Lea Salonga on reality singing contests: "It's a chance at what your future can hold. But it's not a guarantee of anything."

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Lea Salonga, Tony Award-winning thespian, is the pertinent voice and face of Filipino talent.

Chosen to sing the theme song of TV-5's new reality singing search Kanta Pilipinas, Lea has high hopes for the talents yet to be discovered.

The nationwide search for the show's contestants starts this February.


Halfway through listening to Kanta Pilipinas's theme song, Lea Salonga knew she had to say yes to singing and recording it.

The award-winning theatre actress was offered by TV-5 to lend her pipes to the network's latest reality talent search.

"For me, ultimately, if I think the song's going to be catchy, if I think the song's going to be fun to do, and if I think it's good, then I'll do it.

Lea shares an anecdote: "My husband was listening to the song with me... So we got the copy and then I played it.

"We were in the kitchen and we're both listening to it and then like, 'Uy! It's good!'

"And my husband who doesn't understand Tagalog, was like, 'Yeah, Hon, this is nice. I like this! It's catchy! This is good!'"

To Lea, the song is the main factor to consider: "Talent, at the end of the day, won't matter if the song is pangit. Kasi kung pangit yung kanta, hindi ko gagawin kahit na... one big chest of money [ang] offer. It's not that, e."

Kanta Pilipinas's music video-teaser started shooting in a studio in Cubao, Quezon City, last February 11. It would show Lea inviting the youths from all walks of life to join in the singing of the theme song.

TV5'supcoming reality show will gather a group of undiscovered young musicians—soloists, bands, and vocal groups—in a music camp, where they will undergo intensive musical training supervised by professional artists.

The show's producers envision that Kanta Pilipinas will promotethe country's music tourism.

Lea likes the concept: "It doesn't just focus on the singing [because] that seems to be the focus of a lot of talent search [shows].

"Talent search [shows] are not just limited to holding a microphone and getting up [on stage] and singing but being what else you can do."

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Her suggestion: the music mentors should include songwriters aside from performers .

Will Lea be considering judging, hosting, or mentoring in Kanta Pilipinas despite her busy year ahead?

"The thing is kasi with my participation with Kanta Pilipinas, it's very limited because of my schedule. I have God of Carnage ... this year and then I head off to the States to work on Allegiance in San Diego.

"So I guess everything's still under discussion. 'Okay let's figure out what you can do before you fly off or what you can do while you're away'—that kind of thing, you know?

"It would be nice to do something more than the theme song, although I would have to say, this is the first time I've sung a theme song of something with an accompanying music video so it's kinda cool. It's really nice."

Among mentoring, judging, and hosting, Lea says that mentoring the contestants is something she might manage to do.

"I don't know if I could do the judge because I would not be able to devote the time to be at the show week after elimination after elimination.

"But the mentoring, if I can mentor for maybe a week or something, that's possible because that would fit in the existing schedule that I have.

"We will see. We will have to figure that all out."

ON REALITY SHOWS. The actress started young, performing at the age of seven in the musical The King and I. At 9 years old, she played the title role in Annie.

Theatre has been synonymous with Lea, having performed in West End and Broadway later on.

If Lea were to rewind her career, would she have entered a reality singing contest in pursuit of superstardom?

With wondering eyes, Lea replies, "Actually, I don't know kasi I think there are a lot of artists that have different paths to get to where they get to.

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"I got here because one of my cousins was active in theatre and she pulled me into that world.

"So even if this existed I don't know if this would have been the path I took because of how my family got me involved in music and in singing.

"One of my cousins taught me how to sing and then another one pulled me into theatre and I just kept on going from there so I probably would have taken the same path regardless of the presence or the absence of the show like this one."

Lea sees reality singing contests as something that have been embedded in our culture for a long time. They are not new to this country, she says.

"We've had Ang Bagong Kampeon, Tawag ng Tanghalan since before any of us were born. So this is not a new phenomenon for this country."

What magnified the interest for such talent search shows are the Western reality contests like American Idol and Fear Factor.

"It's always been here. Singing competitions, I guess, there's just one for every generation."

Lea elaborates on what she thinks of the reality competitions: "Let's look at American Idol, for instance.

"It's hit and miss, you know? You will have the fourth runner-up who ends up being the star and you would have somebody eliminated early winning an Oscar."

Lea is referring to American Idol Season 3's Jennifer Hudson who placed seventh during the season and later surprised the world with an Academy Award Winning Performance in the 2006 film, Dream Girls.

"In the case of Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, there's a winner that ends up shooting up to superstardom," continues Lea.

Both Kelly and Carrie were the grand winners of American Idol in Seasons 1 and 4, respectively.

Lea emphasizes, "Like every break, it's a chance at what your future can hold. But it's not a guarantee of anything.

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"It's an opportunity. And if the person who makes the most of the opportunity, you know, really does what they have to do in order to hold onto whatever 15 minutes of fame and really get to develop their talent, then they're the ones who eventually reap the most benefits."

A FAN OF ZIA QUIZON. In Lea's opinion, the country needs artists who deviate from the popular and the mainstream.

"What do I think we need? We need more people like Zia Quizon because she's so different."

Zia, daughter of Divine Diva Zsa Zsa Padilla and King of Comedy Dolphy Quizon, has so far been making a name for herself.

Her single "Ako Na Lang" has been topping music charts in the local scene.

"I mean I love her, okay? I love her. I'm a big fan of her because she's so different. There isn't anybody like her.

"I think, ultimately, the person who wins this contest should be somebody that's different from what's currently being offered

"[He or she] has to be someone who gives us a taste of something different because not everybody can beat it. I mean, I can't beat it.

"I can sing pretty high but I'm not Regine [Velasquez]. I'm not Charice [Pempengco]. I'm not Sarah Geronimo. All I can be is me."

"So I guess whoever wins has to realize what their own unique talent is and try not to copy or be a carbon copy of somebody else because you don't want your career to exactly be, 'Ay, nangongopya lang siya kay so and so.'

"Ideally it has somebody unique na once you hear their voice, you say their name."

Lea explains, however, that to pattern your craft after somebody else's is not altogether wrong.

She readily compares this situation when the prominent "Maestro" Ryan Cayabyab was mentoring her brother, musical arranger and director Gerard Salonga.

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"I think Ryan Cayabyab, when he was mentoring my brother [in] arranging, he said, 'You can go ahead and copy but at the end of the day you will have to develop your own style.'

"And I think my brother would pattern his arrangements after those he enjoyed and then in doing so, was able to find his own voice in his own arrangement and in his own orchestration.

"So yeah, it's okay to copy, I guess... [But you have to] find yourself... keep on going for who you are."

Does Lea find potential in other young OPM artists apart from Zia Quizon?

"She's the most prevalent now," replies Lea.

"It's a tough one. I listen to a lot of Western music and people who are unique to me.

"Something like Lady Gaga whose voice I will recognize right away or listening to Maroon 5, I'll know it's Adam Levine singing, or John Mayer's. It's that kind of signature, I think.

"And I don't always know what it is. Before Zia came out, I didn't know that that's what I wanted to hear.

"It's like Steve Jobs. A lot of people don't know what they want until he gave it to them.

"And so that's something that we need to find."


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