Stars in life-changing mode

Sep 30, 2009
Life changes may be self-determined and/or brought about by circumstances. Our showbiz artists' transformations reflect experiences that we ordinary mortals often go through ourselves.

In showbiz, more than any other professional field, the idea of change (pagbabago) is oftentimes as dramatic away from the camera as it is onscreen. The stars' private lives and careers are constantly in the public eye, of course. But who doesn't love surprises-and even perversely, scandals?

Our Top List focuses on celebrities who may have titillated or otherwise shocked their fans, but they did something more. They overcame all odds. How did they do it? In the first place, they made life-changing decisions. In some cases, we can only imagine how one felt alone in making the big leap. Generally though, as Filipino custom goes, support came from family, friends, and show business itself.

These stars handled changes within themselves, and the fickle winds of showbiz, quite well. Not only did their choices impact on their career, they proved their worth as models of perseverance and true grit

Aiza Seguerra. In 1987 there was a Little Miss Philippines contestant who would soon charm her way into showbiz. Cariza Yamson Seguerra was four years old.

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The little girl won over Eat Bulaga! hosts Tito and Vic Sotto and Joey de Leon. They took in Aiza Seguerra as co-host in their noontime variety show for the next ten years. Meantime, movie offers poured in. Aiza turned into a child superstar.

Not for very long though. If hormone changes throw an ordinary teenager's life into chaos, a child actor's lot is doubly challenging. Aiza struggled to maintain her success and won awards as Best Child Actress/Performer between 1988 and 1992. But as her childhood drew to a close, and even as she continued to appear in movies and TV over two decades, she plumbed her other potentials, including theater acting in recent years, and singing with her acoustic guitar.

Year 2001 was the turning point in her showbiz career. At age 18, her single Pagdating ng Panahon (2001) topped music charts as a certified Platinum record seven times over. Aiza won an Awit Award for Best Performance by a Female Recording Artist the following year. Since then, her albums have become synonymous with Gold and Platinum.

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As Wikipedia writes, "Aiza reinvented herself in her twenties by showing her talent in music...She has finally erased the public's image of her child star days and replaced it with a better picture of a well-rounded performing artist. She is now dubbed as the "Asian Acoustic Sensation."

Aiza even reinvented her sexuality, with her Mommy Caring's full support for her lesbian lovelife. While she prefers to keep it private, she spoke candidly of her relationship in YES! magazine (June 2007) and in PEP (August 18, 2007), she defended her girlfriend against intrigues.

Rustom Padilla/BB Gandanghari. What could be more radical, on both personal and professional levels, than the former Rustom Padilla's transgender feat?

Hunk, action star, eligible bachelor-that's how Rustom Padilla looked in late '80s and early '90s. His slicked-back hair and the macho stance he always projected in his films, like Magnong Rehas (1992) and Mistah (1994), further cemented his career as an action star.

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But his future as an action star turned hazy. In the reality show Pinoy Big Brother: Celebrity Edition (2006), Rustom revealed to housemate Keanna Reeves—and in front of nation-wide TV viewers—that he was gay.

And then Rustom upped his "sexual preference to a new level," as PEP reported of his/her interview with Startalk ("Rustom Padilla is now known as Bebe Gandanghari," January 18, 2009). Rustom flew to New York and studied modeling, then returned as a gorgeous female who called herself "BB Gandanghari," the name she chose partly from her motto, "Be all that you can be."

Transgender issues may still boggle the "straight and righteous" mind. But BB Gandanghari has stood her ground in TV guest appearances, as occasional events host, and recently in typhoon Ondoy relief operations. In showbiz where illusion and reality intertwine, anything's possible, including BB's self-identity. Even her family has finally accepted that reality.

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Robin Padilla. The Bad Boy of Philippine cinema not only earned the title for his gangster roles in films like "Anak ni Baby Ama", "Bad Boy" and "Grease Gun Gang"- he lived it. The action star got involved in major controversies, including illegal possession of firearms in 1994. Robin was sentenced to 21 years in jail. It looked like his career was over.

While in prison, he converted to Islam, a leap of faith in more ways than one. His exemplary conduct, for one, earned him a new lease on life as he was released in 1998. The new Robin Padilla also had a second chance at show business. He ventured into comedy and drama, like "Basta't Kasama Kita" and "La Visa Loca," for which he won as Best Actor in the 2006 Urian Awards. Moreover, he became a TV favorite in his action series "Joaquin Bordado" and "Asian Treasures."

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Robin's positive transformation continues to bear fruit as he pursues humanitarian and philanthropic projects. He was an anti-malaria advocate in 2004 for the Department of Health, he built a school for Muslim children in Quezon City, and has donated hefty sums for his various causes.

Mark Anthony Fernandez. The son of the late action star, Rudy "Daboy" Fernandez, and former movie sex siren, Alma Moreno, is a survivor.

Mark Anthony Fernandez had a career going in the late '90s. He won Best Actor and best Supporting Actor for three movies in 1996: Pare Ko, Mangarap Ka and Matimbang Pa sa Dugo, respectively. Two years later, his career crashed with an assault case filed against him and the breakup with then-girlfriend Claudine Barreto. He was eventually acquitted, only to undergo drug rehabilitation after a Regal Films attempt to launch him as an action star flopped. After two years he tried to make a comeback but had to enter rehab again.

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In 2005, he was released from rehab and he said, "I hope the moviegoers will welcome me back. Now, I realize more than ever that I'm made for showbiz and I'll always be in showbiz." (Wikipedia)

GMA-7 welcomed him and anointed him as the leading man for Kapuso's well-received teleseryes, from Impostora (2007) to All About Eve (2009).

As Mark Anthony's star rose steadily came a big blow—the death of his father who had supported and guided him when he was getting back on his feet. But he returned to work immediately after the funeral, determined perhaps never to stay down again.

These days, the survivor dubbed "Ultimate Leading Man" flies high with Marian Rivera in Darna.

Vilma Santos. Mid-lifefound the Star for All Seasonsat the highest peak of her showbiz career. From her first break as a nine-year-old child star in Trudis Liit (1963) to almost 200 movies by century's turn, she practically hogged all the Best Actress awards for classic roles any actress would die for. She enjoyed box-office hits as well, like Darna, Lipad, Darna (1973), among many others. Her versatility was and remains legend. To this day, her fan base spans two generations in the country and overseas.

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And so there was no way to go but down—to the grassroots.

She ran for mayor of Lipa City, Batangas in 1998, won by a landslide, and served as the city's first woman Mayor for three terms (nine years). In 2007 she became the first woman Governor of Batangas, which used to be known as the land of balisong-wielding machos. Her public service record is studded with "economic progress and infrastructure development [as Mayor of] Lipa City, but more notably her various programs on public health, education and environment [have] again earned various local and international awards and recognitions." (Wikipedia)

Indeed, her middle name in politics should be "First," just as she had as an award-winning actress. Or "Par Excellence."

Angel Locsin. Angel Locsin had it all from her start in GMA-7's teen show Click back in 1999. She was given lead roles on primetime TVand blockbuster movie projects; she had major endorsements and an ever-growing fan base. Year 2003 was pivotal as she was cast opposite Richard Gutierrez in Mulawin and then two years after as Darna (2005). She starred in other primetime hits like 2006's Majika and Asian Treasures in 2007. Everything seemed to be coming up roses for Angel in GMA-7.

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Suddenly she decided to leave GMA-7.

What started out as a rumor in early July 2007 proved true. Angel finally signed a two-year contract with ABS-CBN on August 11, 2007. It would have been a normal crossover but the process was so stained by controversy, it ended up with an ugly exit from the station.

In spite of heavy criticism by her detractors, Angel's career under her new station flourished. In January 2008, just a few months in ABS-CBN, Angel got the lead role opposite Piolo Pascual in the primetime fantaserye Lobo. Last April 2009, Angel once again starred in a primetime series, this time Sam Milby and Diether Ocampo in Only You.

Angel's high-risk decision certainly did not clip her wings.

Gabby Concepcion. With his boyish good looks and charisma in the '80s, he captivated young girls' hearts in a Close Up commercial that eventually led to a contract with Regal matriarch Mother Lily Monteverde. The matinee idol's star shot up higher when he was paired with Sharon Cuneta in one romantic blockbuster after another. The love team's fans multiplied by the thousands.

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Gabby and Sharon actually tied the knot in 1984, but a month before their third wedding anniversary they separated. The marriage was annulled six years later.

As if that controversy were not enough, Gabby got embroiled in the infamous 1994 MMFF scam wherein he and Ruffa Guttierez were wrongfully given acting awards originally meant for Edu Manzano and Aiko Melendez.

The scandal drove Gabby to leave showbiz and start a new life in 1995. He pursued a degree in Management Information Systems in Lincoln University in San Francisco. Shortly after graduation, he became a successful licensed realtor in California.

His return to the Philippines after 13 years appeared to be his showbiz comeback, but the 44-year-old actor (who's now 45) sadly said that he wanted to spend quality time with his ailing father Rollie. Past controversies resurfaced, and new issues arose, but this time, the new Gabby faced them all. His determination to fix the mistakes of the past changed Gabby for the better. He made a comeback on TV with ABS-CBN's Maalaala Mo Kaya (2008) and Iisa Pa Lamang (2008)—a new beginning for the former matinee idol.

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Coming full circle, Gabby Concepcion not only returned to the endorsement scene; after years of estrangement, he and the Megastar have begun to be on good terms.

KC Concepcion. KC Concepcion used to live the quiet, good life, studying at the American University of Paris in Paris and finishing her degree International Corporate Communications in 2007. Back in 2003 she had a stint as a Video Jockey on MTV Asia. She also appeared on theater in the musicals, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Katy, the Musical Concert.

It was in ABS-CBN, however, that KC showcased her acting abilities to a wider audience: her four-part drama anthology I Am KC (2008) and in the "Mansyon" episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya where she intensely portrayed a rich spoiled brat who lost everything after her father died.

KC's first movie project came soon after with For The First Time (2008), for which she won her first acting award as Breakthrough Performer of the Year in the 2008 6th EnPress Golden Screen Awards.

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Her decision to enter showbiz may have been a matter of following in her famous parents' footsteps. Far better, though, she created a name of her own, breaking away especially from her mom The Megastar's shadow.

On top of her achievements in show business, KC proved her independence with her humanitarian advocacy. In 2008, she was appointed National Ambassador Against Hunger by the United Nations World Food Program and has been active ever since. The latest has been her part in relief operations after typhoon Ondoy.

Eugene Domingo. Dulaang UP actress and comedienne Eugene Domingo started out playing bit roles in movies and TV. Even after her role as Rowena in Ang Tanging Ina (2003), she still played supporting roles in TV and film over the next five years. Viewers regarded her as the comic backup of the main characters, and only just.

So, in the showbiz world already crowded with top comedians, Uge had to find her niche. Just check out her debut film Kimi Dora (2009) where she plays two different roles, each with different comedic yet original qualities.

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Uge's transformation is still in its early stages, but the once-supporting actress is finally stepping up the main platform of comedy with her wit and style. With the success of her first film she has been tagged as "The Next Comedy Queen."

She's flattered of course by all the praise, but the humble actress who has waited a long time just wants to keep sharing joy with her audiences.

Gina Pareño. Gina Pareño first worked as an extra, then was finally recognized and included in Sampaguita Films' roster of artists starting in 1963 with Sabina Sabrina and Ako'y Ibigin Mo, Dalagang Matapang. Over her 40 years in showbiz, she starred in films that won her awards; in the early '90s, she appeared in numerous TV shows including Basta't Kasama Kita and Darna.

In ABS-CBN's Probe Profiles last month, Gina was described in depth by her close friends, making people wonder how she survived her personal struggles—drug addiction being the most difficult. The success of her film Working Girls (1984) brought drug use into play. Then chubby Gina believed that drugs would help her lose weight. Before she knew it, she was hooked.

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"Sabi nakakapayat daw," said Gina in Probe Profiles. "Join din ako para pumayat. Tapos nalaan ko na lang na nandoon na ako sa sistema na hindi ko alam."

She used drugs for five years until a police raid landed her in jail for three months. There she experienced emotional pain at the hands of the prison warden.

"Sobrang natuto ako sa buhay noon," she said.

After a week in prison, her friend Inday Badiday aka Ate Ludz visited and asked about her plans. Rehab was the best solution and Gina welcomed it openly. She worked hard to get rid of the addiction that had plagued her for five years.

Year 2006 proved to be the groundbreaking year in Gina's career. She starred in Kubrador, a low-budget indie film that focused on the life of a jueteng collector. Her role as Amy earned her the Gawad Urian award for Best Actress and a FAMAS nomination for Best Actress. In the same year, she was cast as Bellita in Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo, for which she won the FAMAS Best Supporting Actress award. In Serbis (2008), Gina won Best Actress in the Pacific Meridian International Film Festival of Asian-Pacific Countries held in Vladivostok, Russia from September 13-19, 2008.

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Gina is an epitome of the word "life-changing." Her struggles changed her into a stronger person. The drive to succeed after a horrendous defeat rewarded Gina as more and more blessings came her way, thanks to her perseverance.

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Life changes may be self-determined and/or brought about by circumstances. Our showbiz artists' transformations reflect experiences that we ordinary mortals often go through ourselves.
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