This 2019 marks the 21st anniversary of Jodi Sta. Maria in showbiz.
For the past two decades, viewers have seen Jodi grow from being a teen star to becoming one of the most in-demand actresses in the Philippine entertainment scene.
Not bad for a young girl who was discovered when all she wanted was to see her favorite artistas.
In her interview with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal), Jodi admitted, "It was not a dream of mine to become an actress."
But then she also realized, deep down inside, she felt joy entertaining other people.
Jodi said, "When I was young, all I knew was that I wanted to perform and, you know, I find joy and pleasure in performing in front of a lot of people kahit na for some reason mayroon akong stage fright, parang yun nga yung paradox ng buhay ko, e.
"Nahihiya ako but then it also gives me joy performing in front of people."
JODI STA. MARIA THE FAN GIRL
For her PEP.ph Headliner photo shoot, Jodi talked about her struggles when she started her showbiz career and the life lessons she learned along the way.
Jodi, whose real name is Jodi Chrissie Garcia Santamaria, can be considered a late bloomer in an industry known to foster teen millionaires.
She was 30 when her showbiz career shot up astronomically through the ABS-CBN daytime series Be Careful With My Heart, which aired for two years and four months.
The 37-year-old actress disclosed that at the start of her career, she had no hope whatsoever of ever getting her big break in showbiz.
She recalled, "To cut the long story short, I never got a project. As in, wala!
"Kahit mag-go see, wala akong nakuhang kahit isang commercial, so parang I told myself na parang I won’t waste time in auditioning or doing mga go-sees.
"Balik na lang ako doon sa aking regular high school life.
"Then one day, this agent messaged me and told me 'Hey, there's an audition for a new batch of Star Circle.'"
Those chosen to be part of this elite circle undergo training in acting and personality development before being tapped to star in TV shows and films produced by ABS-CBN.
Jodi continued, "I said, 'Ay! Hindi naman ako matatanggap diyan, e.'
"Kasi parang almost a year na puro audition lang ako nang audition, parang I always got rejected kasi hindi ka naman nakukuha sa mga projects.
"But then he said, 'Sige na, try mo lang naman.'"
Jodi almost didn't go to the auditions, but the prospect of seeing her favorite Kapamilya stars inspired her to go the distance.
"That time, I thought Quezon City, sobrang layo, e, kasi sa Pasay kami nakatira.
"We didn't have a car, kailangan lang kaming mag-bus.
"'Tapos sabi ko, 'Sige na nga, pupunta ako,' not because I wanted to become an artista.
"Yung naging motivation ko noon, 'Pupunta ako kasi maraming artista.'
"Gusto kong makakita ng artista! Gusto ko makita sina Jericho [Rosales] and Kristine [Hermosa]."
Jodi did get to see her favorite celebrities, not knowing that they would actually become her colleagues in the future.
"Ang galing lang kasi noong nandoon ako, ang daming nag-o-audition.
"Siksikan yung mga tao, pero nakita ko silang dalawa [Jericho and Kristine] doon sa old building sa second floor ng ABS-CBN, naglalakad.
"After that, sabi ko, 'Kahit naman hindi ako yung matanggap dito, okay na ko. Nakita ko naman silang dalawa.'"
But fate had other plans for the then-15 year-old fan.
Jodi continued, "After that, they called me in for another go-see.
"Parang five times ako nagpabalik-balik sa ABS-CBN until finally parang there were only twelve of us left.
"And then they gave us parang a temporary contract na saying, 'We're now the new batch of Star Circle 7.'
"Then the rest is history."
Aside from Jodi, Alessandra de Rossi and Desiree del Valle were also launched as part of Star Circle Batch 7 in 1998.
Two years later, Jodi was given the chance to hone her acting skills when she was cast as Lia Buenavista in Pangako Sa 'Yo.
As luck would have it for Jodi, the teleserye starred Jericho and she played the role of his younger sister.
Did she get to tell Jericho at the time about her fan girl moment in the past?
"Alam mo nabanggit ko yun kasi nagkatrabaho kami sa Pangako Sa 'Yo. Bilang kuya ko siya doon.
"Naging magkaibigan naman kami, pero siyempre at first iniisip ko, 'Paanong kapatid ko si Jericho Rosales?’ 'Paano 'to? Katrabaho ko?!' Ang galing lang.
"You know dreams do come true! Keep on dreaming! Keep on believing! It's gonna happen."
JODI RECALLS STRUGGLES OF BEING A NEWBIE
Even though Jodi was launched as part of Star Circle Batch 7, it took some time before she could break into the world of entertainment.
She was a non-entity, and if at all she was noticed, it was meant to put her down.
As Jodi recalled her experience, she also gave a peek into what it's like to be a beginner in showbiz.
She said, "It wasn't naman na pag nag-artista ka, agad-agad parang makukuha mo yung gusto mo.
"When I started, I didn't have a decent standby area.
"When I was starting, you'll hear comments na, 'Ay, hindi naman artista 'yan, artista-artistahan lang.'
"When you're beginning talaga, you'd hear all these things.
"Minsan iko-call time ka ng seven a.m., magsu-shoot ka seven a.m. of the following day 'tapos babarilin ka lang, mamamatay ka nang gano'n.
"Ganun talaga and then yung talent fee mo, mas mahal pa yung makeup at damit mo kaysa TF [talent fee] mo.
"But then you use these things not to dishearten you or to discourage you.
"You use them really to motivate you more, to propel you to do better, to do good and it's always nice to set goals.
"Sabi ko kasi dati, 'One day, magkakaroon ako ng show; one day, magkakaroon ako ng film, one day, magkakaroon ako ng ganito, ganyan.'
"And then, you know, little by little, you know natupad siya."
How did she boost her self-esteem and confidence while handling blows to her ego?
She said, "To be honest, it is only when you mature that you realize that these things had to happen, na sometimes you really have to go through difficulties in life.
"You have to go through rejections; though nobody wants to be rejected, but these things build our character.
"That's the most important thing; at first, of course, it hurts.
"Parang you feel, 'Why? Am I not enough?' 'Am I not beautiful?'
"You tend to question yourself and then, later on, you’ll realize that's what I needed exactly at that point of my life.
"Even though I didn't want it, it helped me become who I am today, so you have to look at it in a different perspective."
JODI AS A SINGLE MOM
Choosing a career in television paved the way for Jodi to meet her husband. Jodi met Panfilo “Pampi” Lacson Jr. on the set of the ABS-CBN show Tabing Ilog in 2000.
The actress married Pampi in 2005. They separated after five years and have one child together, Panfilo Lacson III, or more popularly known as Thirdy.
Jodi is raising Thirdy on her own, and as one who has known what it's like to have less in life, she imparts two important lessons to her son.
One, to value and save money, and two, to respect women.
She said, "I think at a young age, Thirdy knows the nature of my job. Six months old pa lang 'yan, sinasama ko na 'yan sa taping and hanggang sa nagkaroon siya ng malay.
"Nakikita niya yung trabaho ko umaga hanggang gabi at minsan hanggang madaling araw.
"He knows na money doesn't grow on trees na nandiyan lang, kukunin mo lang. Alam niya na kailangan paghirapan.
"As early as now, natututo na rin siyang mag-save ng money niya.
"Nakakatuwa, there was one time na binigyan niya ko ng resibo ng field trip nila. Sabi ko, 'Babe, ano 'to?' He said, 'Mama, I paid for my field trip fee.'
"Sabi ko, 'Saan ka kumuha ng money?' Sabi niya, 'Sa savings ko po.'
"Kumbaga, yung baon na binibigay namin sa kanya, iniipon niya."
What does Jodi tell her 14-year-old son about having crushes and falling in love?
"Medyo iba yung bilin ko sa kanya. When I tell my friends about it, they're like 'Ha? Why ganon? Lalaki anak mo.'
"I always tell them, 'I pray that he would just see women the way God sees us.
"'That we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and they are made in His likeness and image and each person is important and that each person matters.'
"And 'pag dumating na siya sa panahon na magkakaroon na siya ng crush or ma-i-in love na, sabi ko sa kanya, 'Don't court someone if you don’t have long-term plans for that woman.'
"Yun talaga yung lagi kong sinasabi kasi parang sometimes kasi the world has it backwards na parang 'try and try' kung hindi mag-work 'to, sige next na.
"What I'm trying to say is parang, di ba, we are investing emotions, time that we can never take back.
"Yun ang sinasabi ko sa kanya, 'Don't court anyone without having long-term plans or goals for that person or without even the intention to marry.'
"Saka sinabi ko, 'manligaw ka kapag may trabaho ka na.'
"Sagot naman niya, 'Mommy, may commercial na ko.'"
The Kapamilya actress is fortunate to have gained a solid foothold in her career, and with her home life going swimmingly well, Jody is now focused on her personal growth.
What advice can she give to moms who want to explore new things or go beyond their comfort zone?
"For me one of the noblest professions for women is to be a mother.
"Di ba, you're actually raising the future generation, the next generation. Ikaw yung nagtuturo, ikaw yung nagme-mentor, ikaw yung nag-i-inspire, ikaw yun, e, trabaho mo.
"But I hope that moms don’t feel parang shy or parang discouraged just because they are mothers already na parang tumigil na yung mundo for them.
"Being a mom opens up new doors and opportunities. For me, that's how I see it.
"Just because you're a mom naman, hindi naman ibig sabihin you'll just give up on your dreams.
"You're never too old to dream a new dream, and for me it's God who gives us the desires of our hearts and yung mga dreams na yun.
"So I hope they find encouragement with that."
She also put emphasis on self-care, and how women can rise above any difficult situation.
"Well, we can never live a stress-free life as long as we're in this world. We will always have, you know, stressors, and they will always be present.
"It's up to us talaga to be able to protect ourselves and to be able to manage and deal with the emotions na kasama nung stresses na 'yan."
And stress should never be an excuse to look "losyang." It actually is a choice.
At her launch as the newest endorser of Ever Bilena, she told PEP.ph, "...during the first months ng life ni Thirdy, I didn't really get to have time to make pa-beauty.
"Because, you know, when you just had a child, sobra kang busy na—minsan nga, may mga moments na parang, kahit ikaw nakakalimutan mo na maligo.
"Kasi parang kailangan bantayan mo bawat hinga, bawat kibot, kung anong gusto niya gawin, di ba?
"So, parang naisip ko naman na, I had Thirdy when I was 23 years old, I was thinking to myself, parang, 'Wait lang naman, kung hindi naman ako mag-aayos, ang bata ko naman maging losyang!' Dun nag-start yun."
After all, beauty, she said, should not take too much time and effort.
The actress remarked, "I think it’s important that you know the profile of your face and what you know you can enhance more."
It does not also have to be high-maintenance.
She continued, "It's a matter of knowing what products work for you. Halimbawa, ang Ever Bilena...it's a brand na kinalakihan natin, it's a brand na nakita kong ginamit ng nanay ko papunta sa opisina. Classic siya, e.
"It's a classic brand, and it's nice because alam mo yung hindi siya nahuhuli sa pag-update ng mga products nila."
Jodi underlined that the first step to becoming a complete woman is taking care of your self.
"You know kasi, when you look good, it somehows adds to your confidence and you feel empowered.
"Everything just aligns."
THE FUTURE PSYCHOLOGIST
Jodi is about to achieve one of her biggest goals in life. She is poised to complete her Bachelor of Science in Psychology course at the Southville International School and Colleges.
She previously enrolled in Medical Biology as a precursor to Medicine, but she was unable to finish it because of the demands of her career.
Jodi recalled, "Back in 2010, I applied in De La Salle University for a different course. I actually wanted to get into the medical field.
"Yung unang course na in-enroll-an ko which is Medical Biology, hindi ko siya na-finish for the reason na I was required to go to school every day.
"During that time, I think we were starting na with Be Careful With My Heart, so ang hirap.
"Ang hirap talaga pagsabayin so madaling salita, hindi ko siya natapos.
"When you enrol, di ba, mayroon kang first choice, second choice. Second choice ko na talaga yung Psychology."
Why did she choose to study Psychology instead of continuing her Medical Biology course?
She explained, "Unang reason why I chose Psychology kasi ang perception ko walang math. Ayoko ng math!
"Pero I realized ang dami pala: may Psych Stat [Statistics], may Fundamental Stat.
"Second, because parang, coming from a point na sobrang daming nangyayari ngayon, parang baka yung tools, skills and knowledge na natutunan ko in school eventually will help other people.
"So bukod sa number one motivation ko ay walang math, I really want to be able to help, and I prayed for this.
"I remember parang in my journal, I saw na I was praying for it na ‘Lord, can you please open up this course for me para makapasok ako.’ This was back in 2015 or 2016."
"Then the last quarter of 2017 and 2018, it happened, nagtuloy-tuloy na siya. It means na I’m on the right track."
In January 2018, Jodi made it to her school's Dean's List. How did she manage to do that while taping for a Kapamilya show?
"Sunog kilay pati noo, buhok…lahat na!" she quipped.
Now, Jodi top-bills the ABS-CBN prime-time series Mea Culpa: Sino Ang May Sala? wherein she plays a mother searching for her daughter.
She plays the young better half of Gabby Concepcion's character in the drama movie Man and Wife, which is currently being screened in cinemas nationwide.
So, here's a toast to Jodi Sta. Maria on Mother's Day. A fan girl once upon a time who now commands her own fandom. A late bloomer showing the world dreams come true sooner or later for those believe. A dreamer who will grow old dreaming and keeping her hopes up.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Cyrus Panganiban
SHOOT PRODUCERS: Karen Pagsolingan and Nikko Angelo Tuazon
ART DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Idanan
STYLIST: Patricia Coronado
HAIRSTYLIST: Jay Wee
MAKE-UP ARTIST: Ting Duque
VIDEO PRODUCERS: Insel Culla and Carlo Aragones
VIDEO EDITOR: Jham Mariano