ASK any Filipino if he likes singing and the answer 99 percent of time is inevitably “Yes, I love singing!” So it is not surprising that The Filipino Channel’s talent contest Pop Star Search 2006 has garnered enormous interest from the Filipino community in the Kingdom. With the grand prize for the Middle East champion being a new house and lot in Manila worth 1 million pesos, the stakes have never been higher.I was not even aware that the contest had started earlier this year as I had been away in the UK and my TFC subscription had lapsed in March, but a few weeks ago I received a call from Rosalino “Sonnee” Duque, the manager of one of the Jeddah contestants who had failed to make it in the local finals. He claimed that one of the judges had gone against his bet, Feliciano “Sonny” Austria, and scored him lowly in the final. Duque filed a formal complaint with the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah on April 24.“I have been witness to a singing competition which I believe involved preferential treatment and evident partiality in judgment of the contestant’s performances that may have in general inflicted injustice in the way the whole event was conducted,” wrote Duque in his complaint, a copy of which was supplied to me.The judge in question, Ferdie Esguerra, according to Duque, voted favorably for Austria until the final when he suddenly voted against him because of an alleged grudge. The grudge occurred during an earlier elimination round when Austria was performing a dance number during which Esguerra stood up and talked to the other judges, his attention momentarily distracted from the performance. Austria complained to the Jeddah regional organizer, Jhun Abris, who allegedly relayed the complaint to Esguerra.“That is not true that the judges were not paying attention. How can he say that when he was number one at that time,” Abris told me in a phone interview. “Where will he go with that when he is always complaining?”The winners of the Jeddah competition were Aubrey Caparros, aged 16; Edgar Vicente, who is in his mid-20s, and Caroline Joy Lopez, 14. They are competing in the Kingdom’s grand final today in Riyadh.Unlike regular singing contests, Pop Star is slightly different in that it aims at finding the next star not only in voice quality, but in looks, dance ability and emotive connection to the audience. That it overwhelmingly stresses youth comes as no surprise, even though the age restriction in the competition’s rules say the search is open to Filipinos aged 15 to 35. How Lopez qualified at 14 is a mystery, but that is another story.Austria at 34, and balding, was certainly pushing his luck at winning the contest, but his good voice quality, confidence and solidity as a performer made him an early favorite among audiences and judges alike.I watched a DVD of the Jeddah final and personally feel that Duque should have made it to the top three and had the chance to perform in Riyadh.The performance of one of the winners, Edgar Vicente, singing “Somewhere Down the Road”, was rather painful to watch as he sang out of tune. Even one of the judges, Ahjid Sayas, said in his on-the-spot critique of Vicente that, “I heard some cracks in your voice and some misplaced tunes. It’s because of over practice or you are tense. I don’t think that ‘Somewhere Down the Road’ will be your ticket to Riyadh. You should have chosen a better piece.”The organizer of Pop Star Search in the Kingdom, Riyadh-based SE Productions, has naturally vehemently defended the decision of its judges in the Jeddah contest.“This is a competition. The judges’ decisions are final. We cannot influence the results,” said Rani Basanta, the CEO of SE Productions, in a phone interview from Riyadh. “We don’t owe an explanation to anyone. We cannot be sure that a performer will be first in each round. If your look is not like that of a star you have to look at that.”Indeed, his Jeddah counterpart, Abris, says as much in their official response to the complaint addressed to the Philippine Consulate: “For the information of Mr. Duque, I analyzed the scores of his talent, Mr. Sonny Austria, who did not make it during the Evaluation round.“As per the analysis in the tabulation sheet, it shows that Mr. Sonny Austria has somehow outshined in the Performance and Voice Quality criteria, but has low scores in the Image-Attire Compatibility, Interview and Interaction, and Potential and Dancing Skills.”So what does Duque want now, given that it’s too late to have a rematch?“I only want to hear directly from the judges themselves why they voted against Sonny. I want an explanation as to why,” Duque told me.****One Earns Respect
I WAS glad to read Neal Cruz’s May 1 column in the Inquirer, “Respect is earned, not forced on others,” in which he makes the crucial point that Maria Theresa Pangilinan was not wrong in heckling President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo because the priority should be given to a citizen’s right to protest over showing respect to the president.This was the point that I was also trying to make in my column last week (“Heckling Arroyo Was the Right Thing to Do”). A point that was obviously lost on some of my readers who wrote to me to complain about the so-called “bastos” behavior of the student.How shouting “Patalsikin si Gloria!” can be interpreted as being deeply offensive is beyond me. It’s not like Pangilinan shouted “Go to Hell!” or used any obscenities.I find it surprising that some people cannot fathom civil disobedience and dissent as perfectly legitimate, non-violent forms of protest. Sure I realize that Filipinos are fed up with coup rumors, but to just sit back and allow a president who cheated in the elections to get away with it is beyond me. She should be reminded daily, by courageous private citizens such as Pangilinan, that the Filipino people remember her dirty tricks and that they haven’t forgiven her and won’t stop reminding her until she resigns.