Toni Gonzaga had had quite a few failed attempts to get into show business before she managed somehow to get one foot in the door of GMA-7.
This was in the late ‘90s and back then, she was Tintin Gonzaga.
The Metropop Talent Search in 1997 was one of her entry points.
Toni joined the competition and although she lost, she bagged a contract with GMA Artist Center and was given a part in Bubble Gang.
But other than that, her budding showbiz career basically was in limbo.
Her luck changed in 2001 when she was paired with Piolo Pascual in what would become one of the best soft drink commercials of all time in the country.
Toni screaming “I love you, Piolo!” contributed to its high recall. She was 17 years old at that time.
But, actually, Toni was supposed to be just one of the crowd of fans encircling Piolo in the commercial. She got the choice part of the screaming fan by sheer accident!
Toni told Boy Abunda in the March 27 I Feel U episode how the part landed on her lap.
She narrated, “I never got the lead part, Tito Boy. Never ko namang nakuha iyong mga lead part sa mga commercial.
"Kaya noong ‘I love you Piolo,’ that was just an accident. I vividly remember how it happened.
“It was the day before the shooting ng commercial, we were practicing at the back kasi nagre-react na kami. Umaarte na iyong lead sa harap.
“It was a whole day of workshop for different leads that they were trying.
“Hanggang sa, finally, mga alas singko na ng hapon, napagod na sila magpa-go see ng mga bagong leads.”
The opportunity opened for Toni when the talent casters randomly picked her and one other girl for more test shots.
She recounted, “While waiting, they just tested me. ‘Alam niyo, habang naghihintay, i-try niyo itong dalawang nasa likod, o. I-try mo ito, itong isang nakaupo na ito.’
“Wala pa nga akong pangalan noon, e. This girl.”
Looking back, Toni exclaimed, “Naku, doon sila nagkamali! Iyong pagkakaturo nila sa aking iyon, sabi ko sa sarili ko, ibibigay ko nang lahat ito!
“Alam mo, pagkasigaw ko, naalala ko pa noon. E, di sumigaw ako, ‘tapos may isang nag-chuckle lang doon sa group. Di ba, may monitor iyon ‘tapos may gumanon lang.
“So sabi ko, e, balik na lang ulit ako sa pagka-support dahil wala namang nag-react. Babalik na ako sa upuan ko.”
But what happened next totally caught Toni by surprise.
She remembered, “Pagbalik ko sa upuan ko, hindi ko makakalimutan iyon, lumapit sa akin iyong A.D. [assistant director].
“Lumapit siya sa akin. ‘O, ikaw na raw, ikaw na iyong lead. Nagustuhan ka.”
How did Toni react?
“Tumakbo ako sa CR, nagkulong ako sa cubicle 'tapos napaupo ako sa sahig!
“Tapos iyak ako nang iyak kasi first time kong naka-experience ng yes. Iyak ako nang iyak noon.
“I had to compose myself ‘tapos hinihintay ako lumabas kasi nga, ‘Anyare doon sa babae? Bakit tumakbo sa CR?’
“Hindi ko ma-contain iyong emotions! ‘Shocks, totoo ba ito? Ako iyong pinili?’
“Parang hindi ko ma-process, hindi ko kaya itago iyong emotions ko na maiiyak ako, so tumakbo ako. Humagulgol muna ako, umiyak-iyak ako.
“Hanggang sa lumabas ako na kaya ko nang humarap sa kanila kasi hindi nila alam that that was the first time somebody accepted me.”
During the shoot, Toni was accompanied by her dad Bonoy, mom Pinty, and sister Alex, who was 13 at the time.
Toni said her sister also remembered how it all happened, “They were outside ‘tapos si Alex ang nakakaalala noon. May sariling version din si Alex noon.”
She repeated to Boy Abunda Alex's version of the story where she told Toni, “Alam mo, nakakaloka ka nga kasi ang tagal naming naghihintay sa labas. 'Tapos mga alas singko na, sabi ko, ‘Daddy, boses ng ate ang sumisigaw.’ ‘Hindi ate mo iyon.’ ‘Ate iyon, ang ate iyong sumisigaw.’”
According to Toni, it only dawned on her family it was for real when a production assistant handed her Mommy Pinty a new contract.
She recalled, “Binigay iyong paper kasi may contract na noon iyong support ‘tapos binalik, ‘Hindi na po siya support, siya na po iyong lead.’
“Gulat na gulat iyong mommy ko. Nagkagulatan na kami.”
It was a moment of glory for Toni after waiting for so long to be given a chance to show off her talent, and alongside Piolo at that.
He was, as she put it, the “Daniel Padilla” during that time.
Toni had thought that their soft drink ad would jumpstart her career in commercial modelling, but she was wrong.
She said, “Akala ko, Tito Boy, certified commercial model na ako no’n.
“Sobrang akala ko talaga kasi sabi nila noon, ‘Alam mo, makakuha lang ng isang commercial, lagi ka nang kukunin sa commercial.’
“Sabi ko, ‘Gano’n ba iyon?’ So shocks, ano na! Commercial model na talaga ako. So attend ako nang attend ng VTRs ng commercial after noon.
“So siyempre, pagpasok mo, may mga bulungan na, ‘Ay, si I-love-you-Piolo.’
“Basta for two years yata, ang screen name ko ay si I-love-you-Piolo. Na-accept ko na iyon. Kapag sinabing si I-love-you-Piolo, ganyan lang. Hi!
“Wala nang pangalan basta I-love-you-Piolo, okay na sa akin.”
Contrary to Toni's expectation, the popularity of the soft drink ad, in fact, had jeopardized her supposed budding career.
Toni said, “Ang mali naman noon, kapag pamilyar ka na sa isang commercial, hindi ka na pala kukunin dahil masyado nang associated na ang mukha!
“Wala naman akong naipasang ni isang commercial after no’n!
“Hay, ano ba nangyari sa buhay ko. Akala ko ito na iyong dire-diretso.
“Akala ko, ito na iyong susi ng tagumpay. Bakit back to zero na naman ako? Wala na namang gustong kumuha sa akin.
“Until nag-start naman ang pagtawag ng TV.”
Months later, Toni would see herself returning to television via the sitcom Daddy Di Do Du, which paved the way for her to join Eat Bulaga!
Not counting her days as Tintin Gonzaga, Toni is celebrating her 20th year in show business this year, starting with the famous soft drink commercial.