Filipino singing superstars on the international stage

EVEN before the advent of reality talent show competitions on TV, we had capably established and stamped our distinct mark, as Filipinos, in the international music scene. The unprecedented record of the Filipinos’ unrivaled supremacy in the field of vocal competition more than proved our inherent love and irresistible adherence to music.
There were already quite a number of Philippine representatives who brought home honors as Best Performers: Pilita Corrales  at the 1st Tokyo Music Festival (1972), Celeste Legaspi at the World Popular Music Fest (1976), Didith Reyes at the Tokyo Song Fest (1977), Hajji Alejandro at the 1st Seoul International Song Fest (1978), Freddie Aguilar at the Seoul Popular Song Festival (1979), while Dulce  was adjudged Grand Prize Winner  at the Asian Singing Competition (1979) in Hong-Kong, and Noel Velasco garnered two championship titles in 1981 at the Pavarotti International Voice Competition and at the Liederkranz Foundation Wagnerian Competition, respectively.
Hajji Alejandro won the Best Singer Award in the Seoul International Song Festival via Ryan Cayabyab’s “Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika”; Ivy Violan won the grand prize of the 3rd ASEAN Popular Song Festival in Bangkok, Thailand in 1993 and was declared the Grand Prize winner during the 4th International Midnight Sun Song fest in Finland; Asia’s songbird Regine Velasquez was declared 1989 Asia Pacific Song Festival winner in Hong-Kong; Alexyz Arcilla won in 1989 the Grand Champion trophy from the First International Singing Contest in Japan; Josephine “Banig” Roberto was awarded Grand Champion during the 1989 edition of Star Search International in the USA; and Geneva Cruz bagged the Grand Prize during the 1991 Voice of Asia Songfest while Samantha Chavez claimed the Grand Prize at the 7th Asean Song Fest.
In 1991 at the 7th Asean Song Festival in Indonesia Samantha Chavez took home the Grand Prize whereas Smokey Mountain grabbed the top plum at the Tokyo Music Festival in 1992. The Best Vocal awards were claimed by both Chad Borja and Ella Mae Saison in 1993 at the 1st International Guam Music Festival.
Ladine Roxas, an overseas Filipino singer, bested 17 hopefuls and took home $10,000 after singing Vehnee Saturno’s “Where There Is Love” in the Voice of Asia 2001 held in Almaty, Kazakhstan; the Grand Champion prizes were brought home by Dessa in 1998 (Asian Music Festival in Japan), Mon David in 2006 (International Jazz Vocal Competition in UK),  Maria Donna in 2006 (Asian New Singer Competition in China), Vina Morales in 2007 (Ikon Asean in Malaysia), and Lorden Panganiban in 2010 (11th Asia New Singer Competition in Beijing, China).
Meanwhile, Jed Madela swept all major prizes in every vocal category at the 2005 WCOPA (World Championship of the Performing Arts) declaring him the Grand Champion Performer of the World held in Hollywood, California; Rizza Navales did the same feat in the same competition with 11 gold medals; while Lourdenn Panganiban bagged the top award at the 2010 Shanghai International Song Festival in China.
Following Madela’s unparalleled WCOPA record as Vocal Solo Champion and Grand Champion Performer of the World are Aria Clemente (Junior, 2007), Catherine Loria (Junior, 2008), Rhap Salazar (Junior, 2009), Rose Mamaclay (Senior, 2010), Joshua Pineda (Junior, 2011), Ianna Dela Torre (Junior, 2013) and Beverly Caimen (Senior, 2013).
And not to forget Arnel Pineda’s rise from his oblivious past to instant international fame that started on June 28, 2007 when Journey’s guitarist saw a video of Arnel on YouTube and the rest was history. After being the bona fide lead singer of the legendary Journey, the group successfully toured Chile and Las Vegas followed by recording their latest album, Revelation, on June 3, 2008 that reached platinum status after only 4 months. Currently, Pineda is actively performing on Philippine television and international events.
It was quite different with Lani Misalucha’s case. Las Vegas, Nevada (USA) gave her the enviable opportunity to topbill prime hotel shows that catapulted her to being dubbed as “The Siren of the Strip” and “Best Singer” during the 27th Annual Best of Las Vegas in 2008.
International singing sensation Charice Pempengco’s ala-Cinderella journey to stardom was written (and guided) by her own star. As if vindicated from merely placing 3rd in Little Big Star back in 2005, the diminutive singer with a promising gigantic career had successfully captured the world stage and performed side by side with every popular celebrity that prominently placed the Philippines on the world map.
Just last year, Pop Star Princess Sarah Geronimo won the 10th International Song Fest: The Global Sound held in Australia with her winning song, “Kilometro.”
There were times when the Philippines ended up as mere top finishers which were good enough but knowing Pinoys, they won’t settle for anything but the Top Plum.
The age of reality competitions
Television show producers, having been inveigled by the dawning and ultimate extent of the world wide web and its vast power, arrived at a more exciting idea of bringing the singing competition on the boob tube for maximum coverage.
Suddenly there was American Idol, America’s Got Talent, X-Factor, The Voice, Sing Off, and The Blind Audition which overwhelmingly accumulated international syndications and franchises.
Let’s get to know some vocally gifted Filipinos who made the cut in various international singing competitions that made us proud to be in the same race.
Marlisa Punzalan
A former loser in Australia’s Got Talent but a champion of The X-Factor Australia in 2014, Marlisa delivered her best via the Beatles’ “Yesterday” which she sang with all her heart and soul. Having recorded an album for Sony Music Australia, the young singing champ still remembers the first ever song she learned…”Let It Be” by the Beatles.
Cyrus Villanueva
After the 16-year-old Filipina Marlisa Punzalan, a back-to-back victory was predicted during the early phase of the 7th Season of X-Factor Australia when the 19-year-old student from Wallongong, New South Wales Cyrus Villanueva auditioned for the show.
Cyrus already exhibited strong stage presence with unflinching determination not only to qualify but strappingly driven and motivated to win the competition. A full-blooded performer, Cyrus has embraced the potent influences of Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra coupled with his incredible shifting from head voice to falsetto and effortless melismatic style that undoubtedly gave him the edge over other competitors.
Born to a Filipino father and Australian mother, Cyrus’ father and brother’s influences are evident that enabled him to perform at gigs, bars, cafes, and wedding events during spare time.
The new X-Factor Australia winner, who was initially leaning towards Graphic Design prior his joining the contest, has signed up with Sony Music Australia. Cyrus, incidentally, also plays the ukulele, the guitar (which he learned through instructional videos on YouTube), and the drums like a virtuoso.
Other Filipino hopefuls who ended up either finalists or top 10 finishers included:
Ramiele Malubay
This 2007 edition of American Idol finalist auditioned with Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.” She was born in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and currently a Florida resident.
Jessica Elizabeth Sanchez
The Filipina who almost made it during the 11th Season of American Idol (2012) but lost to Phillip Phillips in the finals was already a promising singer even as early as age 10 after winning in Showtime at the Apollo via Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”
Dubbed as the singer with a strong vibrato, Jessica’s fate as a runner-up catapulted her to such level not even imagined by people who followed her career. She became very much in-demand in almost every national event after the competition: at the PBS National Memorial Day Concert from the west lawn of the US Capitol in Washington; performed at the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas; at the 2012 NBA Finals between Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder; and at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
On February 14, 2013, Jessica hosted her first solo concert at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines and released a new music video for the song “Jump In’ with The Black Eyed Peas Filipino member Apl de ap. She also appeared on the fourth season of Glee where she played the role of Frida Romero then performed at the Dancing WithThe Stars May 21, 2013 finale.
Madonna Decena
Madonna was another Filipina, a club singer in the UK, who left an indelible mark on the Britain’s Got Talent stage with her powerful renditions. Madonna, a family breadwinner and single mom to her two daughters, just reached the semi-finals but admitted that her experience made her life better.
Charlie Green
The English-Filipino ten year-old from Droitwich, Worcestershire, England gained popularity in Britain’s Got Talent via “Summer Wind” that got him entered the competition. Now grown-up at 18, Charlie is still active in the entertainment scene with his jazzy style.
Arisandra Libantino
This 11-year old hopeful caught the attention of the western press when she rendered Jennifer Hudson’s “One Night Only” which the guardians of morality considered inappropriate for her age but Britain’s Got Talent judges awarded her with 3 yeses.
The 4th Impact
A sing-and-dance quartette, these female siblings earned unanimous approval with standing ovation even as early as during the preliminary elimination round of X-Factor UK..
Rose Fostanes
The 47-year old Filipina caregiver in Tel-Aviv won the first X-Factor Israel that became controversial after a majority questioned her victory over legitimate Israeli citizens.
Amy Vachal
Amy is a 26 year-old jazz singer from The Voice US Season 9 and her “Bye, Bye” cover song peaked at # 10 on the iTunes Top 100 chart but unfortunately, she was cut before the finals.
Ryan Richard Tamondong
The Filipino singer was crowned the Euro Pop Contest champion in Berlin, Germany after he bested 17 countries.
Daisy Valenzuela
This full-time caregiver from Dublin impressed the audience and the judges with her own rendition of Kathy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” in The Voice of Ireland.
Roel Villones
Roel was another Filipino who earned points and qualified in The Voice of Ireland with his rendition of the operatic song “Nella Fantasia,” a Sarah Brightman original.
Maria Janice Galvez
Maria a former rock singer in Manila before she became a favorite contestant in La Voix (The Voice edition in Quebec, Canada). She arrived in Montreal on 2011, capably learned (and mastered) the French language that qualified her to the competition until he was more popularly known as “Miara” of the famous La Voix on TVA.
Suffice it to conclude that the Filipino is born to sing and will relentlessly sing wherever destiny brings him.
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