At first glance, this young actress of Chinese descent easily comes off as a sweet and charming lady blessed with the sterling qualities of oriental princesses—velvety skin, bright and expressive chinky eyes. But there's more to Lourna Jane "LJ" Pujeda Reyes than meets the eye.
The public first saw LJ as one of the second batch of hopefuls in the reality-TV talent search, StarStruck, in which she finished as first runner-up. Three years after her win, LJ has already done several movies and TV shows.
She formerly played a villainous amazona in the GMA-7 fantaserye Zaido and a neophyte office employee in the QTV-11 comedy show Cam Cafe.
Outside show business, LJ lives a quiet, normal life. She is the younger of two sisters and has always been the baby in the family, but she is no spoiled brat. She and her sister Lorraine live independently in their house in Lagro, Quezon City, with their longtime yaya— whom they call Lola Maria, since she was also their mom's yaya and she's like family to them now.
Their parents have been separated since LJ was a baby, but whenever the Reyes sisters have time, they visit their father, or they meet up with him for dinner. Their mother works as a bookkeeper in New York, U.S.A., and has not come home to the Philippines since LJ won in StarStruck.
"Kami ang pumupunta do'n dahil green-card holders din kami," LJ explains, "para maipasyal niya din kami sa New York. Hopefully, next trip namin sa U.S., sa L.A. naman, kasi 'yon ang gusto niya. Para siya din, makapag-vacation, kasi the whole year panay work lang siya do'n."
Despite the physical distance, it's like her mom is never far, LJ says: "Palagi naman siyang tumatawag. She's more worried for us now, 'tsaka 'yong pagiging mom niya sa amin, parang naging doble, kasi she's away."
TIME MANAGEMENT. Unlike most 20-year-olds, LJ already has her mind set on her future goals. Aside from her showbiz commitments, she is also preoccupied with her studies at De La Salle University, where she is in her third year (she's now entering her fourth year this '09) as a B.S. Commerce student majoring in management of financial institutions.
"Una sa lahat, kailangan diyan, proper time management," LJ says. "May times nga na from school dumidiretso na 'ko sa taping, 'tapos dala ko na din 'yong gamit ko for next day, kasi inaabot na ng umaga. Hindi na 'ko umuuwi ng bahay, hindi na 'ko natutulog, kasi wala nang time. Pero this sem, 'yong nakuha kong sked, mas maganda na."
The college course she has taken has a lot of daunting math subjects, she says: "Grabe. Grabe talaga. Super dami 'yong mga graphs, gano'n. Nae-enjoy ko naman, so okey lang. Trained din naman ako sa math, dahil galing ako sa Chinese school. Lalo sa amin sa St. Stephen's [high school]—may math ka sa Chinese at English. Kamusta naman kung hindi ka pa natuto?"
Although she's in her junior year, LJ admits she still has a long way to go before she can graduate. That's because her current showbiz commitments make it impossible for her to take up the full load of course requirements. But she say she's in no hurry to graduate, because she enjoys learning new things.
Nor is she in a hurry to get married.
Her breakup with boyfriend Alfred Vargas was recently in the news. But it seems LJ has her mind set on a lot of other dreams.
"Ang dami kong ideas," she smiles. "Gusto ko ng sarili kong clothing line, sarili kong resto in the future. Actually, baka 'yong clothing line, mag-start na kami ng mga friends ko. Gusto ko din ng coffeeshop. Mahilig din ako sa mga pastries, so gusto ko din 'yong parang Bread Talk [a bread shop found in major malls]. So I'll learn to cook and bake soon, baka sa summer."
TO-DO LIST. Even with all these projects lined up on her to-do list, LJ adds more.
"I'll take up masters after I graduate. Yong iba nga, sabi, 'Hindi ka pa nga natatapos, masters na agad nasa isip mo?' Sa akin kasi, no'ng ilang months na di ako nakapag-school dahil sa schedule ng StarStruck, I felt na hindi pala ako dapat mag-stop mag-aral. Ang sama sa utak. Feeling ko, nabobobo ako. Kaya nawi-weirdan ako sa mga taong hindi nag-aaral kahit may opportunity. Ano'ng 'pinapasok mo sa utak mo? Wala. You're just wasting your time. Super sayang.
"Ang dami kong realizations in life when I entered showbiz, kasi parang nakita ko 'yong reality. Parang mas na-feel ko 'yong responsibilities, so mas naiintindihan ko na ang mom ko, especially about financial things. Pero I'm not saying na talagang responsible na 'ko. Siyempre, marami pa akong dapat matutunan in life. Pero ngayon, 'yong mga experience ko sa showbiz, sa school, sa business—lahat 'yon, pag sinam-up, para sa akin naging better person ako."
With such a steady frame of mind, one that's not easily distracted by the glitz and the glamour of showbiz, there's no doubt that LJ Reyes will be successful, whatever road she chooses to take in the future.