Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ill Will

The highlights in the lives of Filipinos based in Saudi Arabia are simple: payday, pay raises, annual vacation back to the Philippines, and opportunities to watch other kabayans dance and sing. In Riyadh alone, the embassy compound is regularly booked because it is probably the only safe space to conduct musical performances in the city.

Here in the Eastern Province, the dibs and dabs are all over, a big night at a performance would normally draw a full house.

Here now comes TFC PopStar.

A clever marketing gimmick by ABS-CBN's global service, The Filipino Channel, the contest finally found its way into Saudi Arabia. Our organization earlier submitted a bid to run this contest with the franchise holders in the country, but our allied organization Saring Himig won the bid because of their closer relationship. In retrospect, it was a wise decision for us not to push for running this show - our time and energy would have been focused to run the show, at the expense of our clinics suffering. Yes, it was a wise decision.

I don't know if it was really wise, though, to bid for the sound system. One, I knew we wouldn't make as much money because the Saringhimig guys were our friends and as such, we weren't expected to charge them much. Two, there would be all sorts of questions should technical goofs arise. More on this later.

Camille, whose belting out "Bukas Na Lang Kita Mamahalin" by Lani Misalucha is featured in my photo album (I'm having problems posting so I will see what to do with this next post), was one of our bets to make it to the Riyadh finals. Her contemporary, Guen, faded in the last elimination round (much to my dismay, for I had her rated a notch higher than Camille). They weren't my students, but I did manage to direct them for their recital last year. They're good kids, with their hearts in the right places, and rooting for them would be natural as opposed to it being a matter of esprit de corps for our organization.

Nine hopefuls made it to the regional final - and only four of them teenagers, though two of them, to my mind, are rock-solid all the way to Dubai. The first, Kim M., is a vocal fireball with a "I-know-I'm-too-good-so-I-can-be-bitchy-but-I-feel-sorry-for-you-so-I-will-be-kind" attitude. God knows what will happen to her if she or her parents have to deal with failure. The second, Jasmine A., has the vocal cords but not the panache of Kim, only she is miles ahead in the looks department - her appeal can be encapsulated in the immortal lyrics of Tim Rice: "Of all the talent, a cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint." And they're both only 14 years old or thereabouts.

(Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Shut your trap, I'm trying to be objective here, though saying things like that about 14 year olds gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

My other big bet was one of our friends too - Tim M., though I had serious reservations about his being a Pop Star (capitals intended), what with his being married, his being in the 30s and his dated '70s/'80s musical sensibility. He had talent to win the contest, but something was very wrong about his packaging/song choices. The others had varying degrees of chances to succeed in the competition. I knew Camille didn't have the horses to make it to Riyadh, but one never knows, that's why we have these tests of skill. The outside bet was Alma A., who had all the goods but not enough power in her vocal engine. She always had a fresh image, but a hackneyed performance for one of her songs could be fatal.

We were not really involved in the running of the show though on the side our group provided the intermission numbers (dancers) and on the side, I actually scripted the spiels for the show because the Saringhimig guys were hard-pressed to come up with a passable script. (I'd rather take no credit, just giving assistance, given what happened later in the show.)

Show day arrived and the only remaining worries were the two professional microphones we were renting and the CDs we were supposed to play for the show. I should have been antsy but I wasn't. We had our set-up the previous evening and I was expecting the material would have been there and that we would run through the program as agreed upon. As I had expected, our principals weren't ready and we wasted the evening (well, at least we didn't have to lift anything heavy on Friday morning). It was our Chairman's birthday, and as par for the course, we partied well into the wee hours of the morning. Which probably explained why I was loose.

Call time was 12pm and I arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule. Our microphones did not arrive until 1:00pm. Neither did the performers and organizers. While we waited, we did the full test to make sure we wouldn't be bedeviled by equipment failure. We only began preparations for the show in earnest at around 3 pm because that was the only time the organizers were available. We did a sound check with all 9 contestants and all the microphones were OK. There was, however, not enough time to check ALL the 20 separate CDs and two cassette tapes that would be used. The wise move would have been to play them all.

BUT....There was not enough time to play them from start to finish, which I would have done if we were the creative control behind the show. What I managed to do was transfer all of the fast songs, the TFC theme, and the dance tracks to the laptop that I brought to the show.

Showtime came and I noticed that there was a little more electricity in the air than the last time we supplied the sound system for the first evaluation round (about a month back). The audience was more pumped up and even the crew was moving with a more sprightly step. That comes with more preparation, I would surmise. However, I know it wasn't that great yet.

Preparation couldn't mask the poor choices the show director had for the opening numbers- thumbs up for choosing "Vogue" but where did "Wild Boys" come from? Not only did the song seem hackneyed, it was downright faggy, no offense to homosexuals, of course. I also was a bit put off by the clothes they gave the girls for the production number.

Camille did give it her all - but her tired vocal cords and her lack of preparation washed out whatever chances she had. Her vocal placement was all shot, though she did pretty well in all other aspects. In a thinner field, she would have done well and qualified. The whole group was just too stacked.

Jasmine showed little of the fever that was troubling her the previous evening, when she didn't practice with the rest of the hopefuls. Jitters or no, she shook off whatever tension she had. Her performance was well-received. On a technical level she still had to reach her full potential. The ceiling has not been fully laid for what this girl could do. Her qualifying was almost a given. It's a shame I wouldn't be in Riyadh to watch out for her - I'll be in Dubai (where I am now completing this post.)

The kids who now make up the SPA Dancers gave an incredibly good performance --- I did take a page from the retro theme of the production numbers and recommemended "Footloose" and "Just Got Lucky."

The performances worked out but for an unbelievable hitch --- and the performers played out to their strengths, except for one contender who was really off-key during the fast song portion.

The GREAT MACHINE that was SPA ran smoothly. All the parts ran in harmony. Starting with the transport of the sound system, and as always, the Porcioncula deserves all the credit for graciously hosting SPA headquarters. We were able to marshal all the equipment we required. And --- the SPA ladies cheered so loudly and were so ornery that pound for pound they were the loudest members of the gallery. The competence of the team was understated --- all I had to do, at best, was to point the guys to where we should go. It was an easy job.

And then it happened. Kim M. sang her version of Celine Dion's "To Love You More." The CD literally STOPPED! I felt the eyes of the crowd bore on me, and all I could do was throw up my arms --- what could I do?

One small beat, two small beats, three small beats of my heart and then the CD came back on. After a momentary loss of composure, she went and had a great comeback. It was a bravura performance. I hadn't seen its like for a long time.

Which brings up the question --- did she do better because of the glitch, or in spite of it? Who knows, really?

But then, all the fruits of the ill will between our two groups would manifest themselves.

More in my next post (you didn't think I would give the entire story in one go, didn't you?)

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