Spotlight on Faith Cuneta
Below is my no-holds-barred interview with Faith Cuneta. She gamely and truthfully answers my questions, many of which have never been asked of her before. And, frankly, a lot of these questions I have posed to her have never ever been addressed to any local artist either. Faith Cuneta speaks animatedly and unravels and brings to light music matters closest to her heart.
What/who first inspired you to get into music?
FAITH CUNETA: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been singing. At a very young age like 5 years old, I remember singing in our sala for all our relatives on Christmas day. Singing like 5 to 8 songs, ha, not just a song but a “set.” That is what got me into music.
With regard to my inspiration growing up, it was really my Tita Sharon Cuneta. I remember my Dad would pull me out from my Chinese garter sessions with my neighbors in the afternoons and he would tell me to take a bath and get ready because he was taking me to the sorties of my lolo, Mayor Pablo Cuneta. I remember I would sing 3 songs, then my lolo would give me 100 pesos.
At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening; all I know is that I am on stage singing 3 songs, but later on as the crowd gathers and the stage begins to fill with people after I sing. Mayor Pablo would just call out her daughter Ms. Sharon Cuneta and, oh, the crowd would just go wild. While I am seated on one side of the stage with my dad, I would see her perform all smiles, waving to the crowd. And everyone would just scream and adore her. I told myself, “Someday, I would like to sing on stage admired and loved by many.”
In this phase of your career, what differences do you see now with how you perform onstage than, let’s say, the way you would normally have 13 or 14 years ago?
FAITH CUNETA: Well, the choice of songs has truly changed a lot. Before, I would belt out Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Barbra Streisand hits and people would really love it. Now you have to keep up with the new songs with the likes of Taylor Swift, Lorde and male singers like Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, for them to appreciate. When I would do shows before, I can put on a gown and just sing all these love songs from the divas, OK na. Now, you have to do some dancing, put on body suits like Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and the likes, so the audience can say that you are a great performer.
What further changes do you think must be made in our recording industry so that OPM could regain some of its lost glory like it once had in the 90’s?
FAITH CUNETA: Radio airplay is a big factor. I believe that our generation now has a very quick attention span. They can like a song now; later, something new na. So radio should give to the audience for them to be bombarded and brainwashed with OPM. TV should also push OPM artists and their songs. Although, commercially, I know it’s tough, but they have the power to so-called “shove” it to people.What TV gives people, they will just have to like it because that is what is offered, it is what is served.
If you could relive any moment or event in your life as an artist, what would that be? And what moment or event was that which you wish you would never want to experience again?
FAITH CUNETA: The one experience I wish I had never experienced was joining The Voice (2nd Season). When my manager told me to audition I said, “NO! One big NO, as in.” At the age of 9, I joined the Bulilit Kampeon super way back and I won. Then, I joined the Metropop singing contest; I won second place. First place was Jonard Yamson, the third place was Kyla. I also joined WCOPA in 2007 and I won 3 golds. After that, I told myself, “Ayoko na!” But then, my manager kept insisting that The Voice will be a good vehicle for me to get into the TFC market, and he was sure that with the voice I have, I would make it.
So I went through the audition and then, they told me I got in and moving on to the blind auditions. So, yehey! Before the blinds, there were activities requiring my family to be involved (which I was trying to hide from them). But then, they had to be interviewed and the works, pre-prod stuff. So now everyone was hopeful. Before, it was just my management; now, my family’s involved. Oh, my!
Then came the blinds. I sang “Ikaw,” a Sharon Cuneta original (which The Voice chose, ha! I gave 5 songs; this is the song they chose, “Ikaw”). So I was confident; easy song for me. I sing this song at weddings. I sing it at fiestas and corporate events. People pay me to sing this song.
As I was singing it during the blinds, my 2 minutes was almost over, I couldn’t believe in my mind that no one would turn. As I let go of the last 2 notes of the song, my heart was breaking into pieces; I was devastated, wrecked and just heartbroken. “Ikaw”–my banner song–a song that my heart sang; I was crushed! I couldn’t believe it.
When I left the stage, on the wings were my mom and sisters waiting. I saw their faces. My heart was powdered. I called my manager. I said, “No one turned.” He said, “What?! Are you joking?” I said, “No, I am serious. Anyway, I talk to you later.” Then I put down the phone, packed my stuff and left the studio.
I can accept loss in any game played fairly. I can accept failing if I know I did not give my best. But the song was “Ikaw.” I cannot believe it. What happened? I don’t know, I really don’t know. When they aired it, they didn’t air the whole part. They didn’t give the people the chance to give their own judgement. They aired only seconds of it. It was really sad. I didn’t want to sing anymore. I wanted to just go away, I don’t know where. I asked myself: “How can 3 people say and judge that I don’t have the voice when I have 5 albums, 8 hit songs, 10 sold out major concerts? Was it a mistake? Were they just tired because before my turn, they were hearing voices for 3 days straight and it was late already? Was it scripted? And knowing I was with GMA, I was politicized? They wanted to discredit my name, my title as the “Queen of Theme Songs” from GMA? These are the questions that went on and on and questions that were never answered. Had they shown the segment of my audition, people could be the better judge. Totally devastating!
After that day, I never sang for a month, until I was touched by the Word attending service at my Victory Christian Fellowship. It was God telling me that my singing is God’s gift to me; no one can take it away from me. “Use it! Use it,” He said. I called my management and told them, “Okay, I’ll start working again.”
My first booking was by Ovation Productions to open for Tony Orlando at the Newport Performing Arts. During the sound check, I really felt the trauma of that terrible experience in The Voice, as I was standing in front of an empty theatre during rehearsals. Oh my! I whispered a prayer, “Dear God, this is your gift, please be with me.”
During the show proper, I am to sing 3 songs. Hearing the applause of a full house crowd was really, oh, so gratifying. It was as if could hear each clap of each and every hand. After my 3 songs, I went backstage, happy. Just like it was my first time. I whispered, “Thank you, dear God.”
After 15 minutes, the production went to my dressing room and requested if I can sing 2 more. Tony Orlando and his band wanted to hear more songs. Oh, my! I said yes. So I did sing 2 more songs and the crowd requested for another encore. It was the best experience ever. It was a validation of God’s love as if He is telling me, “Faith, my child, I am pressing the button and calling you back. You have My Voice, Faith!”
Was there an unforgettable/funny experience you have encountered while performing?
FAITH CUNETA: I have opened and guested for some of the biggest foreign artists who visited our country. I am thankful to friends like Ovation Production, Steve O Neil, Ultimate Entertainment, and Live Artists. I have shared the stage with John Ford Coley, David Pomeranz, Cascades, Swing Out Sister, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Orlando, Boyz 2 Men and a lot more. Being with them backstage, sound check and show proper. Sometimes, during out of town pa. Getting to know them is really unforgettable. You know, I just hear their songs on the radio and I sing their songs; now I am with them on the same flight, same hotel and all is just a treat.
In the middle of a set, when you are feeling tired after singing song after song, what keeps you driven and motivated to finish the set strong despite feeling a bit worn out already?
FAITH CUNETA: The audience is really the motivation. Hearing them clap, cheer for you is really something. Actually, I never feel tired in a set or while performing no matter how long the show is. It is always a treat singing in front of an audience.
If you could be 21 years old again for one day, but armed now with all the knowledge and wisdom you have acquired and gained through the years in your professional career, what would be the first thing you’d want to do, as a young singer?
FAITH CUNETA: I am thankful to have my management because they are honest with me. They don’t sugar coat; they tell me everything, cards on the table. When TV execs tell my manager that I am kinda chubby, he tells me. When they tell me that a song or my album needs picking up on sales or whatever, he tells me straight up and we strategize on how to work on things. We discuss everything, we plan and we dream together. So when each one is implemented and when a dream comes true, I know each step of it.
If there is one song–old or new–that perfectly encapsulates who you are today, in terms of your thought processes and how you approach life in general, what would that song be?
FAITH CUNETA: It’s my hit cover song “Pangarap Na Bituin,” used as the theme song of GMA’s KoreanNovela “Jewel in the Palace.” It is a Sharon Cuneta original. Each word describes how my career as a singer prospered. In the chorus, it says “Unti-unti mararating kalangitan at bituin…”
If you could form your own band, what would you name it? What would the musical style of your band be then?
FAITH CUNETA: The Faith Fools. I always wanted a comedy band. Happy lang. Sort of like a Pork Chop duo pero singing… there is no such band, eh.
When you have performed a popular hit song for the nth time already, how does it affect your performance in front of a live audience?
FAITH CUNETA: In every performance, I sing my hit song, “Pag-ibig Ko’y Pansinin,” one of my super hit songs. The song goes: “Langit ka, lupa ako…” Sometimes I get tired of it. I feel it’s so tacky already, but when I hear people sing along with me, it makes them fall in love all over again and again. I feel it, eh. It makes me sing it more with feelings.
If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?
FAITH CUNETA: Nina Live. I never get tired of it. Great song choices. Great singing.
Who is Faith Cuneta in a nutshell?
FAITH CUNETA: Faith Cuneta is a singer and a damn good singer. I will sing until I grow old; I want to be timeless. Just like Pilita Corales and Barbra Streisand. After I won the Metropop, I was promised a singing career with the network which didn’t materialize. I finished my studies at Benilde (CSB).
The day after I graduated, I auditioned in hotel lounges. That night, I got in New World Hotel. Then, in Greenbelt. Every night, I would sing as a lounge singer in different hotels. Seven times a week, three sets a night. Until I met my manager having a meeting at the Shangri-la Makati where I was singing. Now, I’m still singing… and the rest is history!
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