I guess I’ll have to get used to it.
I met with a few members of “The Voice’s” Team Lea at ABS-CBN last Sunday, and a friend who walked with me out of the building said, “Talagang ‘Coach’ ang tawag nila sa iyo?”
This is very, very new to me—and it’s how every artist from every “Voice” team refers to us four … coaches. Probably none of us ever thought that would happen, but here we are. From being the mentored back in the day, we are now the mentors.
I can’t help thinking about my teachers, coaches and instructors who passed on precious knowledge about their art—be it for guidance in an acting choice, advice on another way to hit that E-flat, or just for much-needed encouragement. Their methods differed—some were strict, others cheerful—but the end result was always something brand-new to add to my arsenal, or at least have access to, as a performer.
Evenings with Tita Baby
I was 9 when when I had one-on-one coaching sessions with Tita Baby Barredo for “Annie.” One evening, she fed me two pieces of balut, saying they would give me much-needed energy. It was not my first exposure to that delicacy, but it was the first time I heard of it as a source of power.
She was patient with me much of the time, demonstrating how I was to deliver every line. For some members of my team on “The Voice,” I find myself doing the exact same thing, whether it’s a lick in the song, or to show that one can deliver a number outside of one’s usual genre. This has happened quite a few times. It certainly brings me back to those nights at the Insular Life cafeteria.
With Tita Bibot (Zeneida Amador), the lectures I retained the most had to do with teamwork. She often said, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” For the “Voice” Battles (which begin airing this weekend), my guest adviser (who shall remain nameless until the pairings are announced) have told the teams that, since the competitive factor was already inherent in each performance (the face-offs take place in a boxing ring, for crying out loud), each duet would be all about putting together a great number. Period. I will be watching for cooperation and teamwork, which are absolutely necessary in the real world of show biz.
Finding your own voice
When I was 14, one summer in California, my brother Gerard and I auditioned for a children’s choir that was to record a new version of the USA for Africa theme song, “We Are the World.” Choir director and coach Marta Woodhull placed me with the sweet-voiced sopranos. When I said I wanted to have a different sound, she said, “This is your voice; don’t try to be anything but you.” This is a piece of advice that I’m trying to impart to my team.
You can be fixed
During “Miss Saigon,” possibly my lowest low as a singer, I met a wonderful singing teacher named Mary Hammond. She was very motherly and nurturing, and had many West End actors for clients. When my voice was run ragged due to a grueling eight-show-a-week schedule, Cameron Mackintosh, after consultations with ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist Garfield Davies, sent me to Mary.
Well, Mary not only saved my voice; she took it apart and put it back together, making it stronger. She undid years of bad habits, fixed my singing posture, retrained my mouth and face to produce certain vowel sounds, and got my entire body in the habit of supporting my voice. I plan to do this with my team.
My most recent search for an acting coach ended in Los Angeles at Lesly Kahn’s studio in Hollywood. Lesly was my first instructor and she was terrific, but the one I truly fell in love with was Stan Kirsch. At one private session prior to an audition, Stan’s verbal feedback, as great as it was, was not as important as the smile on his face and how he leaned forward with great interest. That face that lit up when I did something interesting and truthful, his body language that gave me the wherewithal to keep going, and a hug to say “well done”—those are among the things that fueled my enthusiasm at Blind Auditions.
I know what it is like on the other side of the fence. As a would-be coach, I needed the singers for whom I had turned my chair to know that I really, really wanted them on my team.
Now, there is an actual team of artists with access to what I know. And I fully intend to share.