If she had it her way, Zendee Rose Tenerefe would rather not include the power ballad “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)”—the song that propelled her to YouTube stardom—in her coming debut album.
The 21-year-old singer knows that it takes more than a powerful set of pipes in order to stand out from the rest of the pack, and make it big in the music industry. Having her own hit song, she said, is just as important.
“I want the listeners to say, ‘Hey, that’s Zendee’s song right there,’ when they hear me on the radio,” Zendee told the Inquirer. “I want to be known as Zendee, the recording artist, not the random girl with a red backpack, singing in a grocery store.”
Initially dubbed as “Random Girl” on the Internet, the General Santos City native shot to fame when YouTube user “youngjay0918” uploaded a video of her singing the Jennifer Holiday hit in a mall’s supermarket on July 28.
The video, which has now garnered over 2,500,000 views, grabbed the attention of US television host Ellen DeGeneres, who eventually invited Zendee to guest on her talk show.
Zendee said that she envisions herself in her first solo concert with her fans singing her songs in unison. “That must feel really good,” she imagined. “It’s my dream.”
That’s why Zendee is thankful that her first single, “Runaway” (Warner Music), is an original song that she felt would best showcase her musical style and vocal mettle. “I want to prove that I’m more than just hitting high notes. I’m a versatile pop-soul singer,” she declared.
“I love the beat and danceable tempo of ‘Runaway.’ Warner gave me the freedom to infuse my own vocal ad libs and improvisations. It fits me and my voice really well,” related Zendee, who listed Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé and Leona Lewis as her musical influences.
Zendee revealed that she also writes and composes her own songs. “I’ve written many songs since high school, and I’ve actually submitted some of them to Warner to see if they can use them,” she said.
Zendee added that having original songs will spare her from comparisons with other artists. “It’s normal for Filipinos to compare or pit you against others, and I want to avoid that,” she explained.
However, for having similar career trajectories, comparisons with another Internet sensation, Charice, were inevitable. Asked how she felt about it, Zendee said: “We have contrasting styles. Charice is one of my idols, and I’m flattered that some people see me in her. I’ll practice and work harder, not to compete with her, but for my own good,” she added.
Zendee auditioned for the reality singing contest “X Factor Philippines,” in which the then aspiring singer first met Charice. “She told me, ‘I think you’ll be the next me,’” Zendee recalled.
While she’s already past her teenage years, there’s an inherent child-like character in Zendee that’s both infectious and endearing. She giggled uncontrollably, squealed and squirmed when she couldn’t contain her excitement.
And when she mused about her family and fulfilling her dreams, her voice trembled, as if she was going to burst into tears any moment. And she did a couple of times. Especially so when she recounted her days living in a fire station in Manila with her mother.
Is she strong enough to handle criticism and intrigue that come with fame?
“I still have to get used to it,” Zendee confessed. “Online bashers would tell me, ‘Ang yabang mo na. Akala mo kung sino kang sikat’ (You’re so full of yourself like you’re somebody famous).”
Zendee also said she has refrained from typing her name on search engines to avoid reading negative comments about her. “I used to repost the hurtful comments to gain the sympathy of my fans, but not anymore. I know that they’re always there to comfort me,” she said.
Zendee still gets the occasional “I don’t like you” comments from anonymous detractors. But now she has come up with the perfect response. As one of the lines in “And I Am Telling You” goes: “Magugustuhan niyo rin ako (You’re going to love me, too)!”