‘Vocal gymnastics and high-notes can only take you so far. And really, there is nothing new or original about the ability to replicate the talents of Whitney Houston or other powerful female singers.’
angelica hale standing on stage America’s Got Talent,
“I’m nine years old,” she says. “I want to be the next Whitney Houston. “I want to be a superstar.”
A few moments later, she begins with the lyrics to Andra Day’s “Rise Up”: “You’re broke and tired…” She sings, and her throbbing vibrations convey poetry. In the pre-chorus, Angelica’s powerful chest voice transforms into a delicate head voice. The crowd erupts and cheers. When she finishes the song with a crisp falsetto, the judges – Howie, Mel B, Heidi and Simon – give her a standing ovation.
angelica’s audition America’s Got Talent One of the many show-stopping, viral performances by Filipino singers on the reality talent show. On YouTube, there is no dearth of such videos. One performance I found myself re-watching included Ivy Grace Paredes’ cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” x factor uk, which receives a standing ovation not only from the crowd or judges, but also from his fellow contestants. In another viral performance, TNT Boys sang Beyonce’s “Listen” the world’s best. And RuPaul, the pageant judge, tells them, “Shantay, you stay.” Video compilations such as “20 Filipino Auditions That Shocked the World…” are abundantly available online. And a quick Google search will reveal that Filipinos are excelling in international talent competitions from the US to England, Australia to Ireland, Canada to Germany.
Watch these enough and you’ll realize that in reality talent competitions, the Filipino singer has become somewhat of a genre trope. Often, she is female, young and dreaming of making it abroad, where the music market is bigger and more profitable than at home. She has the range of a soprano (even in cases when the Filipino singer is, instead, male) and draws artistic inspiration from soulful, powerful female singers of the 2000s and 2010s. Their audition song is a record that ends with a powerful belter, a whistle note, or a smooth vocal like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera. If she performs more contemporary songs? Chances are this includes Demi Lovato, Jessie J, Ariana Grande (see: 4th Impact’s viral X-Factor audition for “Bang Bang”), or one of the many rising practitioners of vocal gymnastics. When the Filipino singer performs – and she always does – the audience is shocked, the judges are happy and everyone stands up and applauds.
The discussion has since become so common that Simon Cowell once told a Filipina contestant, “I always think a lot of people where you’re from are amazing singers.” Nowadays, abroad and online, I can’t escape the fact that Filipino identity and good singing have become one and the same thing. In a recently viral Instagram reel, a Filipino man plays Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” at perfect pitch. The caption reads, “Karaoke is the national game of the Philippines.”
At my own karaoke nights, when I muster enough singing skills to sing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in the original key and change from tenor to alto, my non-Filipino friends are totally unimpressed: “Of course. You can sing. You philippines,
When I was 10 years old, I remember watching Filipina contestant Jessica Sanchez sing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” American Idol 11th season. My parents and I lit up with the classic “Pinoy Pride” when Randy Jackson described him as “one of America’s greatest talents.” Right then and there, the success of Filipino singers in reality talent shows became a source of national pride. I remember the exchange over text between Titas and Lolas in a YouTube repost of his performance, and how then-President Noynoy Aquino rallied behind him, making sure to tour Sanchez in the United States. even after that time American IdolSanchez maintained his status as a national icon by singing “Lupang Hinirang” before Manny Pacquiao’s boxing matches.
But if our singers in reality shows are so deeply connected to our global identity and national pride, why do we never win? Angelica Hale, despite receiving the coveted Golden Buzzer twice America’s Got Talent, finished only runner-up. So was Jessica Sanchez, who failed to take first place, despite Filipino fans voting illegally using Skype and a VPN. Apart from those I have already mentioned, the surplus of Filipino acts on reality singing have gone far in their respective shows, only to be consistently eliminated before the finale – 4th Impact, Alisha Bonabra, Maria Larocco, Jazz. Vinson, Katriz Trinidad, Mary Ann van der Horst, Sefi Francisco, Nenethe Lyons, and many others unnamed.
The Filipino singer has sung her high-notes. She tucks and falls and spins in a beautiful series of vocal gymnastics. But when she does so, is she offering something new to the world of music? When she sings Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” or “I Will Always Love You” on stage X Factor Or American Idol (I’ve seen at least three different Filipino contestants sing each song) Is there anything new in her performance?
It’s impossible to keep impressing the same audience with the same tricks week after week. Vocal gymnastics and high-notes can only take you so far. And really, there’s nothing new or original about the ability to replicate the talents of Whitney Houston or other powerful female singers, as impressive as that may be. The Filipino singer has become predictable; One trick pony. That’s a tired, overused style. And she was doomed to fail from the beginning.
Kababayan, it’s time to stop singing Whitney Houston – or Mariah or Beyonce or Jessie J for that matter. Our tendency to imitate, as opposed to creating our own style, has limited Filipino talent internationally and online, preventing us from introducing something truly Filipino to the global music industry.
At home, the music scene is diverse and heterogeneous. A quick shuffle play of the rising OPM will reveal the different Filipino musical styles they are experimenting with. The discographies of artists like Sarah Geronimo, Yeng Constantino, and Moira Dela Torre are merely proof that Filipino singers don’t need to present themselves as vocal gymnasts or high-note hitters to achieve mainstream success. We have so much more to offer the world than just Whitney Houston covers, and now it’s time to share it. – Rappler.com
Patrick Kho is a Filipino media and culture critic for the New York City-based publication, Byline,