If someone from abroad asks you how life is in the Philippines, you can always say itâ€™s going singingly, thank you very much.
It certainly seems the case, what with the proliferation of singing tilts from the barangay level to syndicated, countrywide talent searches on television. Singing is big business, aside from offering vocal artists a quick route to fame and the riches that often accompany it.
That is something of a paradox in Filipinos. At first glance, we are a generally introverted and painfully shy peopleâ€”deathly afraid of standing in front of crowds. But a microphone has always proven to be the sure-fire amulet that emboldens us to scale the heights of popularity, and give expression to an inner diva or crooner.
The Peninsula Manila is capitalizing on this passion for vocal exercises with its â€śSing@Ning: The Search for the Ultimate Voiceâ€ť contest. The casting call is on for college students ages 18 to 25 to show their chops to a professional jury composed of noted industry personalities Tim Yap, Girlie Rodis, Pinky Marquez, Dulce, Audie Gemora, Robert Cena, Isay Alvarez, Floy Quintos, Menchu Lauchengco, Sitti, Trina Belamide, Bituin Escalante, and Moi Ortiz. Leading the panel is musical director, stage actor, and vocal coach Onyl Torres.
A first for the Peninsula, the vocal competition is also meant to highlight the hotelâ€™s strongly themed bar, the Salon de Ning. Peninsula Manila GM Sonja Vodusek casually calls the outlet â€śNingâ€™s budoirâ€ťâ€”â€śMadame Ningâ€ť being a fictitious, â€śslender, dark-haired, porcelain-skinned beautyâ€ť living in 1930s Shanghai.
The dĂ©cor of Salon de Ning indeed reflects a trophy-cum-souvenir room chockfull of objets dâ€™art. The lighting itself emanates from upside-down parasols with chips of shell, resin, and crystal. You sit on velvet-covered mismatched stools and chairs. Fringing the main hall are four separately themed areas said to reflect Madame Ningâ€™s other personas: a boxing room, a shoe room (not surprisingly familiar to us Filipinos), a Zeppelin room, and the Shanghai room.
The Peninsula Manila dangles an interesting mix of prizes for the champion: P100,000 in cash, a scholarship at John Robert Powers and Spotlight Artists Centre, and a weekend stay at the hotel. Capping these is a contract to perform at Ningâ€™s boudoir, er, barâ€”only the fourth of its kind in the Peninsula group (following New York, Hong Kong, and Shanghai).
Vodusek credits the hotelâ€™s marketing director Cristina Cruz for coming up with the contest concept as an advocacy, and underscores: â€śAnything that you want to do advocacy wise, you have to be passionate about it.â€ť
â€śSing@Ningâ€ť seeks fresh, new, previously-unsigned talents, which will be judged according to a total package (or image) they present. Torres stresses that talent alone cannot suffice, as the winner will be asked to perform at the Salon de Ning. Meanwhile, co-judge Trina Belamide maintains: â€śThereâ€™s a lot of things that come into play when judging a performerâ€¦ how they interpret, feelings that they impart, pitch, tempo. Itâ€™s a mixture of those.â€ť
â€śLetâ€™s do it. Letâ€™s promote young musical talent,â€ť adds Vodusek, who also admits to singing â€śI Will Surviveâ€ť in the shower. But thatâ€™s another story.
Sidebar: Online auditions
Those interested to join â€śSing@Ningâ€ť need to sign up on a dedicated YouTube channel â€“www.youtube.com/singatningÂ from August 1 to 31. Judges will shortlist from these initial video entries, and put the contestants through live elimination rounds running from September 16 at the Salon de Ning. The field will be systematically trimmed down to 18, then 12, then six, then three.
The top three will compete in the â€śSing@Ningâ€ť finals on November 6 at the venue.
According to vocal coach and musical director Onyl Torres, the Internet not only levels the playing field for singing hopefuls. It also allows judges to solely evaluate them based solely on the uploaded material; no influential godfathers, no mothers nagging the judges, and absolutely no power of association.
â€śYou know how it is when you watch somebody on a video. At face value, we kind of like already auditioned them. Also, by the way of introducing themselves, we can already judge them so doon pa lang,â€™ pasok na ito so letâ€™s hear the voiceâ€™,â€ť Torres, who also appeared and arranged some stage plays, said.
Aside from online auditions creating equal opportunities for all contestants, the cyberspace also becomes the stage for singers who could not make it into the mainstream media, allowing a bigger audience to witness someoneâ€™s singing prowess without leaving their homes or from their handheld devices.
By using video auditions to initially screen the contestants, Torres believes that the initial elimination process is â€śfaster because we cannot afford to have people lining outside.â€ť
From there, a panel of screeners, composed of Torres himself and some Peninsula officials, will select 30 aspirants among all the videos uploaded on their channel for a live audition before the final 18 contestants, which will be trained by selected vocal coaches and perform live in front of Salon De Ningâ€™s customers. Also, performances will be streamed live via Google+ Hangout, the social networkingâ€™s live video streaming and chat service.
The final 18 contestants will undergo a series of elimination processes, using different genres such as pop and jazz, and turn them into lounge music, with piano serving as the lone accompaniment for the singer. According to Torres, the piano as the only instrument to be used will â€śnot really pose as a limitation but a challenge.â€ťâ€”Dino Mari L. Testa