A cheerful Charice flashes smiles and exudes confidence during a Philippine Daily Inquirer interview. The singer-recording artist says her career is back on track, after the far-from-silent pause that followed her coming out on national television. She enthusiastically talked as much about her projects and plans as her newfound freedom and love. INQUIRER.net’s Ryan Leagogo
She went from wary to a-joke-a-minute fun dude in the course of two hours.
Gone was the sweet Charice Pempengco girl who wore regulation clips and ribbons in her hair. She had since become big enough to sport a single stage name—a good measure of success—and, in her case, global.
Few singers/recording artists anywhere in the world have local and international management teams working side by side on their careers, as Charice does.
So we sat across her—a wisecracking firecracker in a severe black blazer and heavy boots— during a PDI multi-platform interview alternately awed and amused.
Much has been said about Charice’s turbulent family situation and, now, her sexual orientation, plus many other controversies in between. One thing that remained inarguable was that she is one of the most talented singers that the country has ever produced.
In last week’s interview— where she answered both our questions and those of fans sent via Twitter—Charice sounded and looked steadfast about getting her career back on track, after the far-from-silent pause that followed her coming out on national television. She enthusiastically talked as much about her projects and plans as her newfound freedom and love.
Immediately in sight are a new album, a concert with Aiza Seguerra in September, a big gig and a series of magazine photo shoots in the United States.
We told her she looked taller. Was it the brushed-up bob? “Star Margarine po,” she jested. Or was she wearing platform heels? “Oh no,” she said, and propped her left leg atop the table to show off a black leather boot.
What started off as a cold conversation was soon a rollicking exchange. Charice had everyone in stitches as she displayed her chest tattoo in a come-hither pose and mimicked The Minions from “Despicable Me.”
When at a loss for words, the 21-year-old singing sensation would blush, cover her face with her hands or turn, giggling, to girlfriend Alyssa Quijano, 20, for help. We basked in their mirth.
“This is the real Charice right here,” her talent manager Glenn Aldueza volunteered. The truth has, indeed, set her free.
Is it true that you are making a US album?
There are plans, but we have no timetable. We’re finishing one under Star Records. US [producers] are very picky about songs. My international album “Charice” took almost two years to make. I recorded almost 30 songs, but only 12 were used.
Tell us about your Star album.
It’s titled “Chapter 10,” and coming out in September. It’s like a book about my life—all the songs have stories behind them.
What will it sound like?
Genre-wise, more R&B, which is what I really wanted. In the past I was all about power ballads. I’m excited to offer something different. It’s a collection of some of my favorite songs.
Can we still expect those high diva notes?
I don’t want to be that “birit queen” anymore. I can no longer be labeled a diva—not with my image now! Fans will still want to hear power in my voice, so I can’t completely take away that aspect of my singing.
Expect something a bit toned down, though—something right in the middle. I’d like the fans to look forward to the songs, which are well-made and tagos sa puso. I want more people to relate to my songs.
By relatable, you mean songs that people will be able to sing along to? And who are the people you have in mind?
I recently performed Tamia’s “Officially Missing You” on “ASAP 18,” and someone said she liked me better now because she could sing along with me. She said my early songs were great, but that the top notes were always too high. I’d like to relate to people from age 8 to 88!
One of the songs is a duet with Alyssa, “How Could an Angel Break My Heart.” She sounds amazing. I also wrote a song, “Unexpected Love,” for the album—my first time. I wrote it while I was in the US. It’s going to be the first track, kasi ganun siya ka-special!
Do you have favorite tracks from your past albums?
That would be “Bounce Back.” It’s not very popular, but the lyrics are strong— it describes how I feel right now. I’d like to sing this to all doubters and naysayers.
Why wasn’t “Infinity” released in the United States?
Some of the songs didn’t pass their standards. They’re more about upbeat, danceable songs over there.
A fan (via Twitter) wants to know when you will visit Indonesia.
Glenn Aldueza: There was an invitation but it coincided with a gig in the US, which we are prioritizing, on Aug. 24. Charice was invited to judge and perform in the Indonesian “X Factor” but we couldn’t accept that, either.
How are the fans liking your new look?
I’ve always liked taking risks, just to see how people will react. I’m very thankful, but also surprised because the comments have been generally positive.
If you could have another talent, what would you like it to be?
That’s a tough one. Let me think … I recently discovered that I love playing basketball. Shooter pala ako! I got addicted to the sport when I moved to Cabuyao, Laguna (with Glenn’s family). I wouldn’t let my friends go even if they’re exhausted! I never experienced that as a child.
If someone were to ask you for a random piece of advice, what would it be?
This may sound cliché-ish, but … “The truth will set you free.”
About your coming out, what was the straw that broke the camel’s back—family, peers, society?
All of those! I didn’t think I could go back to work (after “X Factor Philippines”) unless I revealed who I was. Every day was a struggle—I was hurt by the speculations and criticisms. Some were true, but most of them were too much for me to handle.
Before coming out, I observed how people behaved when they saw Alyssa and me in public. There were some negative comments, but I was pleasantly surprised because I felt people already knew [that I was gay] and they have accepted me. I finally felt the respect that I had been looking for.
When did you know you were gay?
Way back in Grade 1, I already felt I was different. My friends were teasing me about this cute guy seated behind me in class, but my crush was the girl in front of me! By the time I was 10, I was sure.
So how did you feel about wearing girly clothes?
Awkward. As a kid, I was excited when I got to wear shorts. Anything but skirts! I just took it as what we now call … cosplaying!
That’s probably why you’re a good actor; you’ve been playing this role all your life!
Jodie Foster’s coming out inspired me. I got emotional when she said she no longer wanted to live like she was in a reality show. That was how I felt!
Who do you turn to in trying times?
I have six friends whom I trust completely. They’ve known that I’m gay for quite a while. Some of them work abroad. I know that they were all relieved when I came out. One of those six friends is based in China. He came home when he heard and he was like, “Finally, bro!” A few others turned up and we all ended up crying. I’m so thankful that they’re all part of my journey.
Couldn’t you come out sooner?
Sometimes I think maybe I should have. At the same time, I probably couldn’t handle the repercussions, had I been younger.
Do you feel you lost some fans?
It hurt me to realize I had hurt them. When I was young, I had these toy soldiers that I guarded with my life. The fans are like my soldiers; I don’t want to lose a single one.
I’m sad that, for some fans, my sexuality has overshadowed my singing—which is the reason they became my fans in the first place. But I don’t blame them.
Is it safe to assume you gained new fans?
This basher who used to tear me apart online … when I came out, he said he understood me at last. Another guy retweeted all the awful things he told me before, and said he couldn’t believe he said all that.
How did you feel about the Inquirer photo shoot of your home back in 2009? We have photos of your stuffed toys and pink stuff.
I don’t take cold drinks or eat chocolates weeks before a concert. But I indulge when I’m doing only shoots and interviews. I sleep at least six hours a day.
Have you heard from David Foster lately?
We have the same US manager, Mark Johnson. David is also my godfather. We haven’t been communicating lately. But backstage when we used to do shows together, we said hello with fist bumps.
How about Oprah?
She’s my godmother, but we aren’t particularly close. She and David were the first to know, about two years ago. [My being gay] wasn’t an issue for them.
Do you see yourself going back to acting?
I’d like to. Lesbian roles would be interesting. I’d also like to do … horror films. Seriously. A crazy, psychotic killer chasing hapless victims … I could play Leatherface’s (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) daughter or something. I could try an indie film. Bold, gusto ’nyo? Or probably a movie about bullying. I could go for a Famas or Urian with that. Isali na rin natin ang Oscars!
I could be the first lesbian contra vida, aapihin ko si … Angel Locsin kunwari. My TV promo would go, “Abangan ang kauna-unahang shiboli bengbeng na contra vida sa Primetime Bida!”
You wrote about “Glee” star Cory Monteith on CNN recently.
He was so cool and calm, I wondered what he would be like angry.
What’s to be learned from his passing?
No to drugs! Seek therapy, or open up to friends instead. Although, at the end of the day, you should take charge.
What does that tattoo on your chest say?
“Let’s start with forever.” Sabeh?! I also have tattoos of a Cupid, a feather, a rose, an infinity sign, one that reads “I never knew true love until someone broke my heart” … and another that says, “I cry because it hurts.” I got my first one in March last year. Now I have 10. The one on my chest was the most painful. The artist offered anesthesia but I declined. Ayun, iyak ako ng apat na oras!
You’re doing a concert with Aiza Seguerra?
Obviously, one of the reasons we’re doing it is that we’re both gay. But the main point is to relay the message that it’s okay to be yourself.
But what’s the master plan?
Glenn: I handle her local career, unless clients from abroad contact me directly. Her US management is in charge of her career there and everywhere else. They’re very secretive when it comes to career plans—everything’s confidential.
How did your relationship with Alyssa change after coming out?
For the better? Chos! When people see us now, I feel the respect.
Alyssa: I’m happy because we don’t need to hide anymore. There are bashers, but we have each other.
Charice: Pinapatulan niya ang mga bashers! I tell her not to bother.
How do feel you about comparisons to Daniel Padilla and Justin Bieber?
’Yung pare ko kasing ’yun … hahaha! Of course I’m flattered … napakapogi ko naman! Daniel was such a good sport. Pero si Justin ’di nagsasalita, eh!
You weren’t always this hyper.
Maybe the regulation hair clips were holding me back.
How’s your family?
We tried going home to fix everything, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t the right time. I’m willing to give them (Mom Raquel and brother Carl) all the time they need. I want them to know that I miss them and that I always think of them. Life is too short; there’s just the three of us. No matter how happy I am, with people telling me it’s okay … I want to hear those words from my family.
So who’s your celebrity crush?
I have to say Sarah Geronimo. Sobra paghanga ko sa kanya.
You had several interesting looks during your time on “X Factor.” Were you experimenting, play-acting?
Nang-iinis! I started with straight hair, and then I did the infamous pancit canton and “Chucky” hairstyles. I couldn’t say who I was. Naiinis ako. Nag-iiwan na nga ako ng mga clue, eh! It was also on “X Factor” that I got negative comments about being suplada. I just wanted to be the show’s Simon Cowell.
Are you a stage girlfriend?
If Alyssa needs help, I’m here. I’m honest with her. I also ask her opinion on my performances. She often tells me, “Okay lang, ang pogi-pogi mo!” Chos!