Born in Tanauan, Batangas, Michael Carandang migrated to the US with his family when he was 13. Now 33, Carandang, the Emmy Award-winning TV producer for The Tyra Banks Show and America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), is back in town “indefinitely.”
“This is the longest I’ve been in the Philippines since my family migrated to the US,” Carandang said as he sat down with InterAksyon for an interview. “Indiana kami noon, midwest, so walang Pilipino. Sa akin, to live here and to experience being with other Filipinos is a dream come true.”
Looking at ease in a blazer, white shirt, blue jeans, and Doc Martens, Carandang was at the press conference for the National Retailers Conference and Stores Asia Expo (NRCE), where he is speaking about global trends in marketing and branding at the trade event happening August 9 to 10 at the SMX Convention Center. The annual expo is organized by the Philippine Retailers Association.
Carandang was responsible for introducing Filipino designers Michael Cinco, Oliver Tolentino, and Francis Libiran, as well as Bench, to an international audience through ANTM.
Initially unsure about what he was going to say to “a bunch of entrepreneurs” during the NRCE, he realized all the preparation he needed was to take a trip down memory lane.
“It made me look back on why people care so much [that] the designers and the Filipinos have been part of ANTM, and what has happened since their appearance on the show. I look back to one person who I base a lot of decisions in branding: Tyra. She’s actually the one who taught me about branding.
“I look at myself as a brand. The things I do, the decisions I make, and where I associate, I think [about] what my brand should do.
“So in my talk I’m going to explain how everything happened, from getting Michael Cinco, getting Bench on board, getting all these people, and what was instinct for me.”
Pinoys On Board ANTM
How did everything happen, exactly?
“Isa lang [ang] binenta ko, si Michael Cinco ’cause he was the first [one to be part of ANTM]. It only takes one. Ito ‘yung pino-promote ko. Kasi marami akong mga Filipino friends in the entertainment industry sa America [who are] so afraid to pitch Filipinos. They’re afraid ’cause then they get pointed out as Filipino. Kasi lahat tayo Pilipino naman dito, but imagine if you were the only Filipino in a group of people and [you] say, hey let’s put this Filipino person on this, and then all of a sudden you become a Filipino trying to push for the Filipino.”
It was difficult to push for Dubai-based designer Cinco and his work to be featured on the reality show.
“Nobody knew who Michael Cinco was. But after the work that he did, and how amazing he was as a designer, ang dali na,” Carandang said, snapping his fingers to punctuate his sentences. “O sige! O sino pa? Pasok! Pasok!”
Cinco went on to create the billowing, larger-than-life eco-couture dresses featured in ANTM Cycle 16.
“You’ve created a level of branding when it comes to Filipino. Michael Cinco is the peg for the brand of Filipino designers when it comes to ANTM. So when I pitch a designer to them, he has to be as good as Michael Cinco. [After he got in] everything else became easy.”
The Filipino designers have been received “with open arms” by the ANTM judges and models, he added. ANTM finalists Dominique Reighard and Allison Harvard even flew in to Manila to model for the Bench show during Philippine Fashion Week Holiday ’12, wearing Cinco’s creations.
Having worked closely with Tyra Banks, Carandang said he learned a lot from her.
“She is a very smart business person who understands her branding. And she’s also a television producer. Before she was whisked away to Paris at 17 years old, she actually made it to University of Southern California. She was gonna go to school for producing. She really wanted to work in the film and TV industry. Kaso, she got the opportunity to model so she took it and went to Paris and that’s what happened.
The Michael Carandang Brand
“So when you work for someone that really loves what they do, that really understands who they are as a brand, it’s such a learning experience. And that’s what I got from her, ’cause she really takes branding seriously. You don’t see her endorsing things [na] kung anu-ano lang, or being associated with certain things.”
So what is the Michael Carandang brand?
“My friend Ivy Kirzhner, who’s also Filipino and creates shoes, created a hashtag that I kind of adopted. It’s called “Filiphenomenal.” So a Filiphenomenal producer, global Pinoy, dugong barako, part ‘yun ng brand.
“But branding is also who you associate with, and I think in my history I’ve been associated with Tyra, America’s Next Top Model, Bench. With association comes responsibility, that you support only certain brands, you only talk about certain things.”
“I tend to only wear Bench. Before I became friends with Ben Chan, I was a fan of the brand, and I think any brand that elevates the way our country is being perceived not just domestically but internationally is somebody that I really, truly respect.”
He is also set to do a documentary about the brand’s 25 years, and to work on the “much-anticipated underwear show.” With much gusto, he said, “We just did the go-sees this past weekend. Grabe. Ang saya. Ang sarap maging judge sa go-see.”
Upon his return, Carandang co-produced Basco Balikbayan with Giselle Toengi. “It airs on GMA Pinoy TV. I went to Davao, Puerto Princesa, Naga, Donsol, Boracay. We went all over the Philippines and it’s such a great experience to be able to be back.” He plans on doing “a couple of [other] shows,” too.
The guy who began his career as an on-the-job trainee in ABS-CBN’s Magandang Tanghali Bayan (MTB) said, “My focus is to work for the show that I wanna work with. I would never take a job that I don’t care for. I don’t care if it’s for television, if it pays a lot of money. Why get a job that is based on only one aspect, which is financial benefit?
“With MTB, napaka-big fan ako ng MTB nung araw. Si ano pa nu’n, si Willie, si Randy, si John Estrada, tapos may counterpart sila, si Marvin Agustin, si Dominic Ochoa, at si Rico Yan. ‘Yung heyday talaga nung ano… Kaya nag-OJT ako du’n.”
Carandang also worked in ASAP, and in the States, became production assistant for The Jerry Springer Show.
“Jerry Springer the same thing. I love Jerry Springer; I was a fan of the show.”
Has he seen its Filipino counterpart, TV5′s Face to Face?
“Yes,” he replied animatedly. “And it’s really funny and I like it. What I like is they took an idea, that’s The Jerry Springer Show, and made it Filipino. What I love about that is that meron pang mga panel. They made it entertaining, and they produced it! Amy Perez is the perfect host ’cause she’s able to translate what the audience is feeling without making the guest feel like it’s a joke, and I think it’s really important for someone who’s hosting a show like that.”
So aside from having its own version of an American show, how else has the Philippines changed since he was growing up in Tanauan?
“Skyline. You know how people say, o sa Amerika ganito, sa Amerika ganyan. My gosh, the Fort is prettier than some of the places I’ve been in. I think what we have in the Philippines that we didn’t have when I was growing up is nung bata ako, ‘pag nasa Tanauan ako, gusto kong pumunta sa mall, kailangan kong pumunta sa Ortigas sa Megamall. Ngayon ‘pag nasa Tanauan ako, punta lang akong Calamba, may mall na du’n. Punta lang akong Lipa, may mall na rin du’n. Hindi mo na kailangang umalis para malaman kung anong mayroon sa Manila.”
And does he plan to stay?
“I know I’m gonna buy a place. Nothing is definite. I never wanted to buy a house. I lived in Chicago, didn’t wanna buy a house there. I lived in LA, didn’t wanna buy. Lived in New York, didn’t care about it. But live in Manila? I wanna buy a place sa Fort or sa Makati.”