The rivalry between Kapuso heartthrobs Dingdong Dantes and Richard Gutierrez intensified after the controversial Blackout, Bench's denim and underwear fashion show held last July 25 at the Araneta Coliseum.
Although both Dingdong and Richard were given well-deserved importance during the show—Dingdong was the highlight of the Bench Body portion while Richard's walk on the ramp was the finale—some viewers believe that Dingdong made a greater impact than Richard. This prompted others to compare the response between the two Kapuso leading men, and therefore cry foul over what they perceive was injustice to the one who got lesser attention.
The most vocal among them is none other than Richard's mom, the incomparable Annabelle Rama. She lamented what she felt was "unfair" exposure of her son during the fashion event—Richard was covered with dark makeup, no name flashed on the screen to identify the celebrities taking on the catwalk, etc.
On Dingdong and Richard's part, both young actors felt satisfied with their performance onstage. They also agree that there's nothing to argue or fight about since they both did their best to satisfy the audience's expectations.
Words were already said and feelings were hurt. But for Dingdong, this controversy will not change his friendship with Richard.
"Sa tagal na naming kilala ang isa't isa, itong ganitong mga bagay, I don't think makakaapekto sa aming dalawa," said Dingdong during his grand launch as the newest celebrity endorser of Belo Medical Group last Sunday night, August 3, at NBC Tent in The Fort, Taguig City.
He added, "He has better things to do and I have better things to do. So instead of wasting energy or contemplating things that don't really exist, let's just do our jobs."
But did he anticipate that things would go so far?
"Hindi rin, kasi kahit yung sinasabi nilang response, hindi ko rin naman nakita dun sa stage mismo, e, dahil naka-focus talaga ako [sa pagrampa]," Dingdong replied.
Dingdong also believes there is nothing to settle since he has no problem with Richard.
What can he say about the observation of some people that the response of the audience inside the Big Dome was based on the gimmicks of the celebrity models? In Dingdong's case, he dropped his pants to show his underwear.
"Kasi, unang-una, I'm the Bench Body [underwear] endorser. Kasi may jeans naman ‘yan, may damit... Basta ako po ay in-assign sa Bench Body, so talagang karapat-dapat lang na mag-underwear. In fact, hindi naman the whole time nakaganun ako, e. So, yun lang yung isa sa mga pinag-usapan. Siyempre, it was also my idea because ‘pag hinaluan mo na ng art diyan at saka ng factor of excitement, yun ang kinalabasan," he explained.
Has he talked with Bench owner Ben Chan about the issues that are coming out?
"Ako, after that, I detached myself personally," said Dingdong. "Kasi ang concern ko lang naman talaga nung gabing ‘yon, e, makarampa ako na hindi ako tumataob, o hindi ako nadadapa."
What can he say about those who defended him, like Richard Gomez?
"Kasi I'm sure that they will speak from the heart, kung ano yung nakita nila, kung ano yung paniniwala nila. And people have different beliefs. Marami din naman akong versions na narinig, hindi naman lahat, e, puro ganito lang ang sinasabi, may mga iba ring sinasabi. Kung ano yung opinyon nila, kung ano yung interpretasyon nila, nirerespeto ko ‘yon.
"The show, it involves thousands of Filipinos inside the Dome and hindi naman lahat ng hilig nila ay pare-pareho. So, kanya-kanya lang ‘yan. For those who believe in me, thank you very much. Kumbaga, gusto ko lang sabihin na hindi nabale-wala ang paghihirap ko."
What was his reaction to the statements of Annabelle Rama?
"Kung meron man siyang sinasabi, naiintindihan ko naman siya. I do not take it against her," Dingdong replied.
Although Richard started his career as a child star, along with twin brother Raymond Gutierrez, he took a long break from showbiz and returned as a teen star via GMA-7's Click in 2001. That time, Dingdong was already making a name for himself as a romantic leading man in the primetime soap Sana Ay Ikaw Na Nga after graduating from teeny-bopper roles in Anna Karenina and T.G.I.S.
Dingdong is four years older than Richard; Dingdong turned 28 last August 2 while Richard is now 24. Aside from belonging to the same network, Dingdong had the chance to direct Richard in some of the episodes of Kakabaka Adventures, a defunct teen-horror show in GMA-7. They also had the chance to work together in SOP, although both eventually decided to leave the show.
So, it can be said that Dingdong and Richard have already developed a friendship through the years. But does Dingdong really consider Richard a friend?
"Oo," he answered. "Isa siya talaga sa mga taong humahanga ako. Magmula nang mag-umpisa siya, I was there when he started. I'm very proud and happy how he handled it [his career]."
Dingdong admitted that he has yet to talk to Richard after the issue between them came out. But does he have anything to say to Richard?"'Pag nagkita na lang kami. Mas maganda kung personal yung pag-uusap namin dahil ever since before naman, kumbaga, maganda naman ang pagkakilala namin sa isa't isa," said Dingdong, before adding that nothing will change between them.