The exhilarating spirit of Fiesta in America lives on

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Just like any holiday or traditional event, the fiesta brings forth a festive atmosphere and a nostalgic longing for every bit of sentimental things back home.

Fiesta in America diminishes, if not totally eradicates, that lingering homesickness with the enormous influx of talents, exhibitors of native and home-made food products, and related items all gathered under one roof for that fulfilling back-to-the-roots experience.

The 5th People’s Ball

Ushering in the glitz-n-glam and that supreme air of sophisticated thrills and frills, the People’s Ball held last Friday, August 16, at Double Tree by Hilton in Newark, NJ, was a fitting prelude to the two-day annual summer festival.

The ballroom’s center dome was lavishly festooned with vibrantly colored drapes of silk organza embellished with giant multi-textured butterflies symbolically completing the theme. Fresh table centerpieces with intricate arrangement and table numbers printed over with popular Asian and Latin-American travel destinations added that unmistakable fiesta flair.

The 2013 People’s ball, now on its 5th year, scored a record high in attendance of the crème de la crème in the Filipino-American community with promising teen singer Alyssa Shoemaker and tenor-pop sensation Jared Martin contributing their god-given vocal talents. The special appearance of celebrity guests, actor-singer Piolo Pascual and Star Power champ Angeline Quinto perked up the evening even more. Piolo’s nephew Benjamin Alves, a celebrity in his own right, came in tow but his presence was understandably downplayed and unheralded.

The elegant stately dance Rigodon de Honor, the event’s curtain raiser, where glamorously clad ladies in intricately designed Filipiñana gowns and dashing gents in meticulously tailored Barong Tagalog graced the floor in very dignified and elite manner.

Other highlights of the evening were: the presentation and talent competition of the five Miss Philippine Fiesta finalists under the chairmanship of Tet Palencia and Lilian Vita; the Empowerment Awards which recognized outstanding Filipino-Americans in their chosen field of endeavor as ably chaired by Darlene Borromeo and Ludi Hughes, and the mesmerizing power-packed agility of a terpsichorean duo who performed an Argentinean Tango to the extreme.

Hosted by known stage personalities, Gregory Allan Bock and Emily McNamara, the 5th People’s Ball was undoubtedly a rousing success notwithstanding the attendance of Hon. Con. Gen. Mario L. De Leon, Jr., Senator Robert M. Gordon, Hon. Jersey City Council Pres. Rolando Lavarro, Bergenfield Mayor Carlos Aguasvivas, Councilman William “Bill” McGeever, Councilman James Clancy and Councilwoman Donna Pryozki of Secaucus, and Bergenfield Councilmen Chris Tully and Rafael Marte.

The two-day indoor Fiesta celebration

The next day, the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus, NJ, Philippine Fiesta’s official home, formally opened its doors to the public after a ceremonious ribbon-cutting officiated by Secaucus Mayor Michael J. Gonnelli, Councilwoman Susan Pirro of Secaucus, District 38 Sen. Bob M. Gordon, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., Con. Gen. Mario L. De Leon, Jr., Secaucus Councilman Bill McGeever, Mayor Carlos Aguasvivas, celebrities Piolo Pascual and Angeline Quinto, and of course, SEP Pres. and CEO Nanding Mendez.

The two-day indoor festival made a monumental leap this year with the participation of various Latin-American talents like Raul Martinez (more popularly known as Tailon), Dominican meringue singer En Alta, reggae singer Judith Cortez (also popularly tagged Anayka), and ”machete music maker” Jay Alva. The Latin-American cultural hour was, as expected, very entertaining, with its trademarked salsa-merengue-reggae sounds and beats that involuntarily induced body movements.

Earlier, a solid entertaining hour featured Asian-American bundle of talents Eric Xie, a 1993 Champion in the New York Eastern US-Chinese singing contest, The Times Art Dance Group, and the Hong Dance and Music Company.

Not to be outdone were the Filipino-American artists who showed what it takes to be Pinoy, in terms of music and performance. Composing the Fil-Am cultural hour were versatile vocal performers Tiffany Ashley de Guzman Viray, Alyssa Shoemaker, Gail Banawis, Regene Seven Odon, and Maureen Javier-Varco.

Also presented was the cooking demo by Fr. Leo Patalinghug, TV host of his own cooking show called Savoring Our Faith on EWTN and author of Grace Before Meals, a culinary compilation of recipes and inspirations for family meals and family life. His live cooking demo at the fiesta ignited the culinary interest of his audience while simultaneously strengthened their religious faith while in the course of food preparation.

If there was but one group that tremendously held the crowd in a standstill that would be the magnificent Sounds of Manila, fresh from cutting their first CD titled SOM Sings Azarcon. Composed of bandleader/bassist Ronnie Sabangan, veteran musician Bobby de Leon, vocalists Hermie Angeles and Suzanne Lansangan-Sabangan, guitarist Jojo Gendrano and drummer JR Gendrano, Sounds of Manila effortlessly immortalized Original Pilipino Music (OPM) and was well applauded following their melodious rendition of a medley of popular teleserye theme songs.

Sunday’s Holy Mass invited early guests who later comprised the great number of eager spectators in the reenactment of the religious Santacruzan. This year’s Hermano and Hermana were Jesus and Darlene Borromeo while popular fashionista and society columnist Ollie David delineated the role of Queen Helen or the Emperatriz.

The annual fiesta beauty and talent search is a paramount crowd-drawer making Miss Philippine Fiesta beauty pageant one of the foremost top-billers during the Sunday event.

After a feast-for-the-eyes competition in various categories, the members of the panel of judges reached an irrevocable decision and the final tabulation revealed the following names all deserving of the special awards:

• Candidate # 4 Clariss Dorothy Enjambre as Best in Swimsuit and Most Photogenic;

• Candidate # 2 Jessica Chanliecco Videña as Miss Congeniality and Miss Phil. Fiesta Trade Fair;

• Candidate # 1 Jellyn Anne Echon as Best in Long Gown; and

• Candidate # 5 Rosanne Armie Manalo as Best in Talent.

For the title category, the following candidates were crowned as follows:

• Candidate # 3 Stephanie Reyes, Miss Phil. Fiesta Mindanao 2013

• Candidate # 4 Clariss Dorothy Enjambre, Miss Phil. Fiesta Visayas 2013

• Candidate # 2 Jessica Chanliecco Videña, Miss Phil. Fiesta Luzon 2013

• Candidate # 5 Rosanne Armie Manalo, Miss Phil. Fiesta East Coast 2013

• Candidate # 1 Jellyn Anne Echon, Miss Phil. Fiesta 2013

Competent members of the panel of jurors were: Philippine movie actress now US-based Beth Tamayo, Mrs. Philippines-International 2013 representative Dr. Alicia Almendral, Engineer Danny Pagsambugan, Col. Cynthia Wong, and Rob Wildy.

Aside from a generous amount of cash and gift certificates, the winner was awarded a five-day Caribbean cruise and a round trip ticket to the Philippines.

A solemn moment was dedicated to pay tribute to the late Mila Beltran Mendez, the heart and soul of Philippine Fiesta, via a symbolic on-stage candle lighting ceremony by the Fiesta staff and friends while a video montage dramatically unfolded on the giant screen that essayed the significant chapters of her well-lived life.

The main feature of the two-day festival was opened by Filipino singer-songwriter and pioneering exponent of the Pinoy folk-rock, Florante De Leon, more popularly known as simply Florante, who literally rocked the stage and consistently kept his audience in stitches with his 70s signature ditties punctuated by smoothly delivered puns and spiels.

Impressively, the living legend still possesses that same powerful voice with vibrant resonance and pitch that catapulted him to the status he enjoys to this day. His hits including as “Ako’y Isang Pinoy,” “Abakada,” “Pinay,” and “Handog,” registered well in the crowd’s mind that more than proved Florante’s threshold as a living legend. His songs induced nostalgia and sentimental memories of the by-gone era back home.

Undoubtedly, Star Power Champ Angeline Quinto is already made! Basing from the wild reception accorded her the moment she walked up center stage, her appearance could possibly be one of the reasons why Philippine Fiesta fanatics came in droves and queues.

Although noticeably influenced by Regine Velasquez, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Beyonce Knowles, Angeline’s peculiar singing style has that distinct sound that’s all her own. This she showed when she rendered her opening number, “I’m Gonna Dance With Somebody.” Her vocal versatility reigned in “Kahit Konting Pagtingin,” (theme song of her teleserye with the same title), Smokey Mountain’s original ditty “Kailan,” and “Patuloy Ang Pangarap,” her winning contest piece and currently already a certified double platinum record.

Her audience has a special endearment for Angeline knowing that she owes her success from them. Thus, her interpretation of Florante’s “Handog” as her finale number.

The star of the show appeared on stage cool but highly spirited, casually donned in skinny jeans and body hugging tees topped with a cropped jacket. Piolo Pascual’s stature as an actor-singer-producer is beyond doubt for the swarthy screen idol has maintained his popularity despite facing voluminous unfounded rumors and devastating intrigues. All these negativities are mere water off a duck’s back and Piolo could only shrug his shoulders.

His Fiesta in America appearance last week was no different from how he was riotously received five years ago on the same stage. His interpretation of Styx’s 1979 chart-topper “Babe, I Love You,” Martin Nievera’s “Be My Lady,” Frankie Valli’s 1967 single “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” and The Police 1983 hit “Every Breath You Take” more than proved his excellent singing capability, setting him far above local standards and at par with mainstream talents.

Philippine Fiesta, now dubbed Fiesta in America, never fails to please and entertain its annual fiesta visitors and first time guests. The festive atmosphere offers a momentary escape from the monotonous daily grind and gives participants a chance to enjoy the fun and thrills of the two-day indoor event. Although its success could have been doubly felt with the presence of Mila B. Mendez, Philippine Fiesta’s moving force, the recently concluded affair was gratifying nonetheless. Knowing that the fiesta is Mila’s baby, she won’t allow neither hitch nor glitch to dampen and spoil the 15-year old annual project. She was sorely missed but her guiding spirit was definitely felt.

Fiesta in America next year is expected to be bigger in scope with the enthusiastic participation of more Latin and Asian community communities. Indefatigable Nanding Mendez, president of Special Edition Press and producer of Fiesta in America, wishes to thank exhibitors, sponsors, guests, supporters, celebrity guests, and loyal staffs who have consistently contributed to the success of the event.

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