Yasmien Kurdi is proof that you do not have to win a reality search to attain longevity in show business.
It has been 15 years since Yasmien's StarStruck journey, where she lost to Jennylyn Mercado in the final round.
Even though Yasmien did not win StarStruck, her career did not stop there as she made a name for herself and was eventually tagged as GMA's Drama Princess.
In this exclusive interview, PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) chronicles Yasmien's StarStruck experience—from her auditions to the eliminations to the behind-the-scenes drama during her StarStruck season.
StarStruck was not Yasmien's first attempt in joining a televised contest.
A year before joining StarStruck, in 2002, she joined a modelling search sponsored by a product. The said contest was later aired on ABS-CBN's ASAP.
Yasmien says about the contest, "Yung contest kasi doon, it's an inter-school competition. Nagpunta sila sa school ko, kumuha sila ng mga girls na pwedeng ipanlaban for an inter-school competition, ganun.
"Tapos nag-audition din ako doon, tapos nakapasok ako, tapos nagbuo sila ng iba-ibang girls sa iba-ibang eskuwelahan. From New Era University ako noong time na yun, high school.
"Ang nanalo noon, JaBoom Twins, pero after naman no'n, naging endorser ako nila tapos nagkaroon ako ng print ads with them, kami ni Carissa Francisco, natandaan ko pa yung pangalan ng kasama ko."
However, Yasmien's modelling career did not take off. She almost aborted her showbiz dreams, until an opportunity came along.
She recalls, "One year akong nawalan na ng pag-asa sa pagiging artista, nawalan na ako ng pag-asa na matutupad ko ang dream ko ng pagiging artista kasi wala rin namang nangyayari sa career ko, walang progress, wala lahat.
"Tapos isang araw, nasa school ako, nagyaya yung kaklase ko, ka-batchmate ko na mag-cutting classes tapos sumali nga daw at mag-audition sa StarStruck.
"Tapos sa naalala ko, nakalagay siya sa manila paper, pang-huling contestant ako, huling araw, number ninth ako sa pila. Nine ang nag-au-audition, last day na at closed na.
"Noong pumasok ako doon, binigyan ako ng application form tapos sinundan na ako ng camera."
Yasmien's classmate did not make it, but she did.
Though it was only her classmate who influenced her to audition for StarStruck, Yasmien knew that she really wanted to pursue her dream of being in showbiz.
"Siyempre, ako, gusto ko rin namang maging artista kasi nag-au-audition nga ako for mga VTRs, commercials, mga ganun.
"Pero noong time na yun, parang bahala na kung makapasok kasi wala akong idea kung ano yung StarStruck, kung isa ba siyang youth-oriented show, wala akong idea kung anong i-e-expect. Yun pala, isa siyang reality-based artista search, ganun pala siya."
After passing the auditions, Yasmien attended more callbacks, until the hopefuls were trimmed down to 100, to 30, and the Final 14 who made it to the televised competition.
"Maraming auditions, callback callback, tapos sa amin, kasi noong nag-audition kami, first auditon ko kasi, nine kami, tapos nag-callback sila.
"Tapos after no'n, nag-Top 100, lahat kami, naka-all white, no make-up. Yun ang number one rule kasi noong past audition, ang kakapal daw ng foundation ng iba.
"So nagpunta kami doon, ang putla namin lahat, yun yung pinapakita nila sa TV, yun yung tinu-throwback nila, yun yung time ng third audition.
"Meron kaming fourth audition, parang mamimili sila for Top 30, then after ng Top 30, pilian for Top 14."
From there, the first StarStruck Final 14 were born: Yasmien Kurdi, Jennylyn Mercado, Mark Herras, Rainier Castillo, Dion Ignacio, Nadine Samonte, Christian Esteban, Katrina Halili, Tyron Perez, Sheena Halili, Jade Lopez, Anton dela Paz, Cristine Reyes, and Alvin Aragon.
Yasmien reveals this tidbit about the final StarStruck line-up. "Actually, yung 14 pa nga, meron pang isa... si Rico pangalan niya.
"Dapat kasama siya sa Top 14 pero hindi siya nakasama sa amin kasi sabi ng parents niya, kailangan niyang i-prioritize yung pag-aaral niya. Kaya nalagay si Anton. Tapos masaya kami na nakasama namin si Anton."
Back then, Yasmien also did not have an idea that one boy and one girl will eventually emerge as the winners.
"Wala, wala akong idea. No idea at all. As in nag-go-go with the flow lang kami.
"Akala ko nga, parang sinasalihan ko, Extra Challenge or Click, wala akong idea sa StarStruck, as in totally zero.
Then came their first challenge as StarStruck final 14.
Yasmien recalls, "John Robert Powers, training ng lakad and poise. Yun yung first challenge namin. Tapos grooming, makeover."
They were aware that 50 percent of their scores would come from text votes.
"Oo, 50-50. Aware kami na may voting, ganyan ganyan, vote StarStruck space Yasmien to 4627 for Sun Cellular and 2364 for Globe. Naalala ko bigla, oh my gosh!
"Tapos lahat ng makikita mong tao, 'Uy, boto mo ako, ha, Starstruck space Yasmien to 4627!'"
That same week, on Friday, the first live eliminations were held.
Yasmien was included in the very first bottom three of the very first StarStruck season.
The 30-year-old actress says, "Oo, kasama ako. Ang nasa first bottom three, ako, Jade Lopez, Alvin Aragon."
How did she feel when she was called to be part of the bottom three?
"Siyempre, nalungkot ako kasi ayoko namang matanggal sa show. Ayokong matanggal.
"At saka, grabe, nakakakaba pala yung heartbeat. Kaming tatlo yung pinaka-unang naramdaman yung kaba na yun kasi kami unang naka-experience."
It was then announced that Alvin was eliminated. "Si Alvin ang natanggal. Na-relieve kami na, 'Ah, pasok pa rin tayo.'"
The second time Yasmien became part of the bottom group was the acting week, which was a bit baffling for her fans, especially since Yasmien is known for being a good actress in the bunch.
In fact, she was even commended for her acting piece, and she considers it as her favorite challenge.
"Pinakamasaya ako, yung acting challenge kasi na-mentor ako noon ni Direk Gina Alajar tapos bigla ko palang magiging director, magiging nanay sa show ng ilang beses.
"Masaya yung acting week namin."
But then, Yasmien was called to be part of the bottom five.
PEP.ph asks Yasmien if she could recall why she was part of the bottom group, along with Mark Herras, Tyron Perez, Dion Ignacio, and Sheena Halili, who was eliminated in the episode.
Yasmien answers, "Hindi ako happy, kasi noong week na 'yon, na-vote out siguro ako ng mga yon, loko-loko talaga yung mga yon!
"Kasi noong panahon na yun, maldita ako. Actually, maldita ako sa batch namin siguro kapag nagkasama-sama kasi di kami kalma.
"Nakakalma lang kami kapag si Direk Lino, nagba-bonding kami together, nasa house kami, pinaglulutuan kaming magkakapatid. Kalmado kami do'n pero all the rest, comeptition like rawr!"
Direk Lino is Lino Cayetano, the director of StarStruck's first season.
Still, Yasmien did not take those bottom-group moments as the hardest part of the contest.
Instead, she says, "Siguro yun yung gigisingin ka ng madaling araw, walang ligo-ligo, walang toothbrush, wala lahat.
"Tapos noong time pa na yun, parang nadapa pa ako, plumakda pa ako sa field tapos inulit-ulit nila sa StarStruck pero yun din yata yung gusto ng mga viewers, yung mga ganung bagay.
"Nakatulala kami, parang, 'Anong ginagawa natin, bakit ganito?'
"Gigisingin ka nila tapos double deck, up down kami, mga roommates kaming lahat na all girls."
But because Yasmien wanted to win the contest, she never thought about backing out of the contest.
"Alam mo, wala akong naramdaman na ayoko na, itigil na natin ito, kasi ayoko talaga mawala doon.
"Ayoko talaga, hindi ako aalis. Kapag nalalagay ako minsan sa bottom, 'Bakit ako nandiyan? Hindi dapat ito.'
"So mas nai-inspire pa ako gawin yung best ko at mas na-inspire ako lumaban dahil nasa bottom."
During the course of StarStruck's first season, Yasmien was closest to Jennylyn Mercado.
"Alam mo sa totoo lang, si Jen lang, noong panahon na yun. Kay Jen lang ako kalmado lang. Parang di kami nagka-clash ni Jennylyn pag nag-uusap kami."
In Jennylyn's interview for StarStruck 7's online show "Inside StarStruck," she revealed that Yasmien, Nadine Samonte, and Cristine Reyes would always get into arguments about petty things.
Yasmien exclaims about this, "Oo, kami daw yung mga pasaway sabi niya! Hahaha!"
But aside from that, Yasmien admits that there were moments back then that their arguments became too intense, especially when rumors circulated about them badmouthing each other.
Yasmien recalls, "Dahil sa chismis, pero maliliit na away away lang naman which is yung chismis na yun, yun din yung crineate ng StarStruck mismo.
"Nag-create sila ng chismis na sinabi ni ganito na ganito ka daw na sinabi ni ganito na ganyan ka daw."
Yasmien believes that these issues were all part of the test because as public figures, chances are they would be embroiled in even bigger controversies when they enter showbiz.
She explains, "Yun yung parang challenge doon na kapag sa real world, maniniwala ka ba agad sa mga balita na sinabi ni ganito?
"E, noong mga panahon na yun, siyempre, bata pa kami, agad kami naniniwala. Ang ending, away-away, gulo-gulo lahat.
"Yun yung mga bagay na... kasi usually, kasi ang pinaka-masayang part ng StarStruck yung hindi nila nakikita sa on-cam kasi nakikita nila on-cam, mga challenges.
"Yung masasayang moments namin yung hindi nila nakikita, mga bonding moments namin, para kaming magkakapatid.
"Pero noong ginawa yung issue na yun, may mga nangyari off-cam na talagang nag-a-away kami. Sira na lahat ng friendship naming lahat.
"Yun yung huwag ka agad naniniwala sa chismis, kailangan i-confirm mo muna sa tao na ganito ka.
"Pero malilit na away lang naman, di naman siya major major. Siyempre bata ka, naniniwala ka agad.
"Kasama yun sa challenge ng pagiging artista mo, in real life. Maniniwala ka ba talaga agad o hindi.
"Doon pa lang, na-train ka na agad na ganito yung mundong ito, na huwag ka agad maniniwala hangga't wala kang confirmation na nanggaling sa tao."
How did they fix their issues?
"Nag-usap-usap kami masinsinan. 'Okay, saan ba ito nagsimula?'
"'Sinabi ni ganito na ganito ganito ka daw. 'Ah talaga? E, sinabi niya rin sa akin...'
"'Wala naman akong sinabing ganito, wala rin akong sinabing ganito.' 'Ah, pinag-aaway tayo.'
"Naisip na rin namin pero mga nasa sides namin, like sumasama sa aming mga magulang, siyempre, nagkaka-alit-alitan na rin kasi siyempre, 'Anak ko yan! Inaway ng anak ko yung anak mo.'"
Yasmien also recalls how her problem with Cristine Reyes went on air.
"Di kami masyado nag-uusap ni Cristine noon, e. Kasi may nangyaring incident doon, sinabi niya on air, 'You know what, I find you plastic.'
"Sabi ko, 'You know what, I find you plastic, too.' Mema lang! Hahaha!"
Of course, things change as time goes by, especially now that they are already grown-ups, have their own families and careers.
Yasmien says, "Nakakatawa kasi noong nasa competition kami, ang hot naming lahat. Pero ngayon, sobrang close naming lahat! Wala na yung mga ganoong issue.
"Meron kaming Viber group, meron kaming Messenger.
"Actually, nagyayaya sila, e. Yung huli naming pagkikita, parang year 2014 pa ata na kumpleto kami."
That was in the pilot episode of GMA-7's defunct morning talk-entertainment show, Basta Everyday Happy, where the first batch of StarStruck had a reunion for the pilot episode.
In the last few weeks of the competition, three boys and three girls were left: Yasmien, Nadine, Jennylyn, Rainier, Mark, and Dion.
StarStruck needed to determine who among them will be the final four.
Yasmien admitted that she was not that confident that she would be part of the final four, especially with Nadine's presence, who was also a product model like her.
"Hindi, kabado pa rin ako kasi si Nadine, ang ganda ni Nadine tapos artistang-artista din talaga yung itsura niya. Talagang competition din talaga.
"Bago kasi mag-StarStruck, kami ni Nadine, lagi kaming napupunta sa final casting ng endorsements.
"Bago mag-StarStruck, si Nadine yung nakikita ko, kunyari may product, final casting na, kami lagi yung dalawang huli.
"So noong nakita ko si Nadine, hindi siya parang confident ako kasi alam ko na competition ito. Alam ko na nakakatakot din talaga.
"Siyempre, kung pwede lang, wala nang matanggal at ma-vote out at kung anu-ano, e. Pero kasi, contest nga siya, e, at saka reality show siya, e. Kaya ayun.
"Maiihi ka sa stage kakabahan ka, lalamigin ka, buong katawan mo, nanlalamig."
Eventually, Nadine was eliminated, and Yasmien and Jennylyn were the final two girls.
According to Yasmien, she had happy moments with Jennylyn, which id why the competition did not affect their friendship.
She says with a smile, "Masaya kami ang dami naming ginawa. Magka-vibes kami ni Jen, di kami nag-aaway, wala kaming away noon, noong final four namin.
"Ang naalala ko lahat masasayang bonding moments pag may out of town shoot, kasi kailangan namin mag tour sa iba ibang lugar, lagi kaming mag ka roommates, so wala, kalma kaming dalawa."
When the night of the final judgment came, on February 1, 2004, Jennylyn Mercado was announced as the Ultimate Female Survivor. Yasmien, who was the runner-up, was called the First Princess.
Despite losing the competition, Yasmien was still happy with the turnout of StarStruck, which all the finalists were able to witness in front of them.
"Oo, masaya ako for her kasi alam mo, sa totoo lang, naramdaman ko sa StarStruck, lahat kami panalo, lahat kami winner.
"Una sa lahat, yung success ng show, yung success ng lahat. Grabe, kapag yung van namin, kapag umaalis, ang daming sumusunod, tumatakbo sa likod.
"Tapos doon namin na-experience yung magmo-mall kami, tapos papaalisin na kami ng mall dahil nasira na yung ilaw ng mall.
"As in may ganun kaming na-experience na crazy moments talaga with fans, parang hihimatayin sila para makarating sila sa backstage, may ambulansya, para makita nila si Rainier Castillo at si Mark Herras!
"Noong final judgment, na-feel ko yung happiness kasi natapos namin. At last, tapos na yung competition at saka successful siya, it means parang lahat kami winner, lahat ng nasa batch namin.
"Yung batch namin mismo is a success kaya na-feel ko lahat kami na winner na. Happy naman kasi lahat naman nagkaroon ng opportunity.
"Malungkot dahil hindi ka nanalo, pero masaya din ako dahil successful yung StarStruck mismo, as a team, as a whole, kaming batch mismo.
"Bittersweet, malungkot ka. Sad siya pero happy din siya na winner din kami."
How did Yasmien's life change after StarStruck?
She answers, "Sa maraming aspeto, tulad ng siyempre, hindi ka na makalalabas ng ganun ganun, hindi ka na makakapag-commute bilang lagi akong nagko-commute noon.
"At saka yung mga schedules namin, punung-puno. Naging very busy kami with our careers.
"Very busy yung buong teenage life ko, ang busy niya! Hahaha! Nonstop.
"Mas kalmado na ngayon, pero dati, hindi na talaga ako nakakauwi."
Right after StarStruck, Yasmien and her other co-finalists were able to do Click, Stage 1: The StarStruck Playhouse, Joyride, and many other shows.
In these shows, Yasmien was paired with Rainier Castillo.
During her StarStruck days, Yasmien was commended for her drama acting skills. In fact, for her final performance, she did a drama anthology.
After StarStruck, however, Yasmien did not expect that drama would be her niche.
"Wala akong ganung expectations. Pagkapasok ko ng showbiz, yun ang struggle ko.
"Kasi saan ka ba, saan ka ba dapat nararapat, saan ba yung pwesto mo sa showbiz, yung right place mo sa showbiz. Kailangan mo ba mapunta sa drama, sa comedy, sa singing?
"E, ako, gusto ko sa singing pero yung mga directors, gusto ako sa drama noon. So yun yung struggle part pagpasok ng showbiz."
Eventually, in 2006, Yasmien got her big break in drama via two musical drama shows: Now and Forever: Tinig and Bakekang.
Her impressive performance prompted GMA-7 to give Yasmien her first lead role in the afternoon series Pati Ba Pintig ng Puso?, a remake of Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion's 1985 film.
The high ratings of the show gave Yasmien the title "GMA Drama Princess."
Up to this day, Yasmien remains thankful to GMA-7 and StarStruck for the career that she has today.
She says, "Maraming nagawa ang StarStruck and I'm very thankful kay StarStruck dahil kung hindi kay StarStruck, hindi ko maabot ang mga pangarap ko sa buhay.
"Oo, gusto ko talaga mag-artista. Pangarap ko talagang mapunta sa TV at umarte. At hanggang ngayon, yun pa rin ang gusto kong gawin."