A romance with Filipinos
LOS ANGELES—“Thank God for Filipinos! Salamat!” Michael Bublé exclaimed and then made the sign of the cross. The Grammy-winning crooner, who was raised as a Catholic, was telling me one unusually dark and rainy morning in Los Angeles, why he was grateful to Filipinos. A lit fireplace kept Michael’s two-story private villa at Sunset Marquis warm but it was his easygoing, humorous personality that sparked our conversation.
After walking down the stairs from the second floor of the villa for this press day, Michael plopped down on a huge decorative bowl on a coffee table to jokingly settle our dilemma about where to sit for the interview. Michael then decided that we should proceed to the dining table. He began talking about why Filipinos are close to his heart. He recounted that on his first of several concert trips to the Philippines, he had security men following him. “I never had guards before,” he said, laughing. One of them cautioned him not to walk over by himself to the mall across his hotel. Michael did, anyway, because he wanted to eat in a sushi restaurant.
“It was crazy!” he said, smiling now as he recalled the ensuing chaos. “All of a sudden, people materialized. I thought, wow, this is what it feels like to be a movie star.” It was his first time to feel that popular. When he excitedly called his parents to share the experience, Michael said, he got very emotional. “And I’m not usually like that when I talk to my mom and dad.” He was visibly moved even now as he recounted the incident. “It’s easy to fall in love with the people (Filipinos) who loved you first,” the singer pointed out.
Michael continues to feel the love when he encounters Filipinos around the world. “I don’t know how you guys do it—you’re everywhere,” he quipped. I told him that in fact, there’s a term for it: the Filipino diaspora. The singer narrated that when he and his wife, Argentine model-actress Luisana Lopilato, went on one of their hiking trips, his dad told them to bring a compass. With a grin, he shared what he told his father: “Don’t worry, Dad. If we get lost in the middle of a jungle, a Filipino will be there and say, ‘Hello! Hi Sir, how are you doing?’”
The latest twist, he said, still with a smile, is that he now has Filipinos in his family. He had hired Filipino nurses for his grandparents who are frail in health. “I don’t want to put my grandparents in nursing homes,” Michael said, echoing a very Filipino sentiment. “The nurses live with us. They are very sweet.” Then laughing, he added, “They love the gossip. They ask about Kristine Hermosa (the Filipino actress he was rumored to be romantically involved with) and Martin Nievera.”
I congratulated Michael on the good news that he will become a father for the first time, and also on his new album, “To Be Loved,” which I listened to before our chat. This sixth studio album is his best so far, an irresistible collection of standards, Motown classics, pop hits and original compositions.
I was drawn right away to Michael and Reese Witherspoon’s version of “Something Stupid,” the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet that I have loved since I was a kid. “Me too,” he said. His love for standards was nurtured by his Italian grandfather, Demetrio Santaga, who introduced him to jazz and standards, traded plumbing services for stage opportunities for Michael, and paid for his voice lessons.
Michael admitted that he was thinking of someone “unexpected” to duet with, like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, when his manager said, “What about Reese Witherspoon?” He warmed up to the idea of singing with Reese, whom he knew personally. Explaining that it was “rude” to call Reese directly and put her on the spot, he called her manager first. “Then on the day I found I was going to be a dad, I thought I should call Reese. I felt lucky. It was the greatest day of my life.” Reese said yes. “We had a long, wonderful phone conversation.”
While Reese sang as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line” and won Oscar and Golden Globe best actress awards for her performance, she was nervous about doing a record. Michael said that Reese’s husband, Hollywood agent Jim Toth, jokingly told him that he and his children couldn’t wait for Reese to record the duet because she had been singing “Something Stupid” in the house for days. “Oh please, get it done,” Michael quoted Jim as saying in jest.
All he did, according to Michael, was tape the song’s harmony and then gave that to Reese prior to their recording session. (He sang that harmony to me.) “Reese was pitch perfect,” he said. “It took us only 45 minutes to record the duet.”
“After All,” his power pop duet with fellow Canadian Bryan Adams, was a dream come true for Michael. “Bryan was one of my biggest influences—maybe my biggest influence,” said Michael who reportedly slept with his Bible in his teens and prayed to become a singer (his other dream was to become a pro ice hockey player). He remembered standing in front of Bryan’s photo and thinking, if this Vancouver man can do it, maybe I can do it.
So the day he recorded the duet that he cowrote with Bryan, Alan Chang, Steven Sater and Jim Vallance was a big one for him. “I looked across the studio and I saw Bryan. I thought, wow! Bryan is singing with me on my record.”
I told Michael that I couldn’t wait to dance “Come Dance With Me,” arranged as a cha-cha, with my wife. He was delighted to hear that because, he said, he had wanted to record “Come Dance…” on his first studio album but his manager said no. David Foster, who produced his previous albums, didn’t like the song, either. “I waited for years to do it,” he said. Working this time with Bob Rock, Michael finally did.
“He is the best producer I’ve worked with,” Michael said of Bob, who also produced the albums of such artists as Metallica and Bon Jovi.
With a gleam in his eyes, Michael recounted how he gathered Cuban musicians in a tight, small, intimate studio called EastWest on LA’s Sunset Boulevard “to get that feeling. It (‘Come Dance…’) sounds like the records I liked.” It helped that Bob “cares more about how a
song feels than how it sounds.”
Michael dedicates “Close Your Eyes,” which he penned with Alan and Jann Arden Richards, not only to his wife but to all women. He remembered being at home and sitting in front of the piano. “I was clearly intoxicated,” Michael said. “I started to play this melody and thinking of the strength of women. Behind a good man is a better woman. The truth is, we are the weaker sex.”
He recited some of the song’s lyrics with gusto: “Close your eyes/Let me tell you all the reasons why…/Cause you’re one of a kind/Here’s to you/You’re the one who has always pulled us through/You’re the reason why I’m breathing/With a little look my way/You’re the reason that I’m feeling it’s finally safe to stay home.” The dude is clearly in love.
“I shouldn’t say that I don’t care but I have bigger fish to fry now,” he said, referring to his new priorities—his married life and the coming baby. At the time of our interview, he didn’t know the sex of the baby yet, but recent stories state that he and Luisana are going to have a boy in August. Michael’s previous relationship was with actress Emily Blunt.
The 37-year-old said that he had asked his agent to cut down his work schedule to “three weeks on, two weeks off, three weeks on, two weeks off…” The entertainer, flush with impending fatherhood, gushed, “I don’t want to miss this. I don’t want to look back on my life someday and say, ‘What was I thinking?’ Recording this album also gave me a better perspective of life.”
The multiplatinum artist said that this new outlook emboldened him to tackle Motown songs in the album—Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You” and the title track written by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and Gwendolyn Gordy Fuqua. He recalled saying, “F*** it, I’m just going to do them.”
He even does the Bee Gees classic, “To Love Somebody” and covers Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from “Toy Story.” “I loved that the first time I heard it in the film,” he said.
The other three originals in the album, which just topped Billboard 200 as we write this, are the first single, “It’s a Beautiful Day,” “I Got It Easy” and “Close Your Eyes.” Of course, a Bublé album wouldn’t be complete without his nods to Frank Sinatra. He delivers beautiful interpretations of “You Make Me Feel So Young” and “Young at Heart.”
Completing the album’s 14 tracks are “Have I Told You Lately” (the Elvis Presley classic, not the Rod Stewart hit) and “Nevertheless (I’m in Love With You),” once recorded by Bing Crosby— now Michael breathes new life into this 1930s song with the help of The Puppini Sisters, a harmony vocal trio.
As our talk wound down, Michael pulled his chair closer to me so he could show photos and videos from his iPhone. He scrolled to a picture of himself and Reese, and then of himself and Bryan, in the recording studio. He played a striking black- and-white video of himself recording with a full orchestra.
He had the biggest smile on his face when he finally found a snapshot of Luisana, beaming and showing off her pregnant belly. Pretending to speak as Luisana, Michael cooed, “Look, my belly is so big.” Then he said with a chuckle, back to his voice, “She is very proud of her belly.” If the man is this euphoric, how much more when he experiences the birth of his son? We feel another song coming.