"I'm sorry," Jennylyn Mercado says as she walks in through the front door, wearing short shorts and toting a big Prada bag. "Nagpunta pa kasi ako ng Belo."
The YES! team in charge of the photo shoot has just finished doing an ocular inspection of the house. We pause to greet the young actress, who walks briskly towards the make-up area that has already been set up in the dining room, eager to get the ball rolling.
After apologizing for the 10-minute delay, she informs us that she goes to the Belo Medical Group clinic twice a month for body treatments to maintain her already slim figure. "Mas mabigat ako ngayon," she says. "Dati kasi 100 pounds lang ako, e-101, ganyan. Pang-maintenance. Mahirap kasi pabayaan ang sarili, e."
Jennylyn recites a list of the treatments she's undergoing: "Iyong bipolar, multipolar, tenor..." She then hastens to clarify: "Hindi 'yong bipolar na sakit, ha! Hindi 'yong tumatawa, umiiyak, o nagagalit. Hahaha!"
The bipolar, multipolar, and tenor treatments she's referring to are non-invasive procedures that help contour the body. They have nothing to do with the psychological illness known as bipolar (or manic-depressive) disorder, which is characterized by episodes of mania and depression.
At 105 pounds, Jennylyn takes pride in being in very good shape nowadays—and others share her view, including FHM.
In November 2009, the premier men's magazine put her on its cover for the second time. "The versatile actress unleashes a howler of a comeback!" read the glossy monthly's front-cover blurb.
And a howler of a comeback it is.
At press time, Jennylyn Mercado is shooting the Viva Films—GMA Films co-production Working Girls 2010, GMA‑7's Sine Novela: Gumapang Ka sa Lusak, hosting the GMA-7 Sunday variety show Party Pilipinas, and promoting her album, Viva Records' Love Is.
Only three years ago, her showbiz prospects looked dim. The top-rated program she was appearing in, La Vendetta, was finishing its run, and a new project, Maging Akin Ka Lamang, was already in the works for her.
But on January 3, 2008, after a checkup at St. Luke's Medical Center in Quezon City, she announced on television that, at 20 years old, she was in the family way, and that the father of her child was her boyfriend at the time, fellow actor Patrick Garcia.
The first-ever Ultimate Female Survivor in the very first season (2003-2004) of the highly successful reality-TV talent show StarStruck, who had risen to become part of GMA-7's roster of top talents, admits that, at one point during this new chapter in her life, she found herself wondering: "Makakabalik pa kaya ako? Magkakaroon pa kaya ako ng career?"
THE PAST: PATRICK. A year before the pregnancy announcement, on January 7, 2007, Patrick Garcia was professing his love for Jennylyn on the GMA-7 showbiz talk show S-Files. He subsequently related their love story in an interview with YES! that came out in the April 2008 issue.
Former child star Patrick had started out with ABS-CBN, but had moved to GMA-7 in August 2006 to pursue a career opportunity. He was given a role in the television adaptation of Mars Ravelo's Captain Barbell.
During the taping of the show, the new Kapuso talent received a text message from fellow Kapuso Jennylyn, inviting him to join her and her friends in a KTV, or videoke restaurant-bar.
"She's a very pretty Pinay," Patrick said of Jennylyn in his interview with YES!
The friendship blossomed into romance. The two had been going out for some time when the 2007 live phone interview with S-Files happened.
Patrick recalled: "I said, 'Mahal kita.' I didn't know that they were going to ask that question. I didn't want to be pakipot naman. Of course, I was conscious about it. I knew what people wanted to hear, and how I felt about it, and I wanted to say it din naman."
Jennylyn and Patrick became an official couple not long after that public pronouncement. All seemed well between the two up until their breakup in February 2008.
It has now been two years since the separation, but Jennylyn still keeps mum on the issue. "Mas mabuti na din na naging tahimik ako," she explains. "Kasi, ayaw ko din naman makasira sa kapwa."
During her pregnancy, the rumor had circulated that the father of the baby she was carrying was not Patrick, but her co-star in the movie Resiklo, Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla. The rumor is said to have put a dent in the the Jennylyn-Patrick relationship.
The actress refuses to comment on the rumor, but gives this much: "May mas grabe talaga. Maraming mas grabe. Ayaw ko nang i-specify, pero 'yon na 'yon."
With Patrick out of the picture, Jennylyn leaned on her family and friends during her pregnancy. "Noong naglilihi ako—kasi madalas akong naospital, e; medyo sensitive 'yong pagbubuntis ko, e—so 'yong best friend ko 'yong lagi kong katabi sa bed. Tabi kami matulog. Lahat ng iinumin ko, gusto ko inumin niya din, gano'n!"
On August 16, 2008, Jennylyn gave birth by cesarian section to a bouncing baby boy at St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City. She named him Alex Jazz Mercado—AJ for short.
"Aiming kami for a normal delivery," she says. "'Tapos, biglang after two days, hindi pala siya normal dahil isa siyang nine-pounder baby! Kaya sine-cesarean ako."
The birthing experience, she says, is one event in her life that she will never forget.
"Hindi mo alam kung ano'ng masakit—ulo ba, balikat ba, tiyan ba, katawan ba, likod, lahat! Buong katawan mo, masakit. Two days kang hindi kakain. Two days kang hindi iinom. Grabe, feeling ko, mamamatay na 'ko!"
But the young mom says that all the pain was worth it when she saw her baby, although at first she still found it hard to believe that she was already a mother.
"May anak na ba talaga ko? Noong una, nakakalimutan ko pa. 'Ay, may baby pala 'ko!' Gano'n noong una, ha. Noong mga first few months ni AJ, parang, ay, oo nga pala, may anak na ako, may umiiyak doon, baby ko pala 'yon. Parang hindi pa 'ko sanay."
But it wasn't long before she discovered that she had a motherly instinct.
"Noon, hindi ako mahilig sa bata, e. Hindi ko lalaruin, gano'n. Pero na-discover ko, simula noong nagka-baby ako, iba pala 'yong feeling ng may baby. Iba pala 'yong joy na nadadala nila. 'Yong mga friends ko na may baby, natutuwa na 'ko ngayon. Nakikipaglaro na 'ko. Iba 'yong aura sa house pag may baby-masaya."
But there is also one important realization she has made, she says with a laugh.
"Ang ganda ko pala mag-produce ng baby. Hahaha!"
THE PRESENT: AJ. Jennylyn, who turned 23 on May 15, 2010 says during the YES! interview that she has only one man in her life—her son, AJ. He's the only person she spends her time with whenever she has free time from her work.
"Most of the time, pag wala akong trabaho, pagkagising ko pa lang, 'O, bihis na! Bihis na!' Kahit na puyat ako, gigising talaga 'ko para mag-mall kami, mamili ng mga damit ni AJ, mga gano'n. Puro AJ lang."
Jennylyn also admits that she can be panicky when it comes to her son.
"Ano 'ko sa hinahawakan niya. Kunyari kakain kami—o, punasan mo muna ng alcohol. Basta gano'n ako kaarte. Basta ayokong magkakasakit talaga. Iyon ang pinaka ayokong mangyari—nagkakasakit kaming pamilya. Ayoko ng nagkakasakit si Mama, si AJ. Protective ako...
"Siguro, minsan, nakakairita. Kasi 'yong ibang mga tao, kahit 'yong yaya niya, naiirita na sa akin, dahil sa sobrang pagka-protective ko. Ayoko ng ganito, ayoko ng may konting dapa, ayoko ng may kagat, ayoko ng... gano'n!"
The little boy, now almost three years old, seems to be taking after his mother.
"Mahilig siyang kumanta," says the proud mom. "Nagpo-falsetto siya! At saka hindi siya nakakatulog nang walang music. Kailangan, naka-on 'yong music. Pag naka‑on 'yong music, hihiga na 'yan, 'tapos pa-pacifier, matutulog."
Asked if AJ inherited any of Patrick's traits, Jennylyn turns coy. "Di ko na din napapansin, e. Nakalimutan ko na nga kung paano... Magtatatlong taon na din since pregnant ako."
Today, Jennylyn is the picture of happiness, especially with AJ in her life.
"Para siyang isang fulfillment pag nakikita mo 'yong baby mo na lumalaki na, lumalaki nang masaya, maayos, healthy, matalino, cute. Parang... 'Ako nag-alaga diyan!' Parang proud, parang, 'yon nga, isa siyang fulfillment. Pag nakikita ng ibang tao si AJ, 'Ay, ang cute naman niyan, ang kinis ng skin. Ay, ang puti!' Alaga sa bahay, e! Hehehe!"
Jennylyn adds that this blessing, coupled with the steady career that she has, is what keeps her going—even without a partner.
"Siguro, in God's time, pag dumating talaga 'yong tamang person na mag-aalaga sa amin, sa family ko, sa akin, kay AJ—matatanggap niya kung sino ako, 'yong sitwasyon ko—iyon siguro, 'yon na 'yong tamang oras."
(ED'S NOTE: Fast forward to 2011, Jennylyn Mercado and Patrick Garcia are already on good terms. They reconciled in June 2010, at the birthday of Kendra, the actor's niece.)