Toni Gonzaga’s popularity skyrocketed upon her transfer to ABS-CBN in 2005.
After all, her contract stipulated an album, a movie, and five shows in the Kapamilya network.
Even her Eat Bulaga! co-hosts were supportive of her decision and the negotiation was done smoothly.
But actually, the transfer was not as easy as it seemed for Toni.
On her Star Cinema online show I Feel U, with guest host Boy Abunda, she recalled her beginnings in ABS-CBN.
Their interview was done via Zoom on March 28, 2021.
“HINDI PA MAN SUMISIKAT DIN, LAOS NA IYAN.”
The first time she stepped into ABS-CBN studios as a Kapamilya, Toni was actually “emotional."
Instead of feeling excited about her transfer, Toni's mind was filled with doubts because of the comments she kept on hearing from other people during that time.
“Noong unang lipat ko sa ABS-CBN, kaya ako emotional kasi I got so many comments and so many statements from people who said na, ‘Malalaos na iyan. Hindi pa man sumisikat din, laos na iyan.'
“Basta iyon lang lagi ang nasa isip ko noong papalipat ako.
“’Ambisyosa siya, paano siya mapapansin sa ABS, e, nandiyan lahat ng magagandang artista.’”
Their comments were not even without basis.
Toni admitted, “It was the era of Kristine Hermosa, Claudine Barretto, so ang daming nagbubulong sa akin noong time na iyon na, ‘Walang mangyayari sa iyo doon. Hindi ka naman makakalevel sa ganda ng mga artista nila doon.’
“That was the peak of mga Tabing Ilog, the glamor of all the ABS-CBN stars in the '90s and early 2000s.”
Toni took the comments to heart, and as a response, she did her best to exhaust her one-year contract with the network, thinking that there might be a chance she won’t be renewed.
She even had a talk with her younger sister Alex about this.
Toni revealed, “Noong lumipat ako, sinabi ko lang sa sarili ko, one year lang kasi ang contract ko noon.
“Sabi ko, mag-iipon na lang ako kasi maganda din naman talaga, siyempre talagang napalipat din tayo dahil talagang maganda ang offer, gano’n naman talaga iyon.
“When I transferred, I did the movie D’ Anothers, We Belong na album, show Wazzup Wazzup ‘tapos nakapag-ASAP ako.
“So lahat iyon ninamnam ko lang kasi iniisip ko talaga, one year lang ako.
“Sinabi ko pa iyon kay Alex, ‘Okay na ito, iipunin ko na ito, okay na tayo dito.’”
WHY TONI TRANSFERRED TO ABS-CBN
But why did Toni transfer to ABS-CBN in the first place?
Toni revealed that GMA-7, her home network, did not actually have an offer for her.
She explained, “Super maayos lahat naman ng pamamaalam at wala rin naman kasing offer sa akin at that time.
“For the network, parang what they said is, ‘Iyong ginagawa mo, iyon na iyon. Wala nang mas higit pa dito, wala nang mas hihigit pa dito sa ginagawa mo.
“’So kung ayaw mo niyan, then you can go.’”
Toni’s regular show back then was Eat Bulaga!, a blocktimer in GMA-7’s noontime slot.
Toni would also occasionally appear in series such as Ikaw Lang Ang Mamahalin, Habang Kapiling Ka, and Love To Love.
She also had a short hosting stint in the showbiz-oriented talk show S-Files.
In the ABS-CBN offer, Toni saw more opportunities that can hone her craft.
“Siyempre, nakita mo, o, puwede ako magrecording, puwede akong magpelikula kasi nasa contract ko iyon. Iyon iyong mga dream ko, magkapelikula.”
For her first interview as a Kapamilya, Toni sat down with Boy in the defunct showbiz-oriented talk show The Buzz.
Toni recalled in I Feel U, “Ay, wala ako sa sarili ko noon, Tito Boy, parang nakahiwalay iyong kaluluwa ko.
“Siyempre, starstruck ako. Feeling ko, artistang-artista na ako kasi ang kaharap ko ikaw, Tito Boy.
“Dahil feeling ko, ito talaga iyong mga legit na interview, kapag Boy Abunda na iyong kaharap mo artista ka na talaga.
“So hindi pa nagsi-sink in sa akin ‘tapos emotional ako dahil kakalipat ko lang noon sa ABS-CBN.”
Toni would then see herself doing five shows all at the same time: ASAP, MRS: Most Requested Show, ETK: Entertainment Konek, and Pinoy Big Brother in ABS-CBN, and Wazzup Wazzup in Studio 23.
Because of this, she did not even feel that her new song at that time, “We Belong,” was a hit on radio stations and music charts.
Toni narrated, “Hindi ko rin naramdaman na ayon pala siya noong time na iyon.
“Ewan ko kasi noong time na iyon, I was juggling five shows sa ABS. Talagang nilagari ko lahat ng shows noon.
“Curacha talaga ang peg ko noon: Wazzup Wazzup, ASAP, morning show (MRS: Most Requested Show), PBB.
“So, hindi mo nararamdaman na, ‘Ay, may ganun pa lang nangyayari.’
“Basta mararamdaman ko lang kapag ASAP, pakakantahin ako ng ‘We Belong.’
“Pero never nag-sink in sa akin na it was a hit. Maybe after a few years kasi mga kasama mo, kinakanta sa harap mo or ia-associate nila iyong song [sa iyo]."
What she first believed to be only a year of being Kapamilya has now become 16 years.
SASSY GIRL: A CELEBRATION OF HER TWENTY YEARS
This 2021, Toni is set to top-bill the Pinoy adaptation of the hit 2001 Korean rom-com movie My Sassy Girl.
When Boy brought up that the original My Sassy Girl was shown in the same year Toni appeared in her famous softdrink commercial, Toni remarked, “Oo nga ano, parang full circle.”
Toni then revealed that she never expected she would be able to fulfill a dream she had since 2006.
Her Sassy Girl journey started with a phone call between VIVA Films' big boss, Vic del Rosario, Jr., and Toni's husband, Paul Soriano.
VIVA and Paul’s film outfit, Ten17P, had been working as co-producers in several films.
She narrated, “That project came to me unexpectedly. I’m at a point in my life na sinurrender ko na iyang dream na iyan. It was my dream in 2006.
“Until last year, it was nighttime, iyong phone ni Paul nag-ring. It was Boss Vic del Rosario and then he left and then he came back.
“And then he asked me, 'Boss Vic is asking if you will be willing to play the role of Sassy Girl because they got the Philippine adaptation, the rights to do it.'
“So nanlaki iyong mata ko. Sabi ko, ‘Ako? Paul, wala ka pa sa buhay ko, Sassy Girl na iyan!’
“Sabi ni Paul, ‘Yeah, do you wanna do it?’ So nagkaroon sila ng talks and then I also have my own production, iyong TINCAN.
“Sinabi nila, ‘Will you be willing to co-prod? Sabi ko, ‘Wow, talaga ba? Magku-co-prod pa iyong Sassy Girl Philippine adaptation sa aming film outfit.
“So nagkaroon ng collaboration. Isinulat, ginawa, natapos. Hanggang ngayon di ako makapaniwala na natapos na namin.”
Toni admitted that she suddenly becomes emotional every time she sees the rushes or even hears the theme song of her upcoming movie.
“Kasi iyon iyong mga bagay na hindi mo na ine-expect na mangyayari sa iyo, e.
“Iniisip mo, kapag nag-asawa ka na, may anak ka na, iisipin mo, hindi na siya bagay diyan. She’s past that age.
“’Tapos makikita mo nangyari pa rin. Parang wala talagang imposible kapag si God ang nag-orchestrate ng lahat, ano.
“Parang what a way also to celebrate your 20 years in the business.”