GMA-7's StarStruck has been a big part of Philippine pop culture over the past decade.
First aired in October 2003, StarStruck was the first reality-based artista search in the country. It became a huge phenomenon, catapulting artista hopefuls into stardom.
Six editions of the Kapuso reality show have produced the likes of Jennylyn Mercado, Mark Herras, Kris Bernal, and Paulo Avelino, among many other StarStruck graduates who have made names for themselves on television and in the movies.
Now on its seventh season, StarStruck continues to build new names for GMA-7, and fulfill the dream of aspiring artistas.
Aside from being a starmaker, StarStruck has become an iconic television show for entertainment.
It has consistently registered high ratings, boosted by various fan clubs that have sprouted all over the country for its finalists.
In 2004, YES! Magazine published an entire issue devoted to StarStruck's first season. The issue gave a glimpse of how a hugely successful reality show works: from conceptualization to execution.
From the beginning of StarStruck up to the present, PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) has been reporting on the growth of the show during the last 15 years.
How are challenges and twists conceptualized?
How are the finalists and winners chosen?
How does StarStruck deal with issues among finalists and love teams?
To find the answers to these questions and dissect the anatomy of a reality show, PEP.ph goes straight to the source: StarStruck's business unit head Janine Piad-Nacar.
Piad-Nacar, also called JPN in the network, has risen through the ranks to become its business unit head. She started as the show's program manager.
Here, she gives an overview of the development of StarStruck from the first season up to the present.
This PEP.ph special report also has photos from the first up to the present season of StarStruck.
CONCEPTUALIZATION AND BEGINNINGS OF STARSTRUCK
StarStruck started as an idea from then-GMA-7 Entertainment Head Wilma Galvante, who wanted to create a TV show that will develop future superstars for the network.
Piad-Nacar recalls, "Si Ma'am Wilma pa yung time na yun, she was our boss no'n.
"Hindi pa nga entertainment group, e, ano pa ang tawag sa amin noon, network operations pa yata tawag sa amin noon.
"Parang nauuso no'n yung mga reality-reality. Parang she gave instructions na parang, 'Gusto kong bumuo ng search.'
"Parang at that time, kung di ako nagkakamali, uso yung mga Survivor.
"So, parang [sabi niya], 'I want something like that pero gawin nating artista.'
"So, she had that idea 'tapos binuo namin. Tapos si Rommel, siya yung nag-put into concrete concept 'tapos nag-contribute na rin kaming lahat."
Thus, in July 2003, the team led by creative consultant Rommel Gacho started the conceptualization of StarStruck.
The other members of the team were Piad-Nacar and Ruth Mariñas, who is now a program manager of another Kapuso reality program, The Clash.
How long did it take for them to conceptualize StarStruck?
Piad-Nacar answers, "Siguro three to four months. Things were a lot different then, e, it was 2003, things were different then.
"Kasi it was a time na nag-uumpisa kami ng local productions. Hindi pa the way we are programmed now."
Later, the tagline "Dream, Believe, Survive!" popped into the heads of the show's creators.
JPN says about this, "Kasi kapag title mo, StarStruck lang, parang bitin.
"Parang we wanted sana na mas ma-capture agad kung ano talaga yung show and parang maganda na may subtitle siya.
"Yung concept was kids na technically unknown, they had to dream. We wanted them to believe, e, kaya lang, may tanggalan, so they have to survive. Ganun lang.
"Ganun lang siya ka-simple. We didn't think na it will catch on. Wala lang, 'Dream, Believe, Survive.'
"So, nagulat na lang rin kami, like any show you mount. You hope that people will like what you're doing.
"Pero hindi namin in-expect na ganun yung magiging talagang response ng mga tao doon sa show.
"So parang kami, masaya lang. Simple lang kasi ang mga buhay namin noon, e!"
Eventually, StarStruck continued to run for seven editions: six more seasons and a StarStruck Kids edition.
The seventh season is currently ongoing, and is about to hold its final judgment (the StarStruck grand finals show) on September 14-15, 2019, at its home studio in GMA Network Center.
THE EVOLUTION OF STARSTRUCK SEASONS
After the first season of StarStruck, the succeeding seasons had many twists and changes, including different elimination formats and even the number of winners.
In the second season, which aired in 2004, the hosts announced the names of safe finalists one by one, until the eliminated finalist remained on stage to take the final bow. This was a deviation from the first season where the hosts would call the bottom group.
Also in the second season, two changes were introduced: 1) "Pro-recognition awardee," where the top-ranking finalist got a cash prize, 2) Wildcard competition, where an eliminated finalist was able to return to the show and compete against the remaining finalists.
The third season aired in 2005 and was dubbed "The Nationwide Invasion" as StarStruck brought the search all over the Philippines.
It also introduced a winning title called the "Ultimate Sole Survivor." The season still hailed an Ultimate Male and Female Survivor, but the one who scored higher between the two winners won the Ultimate Sole Survivor title and got an additional cash prize.
In 2006, StarStruck's fourth season was called "The Next Level" and had four winners: Ultimate Hunk, Ultimate Sweetheart, and Ultimate Love Team.
StarStruck V, its fifth season that aired in 2009, introduced a twist called "The Factor Five," where special powers were given to the council and the viewers so they could save or vote out a particular finalist.
The sixth season, which aired in 2015, had two sets of Final 14: The Dream 14 and the Believe 14. From there, the show determined who among the hopefuls would be part of the Ultimate Final 14.
Piad-Nacar says that they introduced these innovations to keep their audience glued to the show as they looked forward to unexpected twists and turns edition after edition.
She explains, "Lagi naman, in any show naman, not necessarily StarStruck lang.
"As you go along, you always want to offer something naman na aabangan ng viewers mo, because kung predictable ka rin naman, why will they watch you, di ba?
"So, always naman, you have to offer something different. The TV landscape, always nagbabago yan, napaka-dynamic."
At the same time, her production team understands that their former market has grown older, and audience's preferences are quickly changing.
JPN elaborates, "In social media, ang bilis ng information ng tao. Iba ang gusto nila ngayon, bukas iba na naman ang gusto nila.
"Yung dating akala mo ayaw na nila, gusto na naman nila ngayon. Kaya nga may mga retro, vintage. You have to keep up with the times, e.
"Tapos yung mga dating fans ng StarStruck ng season one, sila na ang 40 up ngayon, so you cannot keep on talking to this audience."
The current season has a totally different format from the past editions of StarStruck.
Similar to singing competitions, the finalists are in a studio, facing the judges and getting instant feedback after their performances are shown to the public.
Unlike previous seasons that featured a test per artista skill—dancing, singing, acting, hosting, and personality development—this season focuses on the survivors's acting skills.
The survivors go through acting tests in different genres and formats: by group, by pair, or individually.
Each of the survivors faces the council composed of Heart Evangelista, Cherie Gil, and Jose Manalo, who are tasked to give instant feedback and scores based on the finalists's performances.
The StarStruck council of season seven also has a different role from their predecessors as their voices can now be heard more frequently throughout the show.
In previous seasons, the judges only gave their comments before each elimination round, and their scores remained under wraps.
This season is also more transparent in terms of each finalists's performance rating, since rankings and total scores are announced at the end of each episode.
Even then, the percentage of each finalist's score remains the same: 50 percent from the council and 50 percent from the public votes.
The audience are given more options to vote for their favorite StarStruck finalist, but aside from text votes, they can also vote via Google or StarStruck's official website.
The reality show component of StarStruck is now being shown online. Hosted by Kyline Alcantara, Inside StarStruck airs from Monday to Friday on StarStruck's YouTube Channel.
The seventh season also introduced a "Seven on Seven" twist when only seven finalists remained in the show.
Each survivor was assigned to a mentor from previous StarStruck batches to guide them until the final judgment.
The mentors were: Yasmien Kurdi (Batch 1), Mark Herras (Batch 1), Katrina Halili (Batch 1), Miguel Tanfelix (Kids batch), LJ Reyes (Batch 3), Kris Bernal (Batch 4), and Chariz Solomon (Batch 4).
Was it a conscious effort for the team to change StarStruck's format this season?
Piad-Nacar answers, "I guess, oo, it was really intentional na ibahin siya kasi nag-iiba na rin ang landscape ng viewers, so iba na rin ang hinahanap ng tao.
"You have to go with the times kasi kung hindi, hindi ka papanuorin di ba?
"It was really a conscious effort of the team—the creative team, everybody involved in the show—to make it really look different, para naman every season, may iba.
"Actually, every season naman, we try to offer something new pero mas iba lang talaga ngayon.
"Maybe kasi nag-iiba rin siya because ang dami na ring ibang means, like ngayon may social media na, dati voting lang kami, text lang, e.
"Ganun lang kasimple ang mga buhay namin noon, e. But now, different, you have Facebook and everything else."
The audition process for StarStruck hopefuls has also evolved through the years.
StarStruck 1 First Princess Yasmien Kurdi revealed to PEP.ph in her Reality Show Chronicles feature that during her time, the auditions were only written in manila papers.
Piad-Nacar recalls their own journey as producers in the whole audition process throughout the seasons.
"I'd like to admit, kasi siyempre, yung StarStruck 1, wala pang system in place, e. We were just 'Ano bang gagawin natin?' So, we were learning also along the way.
"So, probably nga, yung audition system namin noon, medyo crude pa.
"Pero as we went on, medyo naging high tech na rin kami, mas may system na.
"Mas alam na namin yung physical requirements na kailangan pagdating sa audition. Na-improve na naman namin yung system."
As the audition becomes more advanced in terms of technology, the process gets harder and harder for the hopefuls every season.
The StarStruck head says, "I think, itong season na ito ang pinakamahirap na audition na pinagdaanan nila.
"Kasi maski cattle call pa lang, ang nag-i-screen sa kanila, mga producers, director, and writer. Parang yun yung laging combination.
"Ano pa lang yun, ha, general audition pa lang. 'Tapos ise-streamline yun, ika-cut down yun.
"'Tapos another set of directors na naman and writers hanggang umabot kami, ang pinaka-ano namin ngayon were Direk Mark Reyes, Direk Gina Alajar, and Mr. Tony Tuviera, 'tapos hanggang sa pumunta na sa mismong judges.
"Kaya I'd like to believe na mas grabe yung pinagdaanang audition process ng mga bata, salang sala."
According to Piad-Nacar, what remains in the audition process from the beginning of StarStruck until now is what they call the White Shirt Test.
She explains, "We still do that up to now. Hindi niyo lang nakikita.
"Kasi we were advised before, I forgot na sino nagsabi, pero yung kulay puti, pinakamahirap sa TV.
"So, pagka ikaw ay nakaputi at maganda ka o gwapo ka, yun na yon, kasi it's the hardest color daw.
"I don't know if it's still true until now kasi iba na technology ngayon, e. Iba na ang cameras, iba na ang mga ilaw. But way before then, ganun ang theory.
"So, ang ginawa namin, sinasalang namin sila na no make-up, as in bawal ang kahit ano, kahit powder, and even up to this season, ginawa namin.
"Tapos nakaputi kasi yun ang pinakamahirap na parang lilitaw talaga kung maganda ka o hindi."
After the auditions, the producers also collaborate with the screening panel and judges for the selection of the finalists who will compete on television.
Piad-Nacar says, "Of course, at the end of the day, it's still a TV show, e. So, it's a collaborative effort."
SELECTION OF STARSTRUCK FINALISTS
PEP.ph asks Piad-Nacar what do they look for in the auditionees for them to become StarStruck finalists who will be seen on television.
The numbers of the finalists seen on TV has changed every season.
This season, 22 finalists fought for their spot in the Final 14 in the live shows.
She explains, "Ang end goal naman natin is to find the next leading man and leading lady ng GMA.
"Kaya tayo nag-i-StarStruck, e, to discover a new set of stars. So, yun lagi ang end goal.
"Ito ba ay nakikita kong nag-ma-MariMar in the end? Magiging part ba siya ng Encantadia? Yun ang hahanapin mo, e.
"You have to be able to serve also the objective of the network, which is to build its stars and lumaki pa yung roster ng talents niya."
The StarStruck Final 14 finalists for this season are: Pamela Prinster, Ella Cristofani, Shayne Sava, Rere Madrid, Angelic Guzman, Dani Porter, Lexi Gonzales, Jeremy Sabido, Abdul Raman, Karl Aquino, Gelo Alagban, Jerick Dolormente, Allen Ansay, and Kim de Leon.
Piad-Nacar admits that the process is not easy, since there is no exact formula in looking for future superstars.
She continues, "Mahirap i-define ang X-Factor, e, napakahirap.
"Minsan, gut feel, minsan siguro through the years, naka-ilang season na rin kami, tantiya mo na parang meron ito, e."
Piad-Nacar considers the first batch of StarStruck finalists as the most raw among all the Final 14 batches they have formulated.
The Final 14 of the first season were: Jennylyn Mercado, Yasmien Kurdi, Nadine Samonte, Katrina Halili, Sheena Halili, Jade Lopez, Cristine Reyes, Mark Herras, Rainier Castillo, Dion Ignacio, Christian Esteban, Tyron Perez, Anton dela Paz, and Alvin Aragon.
She recalls in jest, “Kung alam niyo lang, ang mga hitsura nila, naku, ang layo!
“The nice thing about season one is sila Mark, sila Jen, dahil walang previous na season, it was the first, e, they didn’t know.
"Unlike with the succeeding seasons, alam na nila, e. They know more or less what the show is about. Naiintindihan nila what is required of them, what is expected of them.
"Ang pinaka-talagang raw na sumalang is season one kasi wala talaga silang idea, e.
"'Okay, naghahanap sila ng artista. Okay, magko-compete kami. Okay, haharap ako sa TV.'
"So, can you just imagine, itong mga batang ito, e, ordinary kids tapos ilalagay mo sa entablado, Araneta Coliseum, thousands of people, watching them doon and on TV?
"Grabe din sila, yung tibay ng loob nila na makayanan lahat. They were not trained, di ba?
"Di naman nila naintindihan ano yung pinasok nila in the beginning, e. Tapos you see them hanggang makita mo silang manalo, ang tibay.
"I think, baka nga TGIS pa ang naisip nila."
TGIS is a youth-oriented show in the '90s that launched the careers of Angelu de Leon, Bobby Andrews, Sunshine Dizon, Anne Curtis, and StarStruck host Dingdong Dantes.
Since some of the auditionees are also commercial models or former talents from other agencies, StarStruck doesn't mind if the finalists already have managers prior to joining the search.
Piad-Nacar recalls, "Nadine Samonte [from season one] was with Star Magic before.
“Basta wala na silang commitment doon. Ibang usapan iyon if they have an active agreement or active yung contracts, pero kung wala, it doesn’t matter.
"It's not an issue, may mga managers yung mga bata dito."
The only condition is, Piad-Nacar says, "Ang kailangan lang talaga is wala ka pang major acting na nagawa sa TV.
"Kasi kung commercials lang naman, understandably, magkaka-manager ka if you're doing commercials. So okay lang yun, it doesn't matter."
THE STARSTRUCK COUNCIL
Each season, StarStruck hires a different set of judges, collectively called the StarStruck council.
The first season of StarStruck had then-GMA Artist Center head Ida Henares, director Bb. Joyce Bernal, and veteran comedian Joey de Leon as judges.
In the second season of StarStruck, Joey was joined by director Louie Ignacio and veteran actor Christopher de Leon.
Christopher was replaced by Lorna Tolentino in StarStruck: The Nationwide Invasion, while Joey was replaced by late manager Douglas Quijano in StarStruck: The Next Level. Lorna and Louie were also part of the fourth season.
StarStruck V had an entirely different panel of judges: columnist Lolit Solis, actress Iza Calzado, and screenwriter and director Floy Quintos.
StarStruck 6's council members were singer Regine Velasquez, StarStruck 1 Ultimate Female Survivor Jennylyn Mercado, actor and StarStruck host Dingdong Dantes, and returning judge Joey de Leon.
The common ground among these six sets of StarStruck council members was that they watched the finalists's performances, provided their opinions and comments about each finalist, then gave out their scores which were not revealed to the audience.
They only got to share their opinion once a bottom group was called, and once they were asked if they agreed with the final results after their scores were combined with the public votes.
However, for StarStruck 7, council members Heart Evangelista, Cherie Gil, and Jose Manalo have bigger roles in every episode because they are asked to give comments after each contestant’s performance, then score them immediately.
Piad-Nacar says that this was one of the conscious efforts they did in terms of format changes in StarStruck.
She explains, "Those are some of the big changes, e, kasi kailangan mo ngang sumabay sa nagugustuhan na rin ng viewers.
"Nakikita natin yung mga council, yung judges, gustong naririnig iyan [ng audience], e.
"So, nag-adjust din naman yung show to give them a bigger participation.
"That's why very, very careful din yung pagkaka-cast sa kanila and, I guess, we were very fortunate na noong in-offer naman sa kanila, tinanggap naman. So it was [like] nag-align ang stars."
Like StarStruck 6, this season's council are entirely composed of celebrities, unlike past seasons wherein there were directors, writers, and talent managers included in the line-up.
The StarStruck executive explains why Heart, Cherie, and Jose were chosen for this season’s council.
"Well, siguro nga pwede mong masabing artista sila; for example, Jose Manalo, he started as part of the production team. Siya yung audition master ng Eat Bulaga!
"Siguro, from a different perspective lang or different point of view, pero from the production side, sagot ni Jose yun.
"It’s so easy to work with somebody who has the production knowledge kasi naiintindihan niya.
"He was a floor director also, so isang senyas mo lang sa kanya, alam niya yung gagawin niya because he knows the language, he knows the workflow so iba yung perspective na yun.
"Si Ms. Cherie Gil naman, hindi matatawaran, di ba? Nakakapag-acting coach din siya. She's not only an actress, di ba?
"So may ganung background siya, kaya nga very technical siya kapag nag-assess, di ba?
"So, ang dami nilang bitbit na experience, to think na hindi lang sila basta celebrities na matatawag.
"Heart started as a teen actress, so alam din niya yung journey na yun na pinagdadaanan ng mga bata.
"Maybe, yes, they are celebrities, but with them is lahat noong experience na bitbit nila.
“Kaya siguro effective din yung combination nila at effective din sila as council."
What also makes the council this season more unique is that they also perform with the StarStruck finalists for opening numbers.
Piad-Nacar says with a smile, "Siguro, sinuwerte din kami na sobrang supportive ng lahat, ng council, and even the hosts.
"Sinuwerte lang kami na napaka-supportive nila, and whatever is needed to make the show more entertaining, they are so cooperative.
"I guess because mahal din nila kasi yung programa, and they’re giving everything for the show."
Did it take long to convince them to perform on stage?
She answers, "Hindi, siguro kasi na-enjoy na rin nila yung buong StarStruck experience.
"Si Ms. Cherie nga di ba? When she acted with the kids, parang babies na rin niya yung mga bata, di ba?
"Because when you work with them, napapamahal talaga sa iyo, e, so ganun din siguro, since they’ve been working in the show, napamahal na rin yung show sa kanila.
STARSTRUCK ARTISTA TESTS
The past seasons of StarStruck had the finalists undergo artista tests that focused on different skills that a TV personality must hone: acting, hosting, dancing, and singing.
They were also given various challenges that would help create camaraderie among the finalists, usually held out of town.
This season, however, StarStruck focused on honing the survivors’s craft in acting.
The survivors were given different acting tests alongside GMA-7 actors and actresses, which were helmed by Kapuso esteemed directors.
Some of the directors the StarStruck survivors worked with were Mark Reyes, Uro dela Cruz, Gina Alajar, Gil Tejada, Jr., Rico Gutierrez, and Don Michael Perez.
According to Piad-Nacar, the finalists still went through sing-and-dance workshops, which is why they are able to showcase these skills at the live shows.
"They still went through workshops prior. Top 40 yata sila or Top 22. Nag-workshop din naman sila ng singing, acting, dancing.
"And every time naman na may gagawin sila, we make sure pa rin that they go through pa rin yung mga workshops.
"Hindi lang siguro ganun na nakikita on air but they still go through all of that, kasi continuous ang training dapat, di ba?
"'Tapos kami rin naman, sinasadya natin, hinihirapan din naman natin yung ginagawa nila so hindi naman pwedeng they just learn along the way.
"You have to guide them pa rin through workshops and through mentors."
Why did they decide to focus on honing the survivors's acting craft?
The Kapuso executive answers, "I guess kasi ang artista na talaga ngayon… alam naman natin that StarStruck is a vehicle to be able to build stars for GMA. That’s part of its objective.
"At ang gusto naman nating ma-produce ay mga future leading men and leading ladies and you can only test them well, sa acting talaga.
"Of course, we still have those singing and dancing, meron pa rin naman.
"Maybe not necessarily sa TV kasi they still have mall shows so those other platforms naman, nakikita pa rin yung talent.
"But really, it’s really acting talaga na nagko-concentrate.”
Another change in the season is that after each artista test, the combined scores from the judges and the public votes are revealed to the finalists and the viewers.
Piad-Nacar says, "Yes. That was really part of the concept pa lang, inano na rin namin yun na mas exciting yung competition.
"I think it's more of being transparent [to the viewers]. Nag-iinvest din kasi sila, e. Fifty percent of the scores are their votes, di ba?
"So, you would want to give them that gratification or that feeling na saan napunta yung boto ko, or ano ang naging kontribusyon ng boto ko sa lahat ng ito, di ba? So you have to give that."
Along the way, changes also happened in the middle of the show.
At the start of StarStruck 7, scores of the contestants and their StarStruck spots were revealed immediately after they face the council.
In the latter part of the competition, rankings and scores were only announced in the last part of each episode.
Piad-Nacar says about this, "We mixed them up to avoid predictability.
"Iniiba natin kasi kaunti na lang sila, e. More or less, mako-compute mo na rin, so, iniiba mo na rin yung manner of presenting it."
Piad-Nacar believes that with all the artista tests given to the finalists, their true potentials as future leading men and ladies are unleashed.
"Napaka-suwerte nila because they've worked with the best directors in GMA. They've worked with the best actors and actresses of GMA.
"They've been given very good scripts. Full support talaga lahat ng na-experience nila so napakaswerte nila, napakagandang training for them."
STARSTRUCK LOVE TEAMS
Each season of StarStruck is also training ground for potential GMA-7 love teams through acting tests that pair each of the finalists together.
Some of the love teams that started in StarStruck are: LJ Reyes and Mike Tan (Batch 2), Kris Bernal and Aljur Abrenica (Batch 4), and Jennylyn Mercado and Mark Herras (Batch 1).
How are these love teams formed in the show?
Piad-Nacar answers, "Ang chemistry kasi, in any love team naman na nabubuo mo, di ba, walang science sa kanya.
"So, we pair two people together, parang cute sila tignan, and then there’s this undeniable chemistry na hindi mo rin ma-explain. Ganun lang talaga pag nagla-love team if you pair them, e."
For this season, the budding love teams are Lexi Gonzales and Radson Flores, Shayne Sava and Abdul Raman, and Dani Porter and Kim de Leon.
Piad-Nacar believes that the tests and workshops they go through contribute to building up chemistry, and eventually, the producers can see who would do well together as love team.
"Yun din, e, which is maganda kapag nagwu-workshop sila, lalo na sa acting workshops. Doon mo nakikita, e.
"Personality, doon mo makikita kung may attraction or chemistry na hindi mo masabi, hindi mo ma-explain.
"Through those activities or exercises, doon mo nao-observe na parang cute sila. May natural na rapport na hindi mo ma-explain.
"So, you build on that and you see where it will go. See kung susuportahan ba ng fans, see kung meron bang certain level na comfortable sila to work with each other.
"Ganun lang yan, e. You just try to mix it up and see kung anong magwu-work na combination."
Even then, the reality program still acknowledges the possibility of the finalists having a relationship with someone outside the competition.
How do the producers of StarStruck deal with this?
Piad-Nacar answers, "Puwede naman! Basta maiiwan siya sa labas. Hindi naman namin ano yung personal lives ng mga batang ito, e.
"But when you're in the competition, and when we tell you that you are paired with a certain person for a certain acting test, don’t give me the reason, 'Because I have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and I cannot do this.'
"When you're in the competition, you have to deliver what is expected of you, regardless of your personal relationship.
"Kahit sino namang artista di ba, kapag pinair ka sa Actress A na may asawa, ipe-pair siya kay Actor B na single, it should not matter, di ba? Trabaho yun, e. Ganun yun."
STARSTRUCK ISSUES AND CONTROVERSIES
Of course, StarStruck is not complete without issues and controversies.
When the competition gets too intense for the finalists to handle, the finalists usually turn on each other.
In StarStruck 1, Yasmien Kurdi had a confrontation with Cristine Reyes, which was aired on television.
Yasmien recalled in a previous PEP.ph interview that Cristine told her, "You know what, I find you plastic," to which she answered, "You know what, I find you plastic din."
In this season, StarStruck avenger Rere Madrid was embroiled in issues with other female finalists.
First, it was with Pamela Prinster who was shocked to be told by Rere, in front of the council, that they don't see eye to eye.
The second was when Lexi Gonzales and Shayne Sava voted Rere out of the competition, saying that she was a backstabber.
The issue between Rere and Lexi became so intense the StarStruck council had to step in to get to the bottom of it.
How do the producers handle such issues among the finalists?
Piad-Nacar answers, "Hindi mo naman maiiwasan, siyempre, labing-apat na mga bata, pinagsama-sama, hindi naman sila magkakakilala before tapos pagsama-samahin mo, di ba?
"May kanya-kanyang personalities, e. You cannot always expect them to always get along.
"At the end of the day, this is still a contest, this is still a competition. You're still out to fight for your place in that competition.
"Ang sa amin lang naman, as long as you be professional and you just have to deliver what is expected of you, huwag ka lang naman makasakit ng iba."
According to Piad-Nacar, the executive producer and the program manager of StarStruck take care of the kids when they get into issues.
StarStruck season 7's executive producer is Reylie Manalo, while the senior program manager is Enri Calaycay.
"Ano naman sila, e, andiyan the executive producer, the program manager, and everybody else.
"Properly guided naman yung mga bata. Basic naman, you know what is right and you know what is wrong, di ba?"
Piad-Nacar also stresses to the StarStruck finalists the importance of character and being affectionate to others in showbiz.
She explains, "Sa showbiz, they should learn at this point in their lives na dapat kang makisama.
"In any work, hindi lang naman sa pag-a-artista. You have to be professional and matuto kang makisama.
"So, yung mga konting away-away, normal iyan, bata iyan, e. They’re still young, they still have a lot to learn but you guide them.
"Know the basics: what is right, what is wrong, still be professional, show your respect towards co-workers.
"Yun lang naman ang basic na kailangan nila and nakikinig naman, wala namang ano dun."
The StarStruck head acknowledges that stars should be idolized by their fans not just for their talent, but more for their character.
She elaborates, "Character din naman kasi, di ba? Kapag nag-idolize ka ng artista, hindi lang naman dahil magaling siyang umarte, magaling siyang kumanta.
"Nai-inspire ka doon sa tao, sa ugali niya, pananaw niya sa buhay. A lot of things, it's a whole package.
"Ang ano ko lang doon, it's also character din, iniidolo ka ng mga tao not just because of your talent but because of who you are.
"So, it has to be a conscious effort na dapat ipakita mo ring mabait kang tao."
In the end, JPN is happy that the StarStruck 7 girls themselves fixed their issues.
She explains, "Sila-sila din naman. Kasi sa totoo lang, they’re the ones who handle it more, yung mga ganyang kung may issues or concerns na rin sila among themselves, mas sila rin ang nagha-handle no'n.
"In fairness naman kasi, yung mga council, talagang hindi naman sila nagkukulang sa pagpapaalala at guidance sa mga bata.
"You have to be professional in everything else. Work, concentrate on your career, you have to deliver for the show.
"Maski sila din naman, makikita mo, nagbabago din kasi nakikinig, e. So, nare-resolve din naman nila amongst themselves.
"I remember, yung itong incident ni Lexi at ni Rere. Nasabihan si Lexi, nasabihan si Rere na concentrate on the show, on what you have to do. Don't waste your time sa mga ganyang bagay.
"And then, the following day, I think I saw a post of Lexi na may learnings siya, di ba?
"Nakikinig sila. Yun yung importante, e, na makinig ka. Alam mo kung ano yung tama, then do what you have to do."
Another controversial moment in StarStruck happened in the third season, where finalists Jackie Rice, Jana Roxas, Arci Muñoz, and Sara Larsson were accused of cheating.
This happened after they opened a computer containing confidential StarStruck files, which indicated future challenges and twists of the show.
Piad-Nacar recalls, “Ano yun, e. That was not, hindi naman siya sinadya. Nangyari lang talaga siya.
"Basta ang alam ko si Jackie Rice iyan, kasi nakita sila sa CCTV. Parang ganun.
"I think they were talagang pinagalitan, pinagsabihan talaga namin sila, and they learned from that. Kasi yung succeeding batches, natuto doon, natakot sila, e.
"Nagkataon lang na they were not supposed to be in that area talaga to begin with, parang may something na activity.
"It was an office, e. They were not supposed to be there, nagkataon na they have to stay there, 'tapos doon na lumabas."
As a result of the incident, Sara and Arci were eliminated from the show. Jana still made it to the Top 6, while Jackie managed to win the Ultimate Female Survivor title.
Just like any other TV program, the performance and success of StarStruck still depend on the ratings game.
But unlike a teleserye that can alter plots if one story arc is not working, a reality program follows a basic structure.
This structure, however, does not limit them from doing gimmicks and twists to boost the show's popularity.
Piad-Nacar says, "The basic structure of the show is seven boys, seven girls, magko-compete. At the end, you declare one boy and one girl as the winner.
"That one, we will not be able to change anymore, that’s the structure of the show.
"Naka-kaano pa rin naman kami, since it’s reality, what you do is you try to strengthen the show, kung anuman yung acting test na ibibigay mo sa kanila, yung reality elements na dynamics ng mga contestants.
"Those are the unpredictable things na inaano naman namin, we try to adjust if there are certain content concerns na kailangang ayusin.
"Isipan mo lang, magtu-twist ba tayo, may pababalikin ba tayo, kung ano mang deviation na puwede, reality din naman kasi siya and a contest."
Piad-Nacar also explains how a reality TV show becomes unpredictable for producers, even if they have already planned things ahead.
She says, "The basic structure, yes, nakalatag naman na siya pero di mo naman malalatag ng malalatag na fixed, kasi hindi mo alam sinong matatanggal this week, e.
"Siyempre, you can only prepare so much and then okay, natanggal ito, natanggal ito. Anong adjustments ang gagawin natin kasi ito na lang?
"So malalatag mo siya, pero everything else will still be changed or modified depende sa nagiging result every after weekend.
"Ganun siya talaga every season: 'Oh, sige prepare tayo, ha. Plan A Plan B Plan C, kasi hindi mo alam sino matatanggal or sino magse-stay.'"
StarStruck's seventh season had two major twists: the Second Chance Challenge and the Last Chance Challenge.
The Second Chance Challenge involved six hopefuls from Top 22 who did not make it to the Final 14. One boy and one girl were chosen to replace the first two finalists who got eliminated from the Final 14.
During the challenge, Crystal Paras and Radson Flores bested the other four second chance takers and stood in the StarStruck spots of the first two avengers Angelic Guzman and Gelo Alagban.
The second major twist was called the Last Chance Challenge, which was introduced during the final ten's elimination night.
Ella Cristofani and Jeremy Sabido got the lowest scores for the week, but they were given a last chance to defend their StarStruck spots and enter the Final 8.
The following week, Ella and Jeremy faced the two lowest scorers from the Final 8 contestants in an acting test, which were Lexi Gonzales and Radson Flores. The StarStruck council members were given the task to choose the two finalists who would still be part of the Final 8.
In the end, Jeremy and Lexi were chosen over Radson and Ella.
PEP.ph asks Piad-Nacar why they decided to give second chances to the finalists as part of the StarStruck twist for this season.
She answers, "Siguro kasi ang gagaling din naman kahit sila Radson, sila Crystal, magagaling din naman kasi sila, e.
"Sabi nga ni Ms. Cherie, everybody deserves a second chance. Kapag nakitaan mo rin, bakit nga ba hindi, talagang ipakita natin.
"I think the objective, more than the pagbabalik is ipakita mo, i-prove mo sa viewers na ikaw talaga ang deserving diyan.
"I think more than just having them return, it’s more of proving na, 'Oo, I deserve this spot.'
"I think you should look at it more of proving their worth more than kasi pinabalik sila."
STARSTRUCK'S OUTCOME AND FUTURE
It seems like the seventh season of StarStruck is one of the most expensive editions of the reality-based artista search.
About this observation, Piad-Nacar says, "Salamat din kasi nga sinusuportahan ng network yung vision ng show."
But more than anything, the show's business unit head is happy with the feedback the season has been receiving, despite the many innovations it has introduced.
"Kami, we're very happy. Lahat naman ng seasons namin, happy kami, but medyo, I must admit, iba itong season na ito.
"Airing wise pa lang, iba na, e, since it's on a Saturday-Sunday. Kahit sabihin mong StarStruck, it's still a little different sa amin.
"Kumbaga, inaalam pa rin namin kasi we are talking to a different audience because it's on a weekend primetime.
"Maski kami rin, inaaral din namin siya—ano bang gusto nila? Ano bang habit ng viewers ng Sabado at Linggo?
"Pero kung sa happy sa performance, yes, we’re very happy. It’s nice to hear that we have a good combination of council.
"It's nice to see Dingdong from season one up to this season, he's still here. And then Jennylyn, the first winner, is now with him as a host. So, it's a different presentation din.
"'Tapos, based on feedback naman, the kids are doing very well, acting wise, performance wise, na halos lahat, sinasabi na pwede na ngang isalang.
"Ako lang, based on feedback na naririnig ko. Siyempre, huwag na sa amin manggaling di ba? Kasi we are part of the show, but it is based on feedback, e.
"Nakakatuwa that people see and appreciate yung nabibigay ng season na ito."
Since the seventh season has received good feedback, and it is now coming to a close with the upcoming final judgment on September 14-15, are the producers planning an eighth season?
Piad-Nacar answers with a laugh, "I don’t know! Hahaha! I guess hangga’t may batang nangangarap mag-artista, may StarStruck pa rin."
Even then, the Kapuso lady executive says that only the changing landscape of TV can determine if StarStruck will still be able to make a comeback.
She elaborates, "Sabi ko nga, nag-iiba ng landscape. Malay mo next year, iba na naman ang magustuhan ng audience.
"So, we’ll see. Basta we're airing now as a season, and kung ano man ang ma-contribute ng show na ito sa GMA, sa mga artista ng GMA, salamat."
Looking back to its very first season, StarStruck was indeed a massive hit among the viewers.
However, the producers of the show did not actually expect that it would become a phenomenon, especially its first season.
In fact, StarStruck 1 executive producer Enri Calaycay and creative consultant Rommel Gacho both said in the YES! magazine special issue that it took three weeks before the show registered good ratings.
Calaycay is now StarStruck 7's senior program manager, while Gacho is the director.
For Piad-Nacar, she only realized the impact of the show when they did a nationwide tour featuring the StarStruck 1 finalists.
She recalls, "No. No. We didn’t know yung impact ng show until nag-nationwide tour. Siyempre, you see the ratings and all but, okay, ganun lang.
"I remember at that time, kasi Startalk was one of my shows pa noon, I was a program manager. So pag nagmo-mall show sila ng nationwide, naiiwan ako sa Manila kasi I have to do live shows. So, si Enri and Rommel ang umaalis.
"And then, nakakatawa, tatawag sila sa akin, 'Miss Ja, Miss Ja, hindi kami makapag-mall show, hindi kami makaumpisa!' 'Bakit?' 'Marami pong hinihimatay!' 'Hinihimatay? Bakit hinihimatay?' 'E, kasi po yung mga tao nagkakagulo, ini-stop, ini-stop!'
"We have videos naman to support that noong season 1. Parang, 'Ha? Ganun na ba talaga?'
"We didn’t realize 'tapos dati, hindi pa kami masyado yung mga nationwide di ba? Cebu, Davao, hindi pa naman tayo ganun kaano at that time, so, nagulat kami na, 'Ah, okay. Ganun na pala yung effect niya.'"
JPN only witnessed the hysteria days before the final judgment, during a usual day in the GMA office.
At the time, Mark Herras, Jennylyn Mercado, Yasmien Kurdi, and Rainier Castillo were already declared as the StarStruck 1 final four.
She remembers, "Going into the final judgment, lumabas ako ng lobby, may mga bata sa labas ng gate. Hindi naman ganun kalaki like a big crowd, but there were people outside more than usual na nakaabang! That doesn’t happen, di ba?
"Sabi ko, 'Sino inaantay nila?'
"Sabi sa akin, 'Inaantay po nila, baka sakaling dumungaw si Mark, si Jennylyn, si Rainier or si Yasmien.'
"They were just there, looking, trying to ano na baka suwertehin sila. Doon lang nag-sink in sa amin."
JPN now admits that despite the positive feedback, the production team still had apprehensions when they were told to hold the final judgment at the Araneta Coliseum.
Piad-Nacar says, "Noong final judgment, sinabihan kami mag Araneta Coliseum kami. Sabi ko, 'Hindi, baka hindi natin mapuno!' Ganun.
"We were scared! Parang studio-studio lang, Broadway lang kami noon, e. Mapupuno ba kami?
"'Tapos noong nag-a-ano na ng tickets, di na namin mapagkasya sinong bibigyan namin!
"Everything naman, up to now, everything is free naman, but kasi we had to allot, siyempre, we needed to give their fans.
"You want the fans to be there, so priority yung fans na makapasok sila, mabigyan sila ng ticket, and all.
"So mapupuno ba natin? 'Tapos napuno nga namin, di ba? Okay!
"'Tapos doon na lang nag-sink in, after everything, na parang okay, nagustuhan pala siya.
"And then StarStuck Kids, season two, 'tapos succeeding seasons na. Ayun hanggang ngayon 2019, nag-start kami, 2003."
StarStruck 7 is set to hold its final judgment, with a taped-as-live show airing on September 14, and a live announcement airing on September 15, at the Studio 7 of GMA Network Center.
Kim de Leon and Allen Ansay are competing to become the Ultimate Male Survivor, while Lexi Gonzales and Shayne Sava are vying for the Ultimate Female Survivor title.