While Zendee Rose Tenerefe never expected that a video of her karaoke-singing, taken by somebody watching, would go viral on the Internet, it wasn’t exactly an accident either.
Zendee, after all, is a karaoke regular.
Even back in her native city of General Santos in Mindanao, she frequented karaoke bars inside the malls to showcase her talent for anyone who cared to listen.
Neither was Zendee an overnight sensation. Most people don’t know that Zendee, like Charice, is a “veteran” of local singing-talent searches.
Her story is really that of a typical Filipina from the province, who leaves the safety of her hometown to find fortune and fame in the big city of Manila, banking on nothing but the talent she knew she had.
In Manila, Zendee joined talent search after talent search: ABS-CBN’s X-Factor Philippines (aka X-Factor), Pilipinas Got Talent (aka PGT), Pinoy Dream Academy, among many others.
As Zendee tells it, “Sa X-Factor, sa PGT, dami ko nasalihan. Nakakapasok po ako, pero pag next level na…
“Feeling ko po, pag malalaking auditions, minamalas ako. Pero pag mga competitions lang na yung nasa lugar namin, nananalo po ako.”
The “Random Girl”─as she was called in the YouTube video that has gotten more than a million hits and has gained her international exposure─says she always came so close to making it, but always ended up not quite so.
Until, that is, she became an Internet sensation.
Thereafter, she earned an appearance on Ellen—the show hosted and produced by America’s premier female host today, Ellen De Generes.
And she finally got herself a record label, Warner Music, to handle her singing career.
But Zendee has a strong recall of what it took to get there: “Pero katulad sa Pinoy Dream Academy po, naging top-listed po ako dun.
“Ano po yun, Season 3. May audition po kasi silang ginawa.
“Tapos sabi ko nun, ’Baka eto na!’ Kasi gusto ako ni Teacher Monet. Sabi ko, parang eto na.
“Yun po, kaso hindi natuloy, kasi nag-Star Power, yung kay Sharon, kay Angeline. Hindi natuloy.”
Sharon Cuneta, then with ABS-CBN, hosted Star Power, a talent-search program that eventually declared Angeline Quinto the winner.
Zendee had every intention of joining Star Power, but her contract with Pinoy Dream Academy did not allow her to.
“So, hindi po ako nakapag-join ng isang PGT tsaka Star Power, kasi nasa kontrata po, e, na bawal mag-join ka ng contest.
“Nag-antay po ako ng mga dalawang taon. Hanggang sa yun, sabi ko, ’Eto na!’
"Join na naman ako, may X-Factor, nag-join naman po ako.
“So yun po, uhm, nakapasok naman ako… Naka-four yeses po ako sa live audition sa Davao.”
Zendee had high hopes after she made it to X Factor’s boot camp, knowing she had made a good impression on one of the judges—no less than Charice Pempengco, herself a YouTube sensation once upon a time.
Zendee recalls, “Sabi nga ni Charice sa akin, sabi niya, ‘Simula nung pumasok ka hanggang sa natapos kang kumanta, all I can say is, Wow!’
“Sabi niya sa akin, ‘I think you’ll be the next me!’
"Sabi ko, ’Wow, eto na!’"
As fate would have it, the show was not to be Zendee’s star turn.
Zendee would be eliminated from X-Factor Philippines.
“Ang naisip ko po dun, ’Hala, napansin na ‘ko ni Charice!’ Kasi feeling ko din siya yung magiging mentor nung babae.
“Pero nung dumating na po dun sa boot camp, s’yempre nasaktan po ako kasi hindi po ako nakapasok.
“Sabi ko, nag-expect din po ako, akala ko napansin ako ni Charice, sayang.
“Kasi sinabi ko sa kanya... ‘Who’s your idol?’ sinabi niya sa ‘kin.
“Sabi ko ’Regine, Jonalyn, at tsaka yun o! [Charice],’ sabi ko sa kanya.”
But while Zendee did not make it to the Final 12 of X-Factor, Charice’s statement would prove prophetic: Zendee would become a star.
Of course, it was the Internet that would her one.
Of this, Zendee says, “Hindi ko naman po inexpect na ganito yung mangyayari sa ‘kin.”
Indeed, the lass from Gen San is starting off to become "the next Charice": she also became a YouTube sensation, she was also invited to guest on Ellen, and she now has a world of possibilities before her.
THE DREAM. Zendee has always wanted to be recognized for her talent, but she has also always had one eye on the financial rewards, so that she and her mother could have a better life.
It is, once again, the story of Charice and her mother who, together, took the long, uphill climb to success.
Zendee says, “Ako po, gusto ko po yung makilala, yung maano na po yung talent ko, tsaka ano po, manalo.
“Yung cash prize, yun po talaga, kasi ano, para po sa pamilya ko din po. Sabi nila, ’Zendee, para makabili na tayo ng bahay pag nanalo ka ng milyon.’
“Pag may nagpa-plug po, ’Zendee two million, sige na, mananalo na tayo ng two million!’ Ganun po kami.
“’Uy, audition ka, two million!’ Ganun po kasi kami, ma-goal po kami. Pag di naman po nananalo, ’Aaaay,’” she says, simulating the family’s words of disappointment.
Given all the disappointments, there came a time when Zendee almost gave up.
“Dumating din po sa point na, hala, twenty one na ako, tumatanda na ako—ayoko na, nakakahiya na.
"Sabi ko, ’Palagi na lang nabibigo.’
“Nung hindi po ako nakapasok sa X-Factor, naka-set na sa utak ko na ayoko na mag-join ng audition. Sabi ko magwo-work na ako kasi graduate na ako ng college.”
Indeed, after her elimination from X Factor, she and her mother were given one-way tickets back to Gen San.
But Zendee, it seems, had one more push inside her. She told her mother they were staying.
“Ay, hindi na tayo uuwi, Mommy," she recalls telling her mother.
"Hanap na lang tayo ng trabaho. Tutal, wala na, e, okay na, tayong dalawa na lang sa buhay. Kami lang din po kasi ni Mommy dun.”
THE PACMAN CONNECTION. Zendee is a graduate of Information Technology from STI College-Gensan.
She reveals that she graduated with the help of Congressman Manny Pacquiao, the famous son of General Santos City.
Even before her Internet fame, Zendee had already established herself in GenSan as a singer.
“Opo, singer na po ako sa GenSan. Kaya nga po pinaaral niya [Pacquiao] ako.
"Kasi dati, pag may mga parties—birthday ni Mommy D, birthday ni Jinkee—ako po yung kumakanta dun."
Mommy Dionisia is Manny Pacquiao’s now-famous mother, and Jinkee is the Pambansang Kamao’s now-more-fabulous wife.
“Nagga-gown-gown din po ako dun. Kasi dun po, nagpapakitang-gilas po ako, baka marami ring mag-cover,” she says frankly.
Pacquiao was generous enough to give Zendee financial help, on her say-so that she was joining a competition in Manila.
“Sir, may audition po ako, nakapasok ako sa X-Factor, pupunta akong Manila,” she told him.
And instantly, she says, “Magbibigay na siya. Ganun po siya, mabait po siya."
Zendee continues, "Pag may mga party, tapos nung nag-X Factor, tapos nung ano po, nung tumakbo siyang congressman, ako po yung kasama niya sa kampanya.”
Zendee says Pacquiao wanted her to sing just before he delivered his speech because she hushed the crowd with her powerful voice.
Pacquiao and Charice—Zendee seems to be in the company of champions.