WORTH THE WAIT (excerpt)
StarStudio patiently wated five months for Sarah Geronimo and three months for Santino, a.k.a. Zaijian Jaranilla, to grace our cover—and in this issue, they have finally arrived—together…! --Biboy Arboleda (editor in chief)
Oct. 31, 2003. Sarah Asher Geronimo seemed to float onstage in a white Rajo Laurel gown, her hair pulled back into a tight knot at the base of her neck. Elegant and poised, she had the confidence of someone older than her 14 years as she stepped into the spotlight. She had so much riding on winning that night.
Inside, it was a different story. Sarah had a lot on her mind. Her sister, 16-year-old Johna Rizzi, had a dental problem that, if left unattended, could turn into something much worse. Cancer was a possibility. Doctors told the family that if Rizzi had any chance of beating the disease, she had to be operated on before she turned 17. The date would fall on Nov. 5, five days after the “Star for a Night” finals.
Sarah had to win for her family as much as for herself—but in the beginning, she wasn’t even that excited about trying out for the show. For 10 years, Sarah faithfully made the rounds of barangay singing contests, and auditioned for guest spots on TV shows, practically wherever she could find an outlet for her talent. She made her TV debut at age four. At first, it was fun—even when she got to take home the occasional box of Champola or biscuits as prize or payment. But when “Star ForA Night” came along, it found the now 14-year-old Sarah starting to grow discouraged and impatient. Recalls her mother Divina, better known as-Mommy Divine: “Malapit na siya magsawa noon kasi feeling niya, hindi siya nabibigyan ng break talaga.”
It would have been hypocrisy to say that Sarah didn’t dream of singing in front of big crowds when she was younger. She recalls that Celine Dion used that same word—hypocritical—when describing performers who say they never saw themselves singing to huge crowds. “Na-envision ko naman po ‘yan nung bata ako. Yun lang, dumating sa point ng buhay namin na na-discourage ako dahil sa hirap ng buhay at saka yung rejections, to the point na parang nawalan ka na ng self-confidence.”
But with the encouragement and support of her parents, Sarah decided to go for it one last time. “Star ForA Night” would be her last card. If this didn’t workout, and if she lost, she just might have quit singing—and it very nearly happened. Sarah auditioned for “Star For A Night” twice, and was rejected both times. With her will very nearly failing her, Sarah came back for a third audition at which the judges, who recognized her, asked: “Ikaw na naman?”
Maybe they decided to put her through out of pity, but once she was past that, Sarah sailed on into the weekly finals, the monthly finals, and the Grand Finals. And it was there, on the stage of the Aliw Theater, that Sarah Geronimo came into her finest moment. She launched into Celine Dion’s “To Love You More” with all the polish and confidence of a more seasoned performer. It was a role that was familiar to her. At age six, she knocked out the judges at a singing contest when she dared to take on Shirley Bassey’s “Greatest Performance of My Life.” “Nagulantang mga judges sa kanya kasi ang lilt-lilt niya, pero ang laki daw ng boses,” says Mommy Divine.
That night of Oct. 31, Sarah gave the greatest performance of her young life and won the grand prize of the contest that told her, twice, that she wasn’t good enough.
At her first press conference at the Viva office in Ortigas days later, Sarah had her initial taste of dealing with the press. An announcement was made that Viva had just signed up the “Star For A Night” winner to a 10-year, multi-platform contract. It struck some of the journalists present as audacious: Sarah was an unknown who had come out of left field to win a nationally-televised singing contest. She didn’t have a showbiz pedigree, like Viva’s prime talent during the ‘80s, Sharon Cuneta, niece to Tito Sotto and Helen Gamboa.
Sarah had much to learn. Thrust into the limelight overnight, she had to adjust to the idea of being groomed as the next big thing in the entertainment scene. At her first shoot for StarStudio—her first magazine cover ever—also just a few days after her “Star For A Night” win, Sarah dropped terms like awkward and weird as she spoke of how she felt. “Sa totoo lang, hindi po ako ready noon sa sobrang sudden fame. Right after manalo ako, pictorial na. Nag-video, nag-“SOP,” TV guestings. Biglaan talaga. Parang ang weird ng pakiramdam. Parang culture shock. Matatanong mo tuloy ang sarili mo, bakit mo ito ginagawa.”
She was on the fast train to fame. By the end of 2003, Sarah had accomplished what would have taken other newbies years to do: recorded a hit album (the “Star For A Night” commemorative CD, worked with A-list actors (in Viva’s Metro Manila Film Festival entries “Filipinas” and “Captain Barbell” with Maricel Soriano and Edu Manzano), acted on television (in her own teleserye, “Sarah the Teen Princess”) and performed in numerous gigs.
The journey had begun.
This success, sudden as it was, was easy to appreciate because it was in such stark contrast to what had come before it.
The tales are many: of how Sarah’s parents owned a business that went under like many others during the politically turbulent years when power outages forced a lot of low and middle-level entrepreneurs out of business. About how they struggled to cope with day-to-day expenses and tuition payments for four children still in school. Sarah’s mom had to sign off on promissory notes when there wasn’t enough money for tuition. The Geronimo siblings were in grade school at Dominican College, and private school was expensive. “Lagi kaming may promissory note. Regular iyan,” says Mommy Divine. It was thus a relief when they graduated and enrolled in high school. Sarah and her sisters—her brother Gabriel had not yet been born at the time—enrolled at the Education high school of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). A laboratory school of the university’s College of Education, the tuition was significantly less compared to what they used to pay at their old school. Their situation improved almost immediately, but there were still days that Sarah would walk from their house in Santa Cruz to the UST campus, “Para di ko kailangan gumastos ng pamasahe; sa pagkain na lang.”
But living this kind of life served its purpose; it toughened Sarah up. Without it, it would have been harder to face what was coming. She became very disciplined, especially about her singing. A former neighbor doesn’t remember seeing much of Sarah; but he heard her. “Every day, paggaling niya sa school, nagpapahinga lang sandali ‘yan, tapos mag-vo-vocalize na.”
It wasn’t as if Sarah was being forced to do this because her voice was the family’s ticket out of poverty. She loved singing. It was her outlet. From the time she was two years old, Sarah was exceptionally makulit, malikot and bibo. Her mouth never stopped moving, whether it was to sing or just to talk. When her mother would take the bus and Sarah was with her, instead of sitting down quietly next to her mom, little Sarah would walk up and down the center aisle of the bus, and smile and talk to people. She didn’t know them, but it didn’t make a difference.
The rest of her wouldn’t stop-moving as well. The kiti-kiti, giggly Sarah you see onscreen? It’s the same Sarah she used to be as a toddler. Her sisters were quiet and well-behaved; Sarah, by contrast, was a walking, talking bundle of excess energy. At home, she’d often be running around, crashing into furniture and whatever knick-knacks her mom displayed in the living room. “Laging nakakabasag ‘yan sa bahay. Wala kasing tigil ng kagagalaw. Energetic masyado,” recalls Mommy Divine.
The only time she stopped was when it was time to sing. At age three, Sarah couldn’t read that well yet, but could already memorize song lyrics almost as soon as she heard them. Among the first songs she memorized were two Michael Jackson songs: “Dangerous” and “In the Closet.” But because they were dance songs, her tongue wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the beat, and she would mess up the lyrics. “Na-me-memorize niya ang kanta, pero may pagka-bulol. Dalawang beses tang niya pakikinggan, kuha na niya agad. Ang tingin namin noon sa kanya, parang hindi normal. Para siyang tape recorder!” laughs her mother.
Singing was the one thing she was serious about. She never complained about having to practice her singing. Her father became her vocal coach, also because they couldn’t afford the money for formal music lessons. And if people think Sarah and Regine Velasquez have the same singing style, it’s probably because they were trained the same way: by immersing her in chest-deep waters. But because the Geronimo family lived in the heart of Manila where there were no natural bodies of water nearby, her parents used a drum filled with water. “Nilulubog namin siya sa drum na may tubig hanggang dibdib niya. Araw-araw ‘yan,” says Mommy Divine. “Hindi naman siya nagrereklamo kasi alani naman niyang gaganda ang boses niya sa ginagawa niya.”
Sarah was eight years old when the family’s finances took a bad turn. Her mom’s boutique was not doing well. But Sarah wouldn’t be dissuaded from singing. From a psychological point of view, it was probably the one thing that kept her sane in the midst of her family’s financial problems. Singing became her security blanket. “Tuloy-tuloy ang pagkanta niya hanggang mag 13, 14 years old siya,” recalls her mom.
Then came “Star For A Night.” Sarah was 14 years old, one of the youngest among the contestants. There were even concerns raised about whether this young girl was ready to be thrown into the media circus that would follow if she won.
The victories came slowly. When she won the weekly finals, the P50,000 that came with it went to paying their tuition and buying groceries. The P100,000 she got for topping the monthly finals went to paying off more debts and partially defraying her Ate Rizzi’s medical expenses. They signed a promissory note issued by the Holy Infant Jesus hospital stating that they would pay the balance of the P200,000 required for the surgery as soon as it became available. “Grabe ang tuwa niya,” says Mommy Divine of Rizzi. Sarah was even happier.
But the sweetest moment—for the whole family—came when Sarah won the grand finals, beating first runner-up Mark Bautista. It was the payback for all of Sarah’s hard work and the dreams of her family. “Sinuportahan talaga namin siya ng todo, pero hindi namin ini-expect na magkakaroon siya,” adds Mommy Divine.
Creating a star
When she did win, it was just the beginning. Finally, the limelight was on her. But Sarah and her parents would soon find out that being thrust from anonymity to center stage posed more challenges than they were ready for. That period became a very difficult time for her.
She needed to decide how to project herself as an artist, and how she was going to position herself musically. Was she a pop artist? A rocker? A biritera? She was a fan of Regine Velasquez, but her parents, explains Sarah, did not train her to sing in that style when she was younger. It required a huge adjustment. “Honestly, hindi po talaga ako bumibirit n’ung bata ako. Hindi ako na-train ng mga parents ko na kumanta nang matataas masyado. Mas pop po talaga ang style ko. Kaso nasa culture na natin na kapag pop singer ka, dapat nakakabirit ka. Yun ang struggle.”
In a flash, Sarah went from struggling unknown to Viva’s princess. Sharon Cuneta had done it before her, but Sharon had the showbiz pedigree; the fame was almost hers for the taking. She just had to reach out and grab it. For Sarah, it was going to involve a bit more work.
Boss Vic del Rosario of Viva Entertainment seemed to have it all planned out in his head. As producer of “Star For A Night,” he gave out not only a cash prize of P1 million, but also a managerial contract to Sarah. The 10-year, multi-platform contract would take Sarah into music, movies and television. By the time Boss Vic was through with her, she would be the next big thing. It was unprecedented for a newcomer, but also a virtual stamp of approval and statement of faith in Sarah’s talent. With Viva’s diverse but synergistic departments and sister companies, plus alliance with the major networks, Boss Vic had a lot of means to showcase his latest talent even from day one.
To turn Sarah into the star that Boss Vie believed she would become required the pulling together of efforts of several different people, on an almost Hollywood-like scale.
During Sarah’s early days in the business, Mommy Divine was her constant companion. The requirements of celebrity were still small enough to be handled by one person alone. Now, aside from her mom, there is one female assistant that both Sarah and Mommy Divine refer to as “Manang.” She takes care of Sarah’s personal effects. These days, even her father Delfin has been conscripted into Team Sarah. There is a handler—Chai Garcia, who doubles as Boss Vic’s personal secretary—and road manager (Jonathan Aligada) who help keep track of things, but everyone acknowledges the fact that it is Boss Vic who has had a personal hand in the building up of Sarah’s career since the beginning. “Everything emanates from him. From the very start, alam na n’ya ang mangyayari. We only execute his ideas,” says Jonathan, who does double duty as Sarah’s stylist. He creates Sarah’s look for her concerts, TV commercials, music video shoots and magazine pictorials by commissioning top-caliber professionals like photographer Jun de Leon and designers Rhett Eala and Rajo Laurel.
It was Boss Vic who gave the orders to cut back when he noticed Sarah was becoming too tired. Even Sarah herself acknowledges that the fatigue had a negative effect on her voice, her talent her over-all health. But she simply charged everything to destiny. If she was going to become a big star, she had to make sacrifices. She regrets nothing. “Oo, na-compromise ang talent,” rues Sarah. “Malaki ang effect sa voice, sa health. Medyo too late na, kasi hindi na maibabalik. Pero hindi ko naman ni-re-regret yun kasi yun naman ang nag-establish sa akin as Sarah Geronimo, di po ba? Parte ng buhay ko yun. Destiny ko na pagdaanan yun.”
Mommy Divine has seen too many young stars whose careers were ruined or whose popularity waned before it even got off the ground. That is why—at the risk of being called overprotective and being labeled a stage mother—she continues to be there for her daughter. To her, it is a matter of choice, dictated by her being a mother. She would rather not risk finding out what would happen to Sarah if she’s not around.
She takes care of everything for Sarah, from her clothes to her accessories. Sometimes, when Sarah has interviews, she stands by—or sometimes, it’s Daddy Delfin—with a mug of Sarah’s special drink or medicated chewing gum that keeps her throat moist. A dry throat is a singer’s worst enemy. One time, we came across Mommy Divine in the ASAP dressing room, folding Sarah’s clothes and putting them into a bag. “Hangga’t kaya ko, ginagawa ko. Gusto ko organized kasi mahirap ang magulo,” she says.
Mommy Divine wants to make sure that Sarah’s values and the simple life and ways she taught her daughter are not lost.
But there doesn’t seem to be any fear of that happening. If we were to judge by the tales we hear swirling around her, it would seem that Sarah hasn’t changed much. She’s richer now, but not acquisitive. Her road -manager Jonathan, who sometimes accompanies her on concert tours abroad, says that Sarah loves perfume. When they’re at airports, she’ll often disappear and the way to find her is to follow the trail of scents to a Duty Free shop, where you can find her sniffing the perfume. “Inaamoy-amoy niya ang mga pabango,” laughs Jonathan. “Sasabihin niya, ‘parang mabango ito.’ Sasabihin naman ng mommy niya, ‘Anak, ang dami mo nang pabango. ‘Wag na yan.”’
And Sarah, instead of complaining that she’s earning her own money and has every right to spend it the way she wants, will put the bottle of perfume down—without a frown or complaint.
When her Viva handlers give her a check, she signs the receiving copy without even looking at the amount and hands it over promptly to Mommy Divine.
It is mind-boggling to think that Sarah is only 20 years old, and already, she is a certified multi-media star. She holds the Box Office Queen title because of the box-office performance of her movies “A Very Special Love” and “You Changed My Life.” Gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums, sold-out performances and most of all, the respect of her older and more experienced colleagues—she has them all safely sewn into her back pocket.
So how does it feel to be a multi-media, multi-hyphenated, and multi-awarded star like Sarah Geronimo?
“It’s complicated,” she says. “Happy ako kasi ang mga dreams ko, nagkakatotoo na. Pero hindi po ito instant fame or success. Kung ano man ang narating ko, pinaghirapan ko talaga.”
Sure, there have been trade-offs. Sarah has not been able to enjoy the same things an ordinary 20-year-old enjoys. She hasn’t fallen in love, partied in a bar or done any of those things. Her life’s experiences are painfully limited, and she knows it. “Wala ako nung mga experiences na magpapalawak ng pagkatao ko. Kaya siguro may pagka-weirdo ako. Sabi ng iba, 20 na ako, childish pa rin.”
She read one article about her in which the writer basically told her to grow up and act her age. Sarah was not insulted. She realizes that the reason for her being this way is because she is a work in progress; an unfulfilled mission. “Siguro, ang dahilan ay marami pa akong gustong gawin na hindi ko na nagagawa.”
The journey goes on.
11 am, June 23, 2009
During her StarStudio shoot, Sarah redefined the concept of professionalism when she arrived at the venue earlier than the 1 pm calltime. Five layouts were shot by photographer Jun de Leon. With master Jun and Sarah working together, the shoot finished earlier than expected, leaving Sarah with enough time to make it to the celebrity premiere of the latest “Transformers” movie. A pop culture fan, Sarah also checked out the “Twilight” book and a recent issue of StarStudio.
[Guys, this particular photo shoot featured 18 photos of Sarah. 14 pages were devoted to Sarah. Collector's item ito. A gold mine for every Sarah fanatic. Power-buying na tayo! Grab a copy na! Di kayo magsisisi. Pramis. hehehe. --Ashtin]
Edited by ashtin, 24 July 2009 - 04:53 AM.