CCP to scout, train Filipino talents the K-pop way
They are our flag-bearers wherever they go,” said music educator-artist Michelle Nikki Junia as a way to explain why she believes that arts-related government agencies like the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), where she now serves as president, should support local talents like the popular five-member Filipino boy group SB19.
“We need to acknowledge mainstream artists like SB19,” said the new CCP chief, who was elected president by the CCP Board of Trustees on Aug. 16. “They are our ambassadors. I was so pleased when they performed on the front lawn of CCP [in December 2022] with the Bayanihan (Dance Company). They integrated dance steps from our indigenous peoples into their music. They also wore costumes made from local textiles.”
“The event was a success, even though we only made the announcement to sell tickets two days before it happened. The tickets were sold out. Everyone was there despite the rains,” Junia told Inquirer Entertainment during a virtual meetup a week after she assumed office.
During the interview, Junia, who is the youngest CCP president at 47, talked about how she intended to respond to the challenges of the ongoing digital technology transformation, as well as how to keep stakeholders satisfied now that the CCP building has begun its three-year renovation plan.
“When you talk to me, you will really hear my heart. This is me—art is my passion. I need help in order to cascade this to the public,” said Junia, who has been with the CCP as a board trustee since 2016. She replaced Maria Margarita Moran-Floirendo, who now holds the CCP’s ad interim co-vice chair position with lawyer Lorna Kapunan.
“We need to support SB19 by making sure that younger Filipino artists follow in their footsteps. We will be able to accomplish this goal by discovering raw talents from the regions and training them under our experts. We plan to visit the provinces as part of our outreach,” the CCP chief said.
Junia has a degree in music education, majoring in voice (cum laude) at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music. She is a former child singer and an original member of the group called 14K (scholars of National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab).
Junia recalled their rigorous training in dance, group singing, personality development and even acting. She claimed that their training pattern is “very similar” to what K-pop artists are receiving today, “except that ours was just short-term.”
“This will be one of my projects next year,” Junia declared. “We covered all areas. For dance, we trained under choreographer Douglas Nierras. For group singing, we were trained by Moy Ortiz and Annie Quintos [of The CompanY]. For acting, we had different coaches from Repertory Philippines, but we also had a chance to be taught by [cofounder] Baby Barredo in one instance. When we recorded songs, Mr. C guided us in terms of blending. It’s like a complete training program for performers.”
‘Heart and advocacy’
Junia also did voice training with American vocal coach Seth Riggs, who is known for his “speech-level singing technique,” and whose students include Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole.
“I’m a voice teacher. I want to be able to pass on everything I learned from my mentors here and abroad. That’s my heart and advocacy,” said Junia, who currently manages and owns a school called Musikgarten Manila. “I want to develop artists, so I needed to empower myself. I invested in training because I wanted to be given the chance to train younger talents. I taught my students here what I learned from Seth and it really increased their range.” Gerphil Flores (2015 Asia’s Got Talent second runner-up) is one of Junia’s students.
With her being the youngest CCP president, Junia said she looks forward to connecting to a younger audience through art integration and digital technology. “It won’t be as difficult for some people to reach out to the CCP because they may be able to relate to me. We need to catch up on promotions and marketing due to advancements in technology, including social media and other digital platforms. These are the areas that I want to work on as soon as possible,” she said. “The CCP is for all, regardless of social and economic status and gender. We started this with Kanto Kultura and other CCP programs.”
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Especially now that the CCP building is being rehabilitated for preservation and retrofitting, Junia said she intends to bring CCP to the various regions. “CCP is not just a building. We’re bringing the soul of CCP to a greater number of people around the country,” she said.
Growing up, Junia said that she got used to industry people telling her she was “too young” to participate in contests or training, to audition for roles, or to apply for scholarships. “This was what happened when I applied for the Fe Panlilio Music Scholarship, which I failed to get on the first try because they said, ‘Ang bata mo pa.’ I was the youngest OPM scholar at the time (at 15). All of my competitors were professional singers, while I was still in high school,” she recalled. “I value the experience in auditioning and joining contests because I feel it’s a form of training for my confidence building and a lot of things. Whenever I was rejected for being too young, I didn’t feel hurt. To me, this only presented a bigger challenge that I could take.”
Junia added: “I actually was reflecting one night and I realized that God allowed me to join 14K, to become a Fe Panlilio scholar, and to train under Seth Riggs in order for me to prepare for a much bigger role such as this. We all have our own destiny. As for me, I’m happy that the CCP board allowed me to take this one; I guess they saw that times are changing. I’m very confident that I will be able to contribute a lot because I have only pure intentions,” Junia said.