Two days after deadly flash floods left a swath of misery across Cagayan de Oro City, one family still found itself with a reason to celebrate.
Hometown girl and aspiring singer Krizza Neri, who hails from the city’s Tablon village, topped the GMA-7 reality talent search “Protégé,” besting contestants from all over the archipelago.
But Neri considered her victory somewhat bittersweet, noting the widespread devastation wrought by Tropical Storm “Sendong” on the very people who had cheered her on throughout the competition.
Her own family was safe, she said. But on Saturday, a day before the Protégé grand finals at SM Mall of Asia, she learned that her uncle Lemuel died in a car crash at the height of the storm.
“I feel devastated,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sunday night after winning the contest. “I felt so high and everyone was so happy when I last visited (Cagayan de Oro) last week. I even had a motorcade and passed by my old school.”
“Then, days later, the floods came. It’s as if my happiness was snatched away from me in an instant,” she said, noting that a storm of such magnitude rarely visited her city.
“My contest mentor (singer Aiza Seguerra) decided to tell me about what happened because she thought it would be unfair to me if I wasn’t informed immediately,” Neri said.
She said she planned to help in the relief efforts when she comes home this week, as a volunteer for the Philippine Red Cross and GMA’s Kapuso Foundation.
“She was strong enough to handle the situation,” Seguerra explained. “She has grown so much throughout the six-month competition.”
Besting crowd favorites Lovely Embuscado from Davao and Lirah Bermudez from Iloilo, Neri won P1 million in cash and a condo unit from Suntrust Adriatico Gardens. The three finalists also won scholarships at STI computer school and a five-year contract with GMA Artist Center.
Seguerra maintained that Neri won not because of the “sympathy vote” for Cagayan de Oro but because of her sheer talent.
“I don’t think it was because of the tragedy. Krizza was never a frontrunner because of the text votes. The judges’ positive comments boosted her (score),” Seguerra added.
TV director and manager Bert de Leon, who sat in the panel of judges, also explained: “Although we sympathize with the people of Mindanao, the tragedy has no bearing on the judging. From the start, we never let the contestants’ sob stories influence us.”
“Krizza has the totality of traits that the judges were looking for,” said De Leon.
Composer and fellow judge Louie Ocampo agreed: “Krizza won because she was the best. Personally, I don’t think the present situation in Cagayan de Oro had anything to do with the results. People are smarter than that. If they wanted to help the flood victims, then I’m sure they’d rather donate goods than spend for a text vote.”