intent.” The Court warned Enrile that he did not have a license to run roughshod over a citizen’s basic constitutional rights, such as due process, or manipulate the law to suit dictatorial tendencies.” (Emphasis added). This was and remains Enrile’s arrogant, tyrannical attitude to young people: persecution in bad faith, malice, and dictatorial. He has never changed. Brocka v. Enrile, at p. 189.”

 What makes me sad: they had to become enemies for her to expose this. But that’s the way it is in the land of the gods.

Typhoon Mitoy hits town: 5th round, Blinds, The Voice of the Philippines

Lea Salonga's photo from The Voice website, ABS-CBN
Lea Salonga’s photo from The Voice website, ABS-CBN

(With updates and additional links)

Lea Salonga can be a tad too big (in gestures) for TV, but she does spice up The Voice of the Philippines (#VoicePHBlinds)  with terms like libog or whatever bleep-worthy thing she said last night.

There is no better word than libog to describe what we’re all looking for. Lea rammed that home last night with a master class in bringing out chi.

(I failed to post a review of the 4th blind audition last week. Read it here.

Voice isn’t just about range. Voice isn’t just about one’s ability to follow the bouncing videoke ball. Voice isn’t always about vocal acrobatics. We, the audience, need liboglust, that which quickens the senses, whether the loins, heart or mind, or any combination of these.

The problem with libog is, it’s not a static object. It can’t be all exclamation points. It can’t stop at come-hither whispers. Growls are just the start.

Libog is a journey through a maze and woe to us who lose our way: A roar shakes the arena, brings the audience to their feet; too much of it and you get a headache. A growl or two can be sexy; an unbroken trail says there’s a maniac at your door. A primal scream delivers us to a state of liberation. Plural, it means murder under way.

Libog is theater-in-the-round, a process that passes from artist to audience, crests and wanes and plateaus and then peaks again. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to peak — ask the Tantric masters. (Libog will always trounce… cupcakes.)

Sleepy start

The 5th round of blind auditions was a bit sleepy until the end, when a tornado named Mitoy hit the hall.

There was a taxi driver cuter than the guy who delivered a very contrived “surprise” (again). Pity his voice didn’t match his looks. But there’s always soap opera for him.

ANGELIQUE ALCANTARA, from The Garden City of Samal. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com
ANGELIQUE ALCANTARA, from The Garden City of Samal. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com

Angelique Alcantara from the Garden City of Samal shares the same kooky charm that propelled KZ Tandigan to win X-Factor Philippines.

She skirted greatness with Rhianna’s “Diamond in the Stars.” “Diamonds”. Her deep and high tones had equal clarity. But Angelique’s rhythm dragged a bit and there was just this slice of sensuality and yearning missing from her performance.

Still, that’s a dark horse there, especially with Bamboo around to offer guidance. There’s certainly enough drama in her backstory to tap into.

MOIRA DELA TORRE, a voice talent for commercials. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com
MOIRA DELA TORRE, a voice talent for commercials. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com

Moira de la Torre, blessed with girl-next-door looks, has the courage to share a past clouded by anorexia, the disease – often fueled by self-esteem problems – characterized by willful starvation.

Now a voice talent for commercials (McDo, for one), she seems stronger, beyond the pain.

Heads probably snapped up with Moira’s angelic start  to Bamboo’s hit, “Hallelujah”.  Then it went downhill.

If Lea had a problem with Lee Grane’s “Anak” cover, Bamboo couldn’t connect with Moria’s take on his anthem of rage and disaffection.

The rock star tried to be polite. Stripping that song of the anger that burns bright in all of us was just a bad move. There is little that is pretty in “Hallelujah.” You can do it as blues or punk or even Asin-type folksy. You can’t make a girl-band ditty out of it. Just doesn’t work. Still, apl.de.ap made a last-minute save, hearing the potential despite the Moira’s miscue.

Someone should ask Sarah Geronimo what she means by Pinoy pero tasteful. She mentioned that in reference to Gab Ramos’ play  on  Julianne’s “Tulak ng Bibig, Kabig ng Dibdib” .

GAB RAMOS idolizes Sarah Geronimo. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com
GAB RAMOS idolizes Sarah Geronimo. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com

Gab actually almost ruined a perfectly good song loved by youngsters because of its laidback, conversational style. He tried too hard, inserted too many unnecessary notes in the early verses. He should have saved it for that last refrain, which was very good but failed to stand out amid all those curls.

Still, it’s a simpatico voice and face. He and Sarah could make beautiful music together.


It was a sleepy night. Even the studio audience’s reaction was tepid. Bad news for a musical reality show.

And then came Mitoy Yonting. I’ve never imagined a beefy, middle-aged guy singing “Bakit Ako Mahihiya?”  — the biggest hit of that tragic songbird, Didith Reyes. 

MITOY YONTIN formerly performed in TV comedy shows and is the lead singer of the band, Draybers. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com
MITOY YONTIN formerly performed in TV comedy shows and is the lead singer of the band, Draybers. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com

There must have been a collective dropping of jaws there – starting with Lea.

Bamboo couldn’t resist the storm either. Neither needed that amazing last note to be convinced that this was the real deal – voice, character, presence and a sly, wry reading that breathed new life into the old jukebox classic.

It was a stroke of genius to sing that, especially since Mitoy’s band name plumbs a pop staple of national consciousness — jeepney drivers. (His band actually performs in posh Resorts World).

Mitoy is a bigger-than-life version of every Juan, wisecracks and all.

I remember the sign, “Driver, sweet lover,” from the jeepney rides of college and early workdays. All those people they ferry back and forth, all those comic-tragic tales they exchange at end of day.

Even as Mitoy hams it up – and there’s a danger of overdoing that one day – he gives us a glimpse into the hunger that drives him and every artist who needs to sacrifice some dignity just to get ahead in the world.

That was telling, the line about showing his “real” (tunay) voice. It’s heart-breaking to watch those desperate Youtube entreaties to Ellen Degeneres. And you have to respect someone who says, “wala akong pride pag-dating ng trabaho” — as he tells Storyline. He’s taken any job just to be able to continue his singing. It’s a work ethic beyond most of us.

Mitoy always had just one coach in mind. Lea certainly can be his savior. She will push him away – maybe kicking and screaming – from the slapstick that once spelled survival. Mitoy’s subtext, however, says he’ll welcome that change of image on mass media. (His bar fans already know that.)

Hopefully, Lea’s mentoring can get Mitoy to bare the entire alphabet of emotions. He’s that rare singer who defies labeling. Sure, we appreciate the comic bent; I look forward to seeing him perform those old novelty hits. Not every clown can make us weep. The day Mitoy does that, The Voice is his.

WHAT IS ‘SOUL’? – 4th blind cuts, The Voice of the Philippines

On the surface, The Voice of the Philippines (#VoicePHBlinds),  carries the themes are meritocracy and justice. The Philippine franchise’s website states:

“Issues like gender, age, economic status or life story do not contribute to how artists are recruited to each team; rather, their voice and their performance will matter. Thus, the show’s slogan, ‘Pangarap ang Puhunan, Boses ang Labanan’.”

The coaches of the musical reality show have harped enough on their bias for “soul”. That’s a good bias to have. The best musical artists are storytellers who transport us into two or three-minute vignettes of life, whether as it is or as it can, should be.

Pretty isn’t soul

So I was a bit disappointed that no coach turned around during the 4th cut for a bass-baritone with the potential to carve a swathe through the country’s matronic map.

JARON LILICAN, grab from his youtube account
JARON LILICAN, grab from his youtube account

Had Jaron Liclican reached for the high notes Lea and Bamboo wanted, he would have crashed and burned. He doesn’t have chest tones; it’s a sexy, throaty sound but throaty all the way.

Jaron sang “Feeling Good” — and didn’t break out into even the shortest of struts, not even a lope.

Yet, the implied message, that a non-belter lacks passion, isn’t just untrue; it’s unfair.

Many people — and singers — will never break out ala Broadway. No white water frenzy there. But they can surge like mighty rivers. Their passions build up slowly; people don’t even realize they’re being swept away.

Jaron showed a glimmer of that promise. That it was Apl who expressed remorse for dawdling gives some comfort; I had chosen him for the US-based wannabe. Bamboo is simply too anthemic for Lilican. Apl could have given him some style.

MICHAELLEN TEMPORADA, photo from The Voice of the Philippines website
MICHAELLEN TEMPORADA, photo from The Voice of the Philippines website

Then all four coaches turned for Michaellen Temporada. At home, everyone went, “whaaaaaaat??!

Actually, everyone went, “awwwwwww!” with the first few notes of his cover of”Summertime”.

Not that Michael’s a bad singer. He’s very, very good; smooth, with nary a stray note marring his runs. But even with the light and shadow play, he left us cold.

“Summertime” isn’t just a paean to blue skies. It’s not just a lullaby (just as “Ugoy ng Duyan isn’t just a lullaby). It’s a distillation of dreams and the broken glass that litter their wake. It’s from Porgy and Bess, for god’s sake, a musical that initially turned off critics because of its grit and darkness.

There was nothing in Michael’s reading (even with eyes closed) that bared the slightest smidgen of pain, or even a mother’s effort to hide that from her child. There was no sensuality. I have no idea why Bamboo was crowing about ‘soul.’

Maybe it’s just me. But take a look at this clips of Fantasia, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke and Norah Jones with their takes on the classic. Not that everyone has to lament and caterwaul. Ella, Billie, Sam and Norah don’t.

Michael’s gorgeous voice lacks nuance. It was like painting-by-numbers. Lea could wring something from him. At the very least, she could provide context to songs. But he chose Sarah. So expect the orthodox ballad route.

(I don’t understand all the contestants’ talk about “sincerity”. Not saying Sarah isn’t. But there’s more to being sincere than just wide-eyed ingénue affects. Lea’s theatrics can still grate – ditto apl — but there’s no denying the sincerity there, the empathy for the struggle, the desire to cheer on someone for latent strengths that may be overshadowed by a not-so-good performance.)

Fun, Faith & Abondanza

MORISETTE AMONMorisette Amon, 16, has competed before, getting her break on TV5. She’s done Camp Rock, which suits her perky persona and powerful voice.

Sarah Geronimo, no slouch in comedy and perkiness, can teach her to loosen up and not be too de numero with her movements – and hit those risky notes with precision. Though she did impress Sarah with a particularly nifty pitch shift.

Isabella Fabregas is a reminder that nice girls can have oomph, too.

ISABELLA FABREGAS: The Church singer can rock it. photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com
ISABELLA FABREGAS: The Church singer can rock it. photo from thevoice.abs-cbn.com



Bamboo immediately heard the gospel timbre and the inclusiveness in Isa’s voice that made the song resonate, right from the first line: “Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow…”

It was a neat balance of music and personality — moonshine, a blend of molasses and fire.

Someone gave a forced smile on hearing Isa’s background – church choir singer. But the young woman’s performance did reflect on what people look for in their churches: Compassion.

Radha Tinsay is well loved and not just for her beautiful face (the photo below doesn’t do her justice). Her old band Kulay was popular. Despite the setback suffered after a tragedy that eventually led to a permanent break, she exudes confidence – mixed with a big dollop of defiance.

RADHA TINSAY shows the allure of abondanza. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn
RADHA TINSAY shows the allure of abondanza. Photo from thevoice.abs-cbn

There’s that belter’s voice, of course. And the groove. Although the fashion seemed incongruous, I guess anyone of any age and size can ask, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”

She can do definitely do R&B; even torch. But I have a hunch she’ll be even more moving with a quiet, acoustic song.

The moment the women coaches turned, it was a love fest. I’m not sure if Radha’s kinda-famous status will be boon or bane when viewers’ votes count. But Lea’s a perfect match; the right age and with the right experience to draw out joys of abondanza.

So far, this has been a contest among the girls. If Twitter is any gauge, no guy has gotten the level of response the gals now enjoy. Not even the one who got all judges to turn.


The Voice of the Philippines got off to a slow start. Yeah, despite the Twitter buzz. Four of the biggest Filipino musical talents rockin’ out in the pilot night’s opening number and then things went downhill.

Their cover of The Script’s “Hall of Fame” wasn’t that memorable either. They could have chosen a tune with power chords and driving rhythm that spur the audience into dance. However, I can appreciate the difficulty of finding THE song that does justice to all four coaches: international musical theater star Lea Salonga, apl.de.ap of Black-Eyed Peas fame, rocker Bamboo Manalac and Sarah Geronimo, the pop princess who rose to fame by winning a reality singing show

THE VOICE-BANNERThe Voice of the Philippines” — the name itself doesn’t lend much to excitement. It sounds like an oratorical contest. The Twitter hashtag #TheVoiceofthePhilippines takes too much space. Just ditch those two little words, please.

(In a country where every little barangay sing-a-long has a diva or two, a title like “The Voice of the Philippines” sounds a tad pretentious, too. I haven’t heard anyone described as The Voice of America — which would probably qualify as a copyright affront on the US government-owned radio station — or The Voice of Britain; it’s always, “winner of The Voice”… USA, Britain, or wherever they come from.)

It could have been the old-model TV in sister’s bedroom. Watching the first episode of The Voice, I couldn’t reconcile the euphoric reactions of the judges to the sights and sounds on thE small screen.

THOR DULAY, photo from www.davaobase.com
THOR DULAY, photo from http://www.davaobase.com

Thor Dulay was the best of a mediocre lot. The self-proclaimed “Master of Soul” has been around for a while. A Facebook friend turns out to be a fan of the singer who sees himself an R&B artist — which is probably why he chose Apl over Lea.

But did the Ateneo de Davao graduate, who’s already sung for David Foster, really merit all four judges turning? While Thor hit some high notes, his voice tightened at the upper register and lacked timbre at the lower range. And no charisma either.

UPDATE: Reader Joy Lora wrote to say Thor didn’t just perform for Foster.

“He actually won a contest (Born to sing) wherein David Foster himself selected the winners,” Lora wrote. (For the rest of her note, please see comment box.)

It’s a clean voice, all right; Thor sings the right notes and evades flats and sharps. But we’re not looking for good voices, are we? We’re looking for good voices of star material. He didn’t look or sound like any soul master, more like a middling balladeer. I’m not sure that singing backup for Vice Ganda is a good indicator of potential. Does anyone remember being wowed or bowled over by the comedian’s musical numbers?

I didn’t catch Daryll Shy, the folk singer from Baguio who got the votes of Apl and Lea and chose the latter. No doubt that the Filipino star of West End and Broadway is a superb technician, so there may be some hope there.

The pretty Deb Victa got Bamboo by default. You’ve probably seen Deb’s twinkling eyes and dimples on TV —  as Lea Salonga  noted in a divine example of back-handed compliment. (Which aspiring artist/commercial model wants to be reminded she’s not that memorable a face?)

That Bamboo was the only one who turned — and he sure looked pleased by Deb’s looks — is very good news for her. Lea and Sarah, even at their kindest, would reduce her to jelly. Bamboo’s a stylist; he could free her from that hotel lounge singing, infuse some swag and strut and ooomph. Who knows? Her Facebook page hints at gray matter behind the ingenue image.

Bamboo's photo courtesy of The Voice website, ABS-CBN
Bamboo’s photo courtesy of The Voice website, ABS-CBN

A balut vendor who wants to sign for his family’s survival is a good backstory. And, hell, we’re all suckers for a rags-to-riches tale (see Nora Aunor or, lately, Jovit Baldovino). But there was nothing in Romel Colao to separate him from the millions of karaoke-loving Filipinos. His singing failed to move any of the judges.

His balut did, however, prodding an impressive display of kalye-eating style from Sarah. (That was a genius PR move, really.) Calao also got a belt from Apl. Two other guys, including one who churned out a pail-load of cheesy to curry favor with Sarah, got tepid platitudes.

The youngest judge  proved the sternest taskmaster. Her comments, on the emotive connections or lack thereof, were on spot.

Sarah, who is usually saccharine in those TV variety and talk shows, backpedalled on tweetums affectations. She might just be finally hitting maturity. About time, too.

Sarah Geronimo's photo from The Voice website, ABS-CBN
Sarah Geronimo’s photo from The Voice website, ABS-CBN

Lea, on the other hand, gasped and squealed over Cherry Mae “Chien Berbana of Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. She must have heard something that didn’t quite sail through the airwaves.

From where we sat, Chien’s voice had power but overdosed on rasps and growls. Lea can teach her subtlety – maybe.

Lea Salonga's photo from The Voice website, ABS-CBN
Lea Salonga’s photo from The Voice website, ABS-CBN

She can also try to teach Chien vocal exercises to loosen up the throat and chest muscles on the upper notes.

I get that Chien was trying for an Aegis-vavavoom-rocker persona, but the hit duo slides effortlessly from alto to hallelujah-belting sans brassy grate. Still, it’s always a thrill to witness a raw talent being polished by the rigors of competition and Lea has a houseful of tricks (sorry, techniques) learned from decades of performing on the unforgiving theater stage.

Lea’s TV projection helps explains her frustration at not being able to win over Filipino showbiz patrons. She’s wrong in saying Pinoys don’t appreciate her voice. But what can stun a theater audience comes out a tad too loud and OA on the boob tube. Something’s just lost in the transmission.

Everyone loves Lea’s voice — when they get to hear it. How many Filipinos can afford theater, especially back when she was performing for Repertory Philippines? And while we’re talking musicals, I’m wondering what she isn’t playing Celeste’s part in “Katy”? And maybe have the Cultural Center of the Philippines take a pared-down version around the country?

The Voice may liven up and lighten up tonight. The sneak preview showed a lot of gorgeous faces and a number of good voices. Already, there’s buzz around Abby Assistio, the winsome lass with no hair.

Anyway, I’m happy there’s one talent show in town that doesn’t feature acrobats, sand artists, magicians, dancers and fire eaters. So I’ll stick around a bit for The Voice.

Did you think any of tonight’s contestants will make it tothe final round? Who? And why? Will the forced, wooden “wit” of the judges improve tomorrow?  Whadcha think?

What is “private” in a digital world? (‘Amalayer’ and the world)

Mob, from http://www.concurringopinions.com

Gregory Paulo Llamoso‘s video of a young woman haranguing a guard at the Santolan LRT2 station went viral overnight. Less that 24 hours after he posted the video Tuesday  night (Nov. 13), more than 47,000 people had shared his video. More than 11,000 people had pressed the “like” icon.

Llamoso’s introductory note is straightforward:

“RUDE Passenger Humiliate a Lady Guard”

I was about to leave Santolan LRT 2 Station sa may Marcos Highway kanina, but a loud voice caught my attention and all the people present there, ang lakas ng boses niya even she was small..Buti nalang the Lady Guard exhibited the right behavior. She did not fight back and she just kept cool and said her sorry. She didn’t even utter foul words against the bully passenger. I dont know the side of the story but some Bystander told me na sinita siya ng Lady Guard kasi mali ang pinasukan niyang way but the passengers behavior surprised me, sobrang degrading naman yung ginawa niya sa Lady Guard, her arrogance and misplaced sense is a living proof that being a true woman requires more than just privileged education and breeding, kaya parang siya ang walang pinag-aralan in that case..sayang hindi ko alam school niya., pinuntahan ko nalang yung Head ng security and suggested na dalhin sa office yung babaeng nagwawala hindi in public, nagkaroon tuloy ng Scandal dun na really an unacceptable behavior…”

The controversy has given rise to parallel arguments.

Thousands are jeering at the young woman, a coed at a Manila college. Critics mock what they see as speech affectations,  what they perceive as the warped logic of her videotaped statements and her general demeanor.

Many of the reactions are downright cruel, imputing moral faults other than the ones shown by Llamoso’s video. Videos have also come out, lampooning the young woman. A fake Twitter account, which many fell for, played out what many see as misplaced snobbery.

A second camp decries what they see as an invasion of privacy. This school thinks no one should post a video — or respond to one — of a private person in a meltdown situation. People have scorned news coverage of an “irrelevant” situation and an “irrelevant” person.

On his Facebook page, lawyer Mel Sta. Maria accuses Llamoso  of breaching the “Abuse of Right Doctrine”.

“For me, there is something wrong in the posting of that video. While anyone is free to take pictures or videos, he or she must nevertheless not abuse that right. This means the photographer or the videoer must not use it to hurt, embarass, or humiliate other people in the exercise of his or her right. If there is abuse, he or she can be held accountable for the injury to the one embarrassed. This is what we call in law the ABUSE OF RIGHT DOCTRINE. YOu might technically do something “legal” but you can still hurt people and may be held liable.

“True, the girl might have over-reacted in that incident and true, based only from the video, the security guard appears to be soft spoken, and probably, it is also true that the reaction of the girl might be wrong, but this does not give another the license to humiliate and embarass her to millions of people by posting the video ( especially if he has nothing to do with the incident). There is no such thing as the liberty to hurt people. BTW, the CYbercrime law is irrelevant in this case. You do not need that law to hold accountable an abuser of right.”

A third view sees the subject as fair game but notes the video lacked context and/or that all of us have, at one point or another, lost our tempers with gatekeepers. The difference, of course, being that in the past there would have been very few witnesses with the technical capability to record the incident. And a decade ago, most people would not have thought of sharing that video.

Fair Game

I’ll try to weave through the different strands on this very noisy national dialogue, starting with the issue of privacy and Sta Maria’s take on what he sees as legal but borderline abusive behavior.

The young woman committed no crime against the guard, That’s pretty clear. There were no physical blows. She is not a government official. She is a student. True, she may aspire to fame but that doesn’t automatically make her a public figure.

But those are not the only things to consider here.

There was an altercation that stemmed from her failure to subject belongings to an x-ray scan. She may or may not have suffered a bruise when the guard tried to delay her. Now, let’s view the setting.

LRT train wreck, Rizal Day Bombings, 2000

This was the LRT, which has had a horrifying brush with terrorism. Eleven persons were killed and 19 others were injured by a bomb planted in a train on the LRT1 on Dec. 30, 2000. There have been periodic bomb scares at LRT stations and authorities regularly launch anti-terror and rescue exercises.

LRTA security personnel are instructed to strictly implement the “No inspection, no entry” policy to ensure the safety of passengers, LRTA officer-in-charge Emerson Benitez said in a statement.

Security is not a matter to be dismissed. This was an x-ray process, not some ineffectual stirring with a barbecue stick. Ignore this precautionary measure at airports and you’ll be held by authorities. Even forgetting to turnover your cellphone will cause some hassle.  It’s not quite a crime, but it’s a pretty serious lapse that gives LRTA security the right to investigate you — or turn you back.

I’ve had clueless moments, especially on first time visits. When stopped, the proper thing is to give a sheepish smile, say sorry, turn back and follow the rules. Even if a guard raises his or her voice, I’ll take my lumps. This is a different case from some officious guy making things difficult for no good reason.

The videographer did not know about this when he took the video. Neither did the thousands who jeered in the hours after Gregory’s post went up.

Speaking to BMPM’s Anika Real, the former pediatric ICU nurse and aspiring singer said he heard other sarcastic comments — “Bravo! Bravo!” with clapping — from the young woman before deciding to take the video. He said an older man with a cup of coffee — perhaps a fellow commuter — tried to calm the young woman, to no avail. Later that night, he shared his video on his Facebook page, tagging friends: the tacit message being that they share this, too.

Now, Llamoso didn’t just take a video. He also took pains to alert the head of security so the incident could be resolved in a more private setting. The crowd gathering around the two women was beginning to be a security nightmare.

Llamoso is pretty clear about his motives:

“I don’t care how this incident started, nobody has the right to treat another person–especially one who’s merely performing a low-paying job just to put food on the table–this way.”

I understand where Sta. Maria is coming from. But I also understand why to Llamoso — and the many who share his views —  this was not just a private matter to be shrugged off.

Chris Lao, in his meltdown, ranted at the world at large, at abstract concepts like neglect. I felt then, and still feel, that he hurt no one. He may have been intemperate but in the context of road rage incidents, he was a boy scout.

What got the ire of most people in the LRT incident was the manner the subject screamed (no other word for it) at the security guard, the patronizing and condescending way she addressed the other woman.

For the many in humble positions who have been placed in a similar situation — think of sales people and waiters and millions of other frontline folk in service industries — this was not an irrelevant thing. The video spoke to untold slights, reminded them of instances when they had to take tongue-lashings in silence. To many people, THIS WAS PERSONAL.

But What About Us?

Angry mob, http://www.dreamyoga.com

I do not believe Llamaso meant to humiliate or mock the young woman. Even hearing her side,  I do not think the videographer was far off the mark.  (Kudos to Cesar Apolinario; we at BMPM tried but failed to get her.)

What raises concern is the cruelty heaped on the video subject. Criticism is acceptable but to call her names, to assume and imagine other moral faults, to mock her fragile dreams… that goes into bullying territory.

In proclaiming outrage of bullying behavior, people became  bullies, too. We became the enemy.

Did the media worsen this state of affairs?

I cannot speak for everyone. I think several websites and social media platforms tried to gatekeep against the most irresponsible responses. BMPM incurred the ire of some of those who posted when we took down some of the more outrageous comments. (We did not take down criticism of our coverage.)

Why We Do It

On Twitter, @unlawyer pointed out a similar case in Hongkong, where a young man berrated by a commuter after a request to lower his voice, took a video of the aggressor. While many attacked the perpetrator of verbal abuse, the videographer was also mocked for passively accepting the slurs hurled, including some that targeted his unknown and absent mother.

Llamoso, of course, was not party to the LRT incident but his video raises similar questions on “lifestyle, etiquette, civic awareness and media ethics”, as @unlawyer ponts out.

Based on an Australian government cyber-bulling template, the young woman at the LRT suffered harassment:

“tormenting someone with hateful and hurtful text messages, emails, posts and IMs that offend, humiliate or intimidate them.”

There is no doubt that cyber-bullying can have profound impact on a victim. From the same website, here are some of the effects of cyber- bullying: “anger, embarrassment, fear, poor performance at school, loss of confidence and self esteem, revenge cyber-bullying, self-harm, even suicide.”

At least half of these emotions have been felt, at one time or another, by many of the people who joined the Llamoso video fray. Unfortunately, many of us who regularly suffer in silence, intimidated by our antagonists, will strike out at someone we come to see as an epitome of our oppressors.

It is a very human instinct. It doesn’t make it right. That’s like shrugging off the abuse someone heaps today because he or she had been abused as a child.

@Pinoymommy voices the ambivalence many of us feel when she notes that “the bad effect is the bullying. But it’s good because bullies will keep their tempers or be cyberbullied.”

@mrsunlawyer and @Pinoymommy fret at how people, who are otherwise nice in face-to-face encounters, can become really mean on cyberspace. Both think the illusion of anonymity raises bravado among people and lessens their inhibition.

Many experts say the same thing. An advice column for teen victims of cyber-bullying explains:

“The detachment afforded by cyberspace makes bullies out of people who would never become involved in a real life incident. The Internet makes bullying more convenient and since the victim’s reaction remains unseen people who wouldn’t normally bully don’t take it as seriously.”

Cyber-space makes us feel more emotions faster — Maria Ressa gives fascinating lectures on how our emotions spread to friends around us, in degrees of separation, and in a more frenetic pace on the social media whirl.

At the same time, the illusion of physical distance can desensitize us to the effects our actions may have on others. I sometimes liken the effect to the cocoon that insulate those drone operators who whoop like cowboys as their bombs fall on right — or wrong — targets. You don’t see the gore up close and personal. You don’t see obvious signs of the harm you do. It’s almost like a video game — let’s try one more time and see if we can blast the SOB to kingdom come.

Cyber Mobs 

Social rifts, http://realtruth.org

Most websites on cyber-bullying focus on a more intimate scope — a bully at school taking a fight to the internet. The cases of Chris Lao and the LRT incident, however, are different. While not overtly political brawls, these cases have political and social underpinnings — even if some respondents don’t quite recognize their impulses.

When cyber-bullies come out by the thousands, we’re dealing with a cybermob, the digital equivalent of those old lynching parties or the more modern riots.

“Is the Cyber Mob a Threat to Freedom?” was the title of a cyber chat forum organized by Templeton Press at the launch of the essay collection, New Threats to Freedom.

The introduction by Adam Bellow warns that today’s threats may “appear in the guise of social and political progress.”

Forum notes say this: “According to Ron Rosenbaum and Lee Siegel, in their provocative contributions to the volume, the extraordinary advances made possible by the Internet have come at a sometimes worrisome cost. Rosenbaum focuses on how online anonymity has become a mask encouraging political discourse that is increasingly distorted by vitriol, abuse, and thuggishness. Siegel argues that the Internet has undermined long-established standards of excellence, promoting participation and popularity over talent and originality. Both writers warn against the growing influence of what Siegel calls “interactive mobs.”

I don’t share the depth of their pessimism or the apportioning of blame. Media, especially social media, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It reflects society. The vociferous, sometimes ugly exchanges we saw during the US Presidential campaign — and our own in 2010 — were rooted not so much in the ease by which we can hurl insults in cyberspace, as in the very real divides that exist in our respective populations.

Cyberspace didn’t create these feuds — even though it does fuel the exchange. Many factors feed on fear and anger — more so in real life than in cyber space.

It is the platform of expression that amplifies the roar of the mob. I don’t think cyber space substantially changes people. I believe that people will gradually learn to modify actions as they navigate the brave, new cyber universe.

No matter how addictive social media can be, most people reflect their own personalities on the Web, whether they post their true names and faces or some exotic avatar. The anger that people feel are rooted in very real experiences. We can shout all we want for a gentle, cyber media world — but the final shaping of this space will depend on how we deal with each other on the ground.

There, in the trenches where people bleed and die, and hunger, and nurse obvious and unseen wounds — that is where our social battles will be resolved.

We in the media will have to struggle more, wrestle with our ethical dilemmas. It won’t be easy. One can spend hours trying to explain nuances to a platform with more than 100,000 different voices. But the genie isn’t going back, so we gotta start talking straight with him.