I’m not a fan of “American Idol,” but like other Filipinos, I thrilled to Jessica Sanchez’s “save” by the show’s judges. It was all over the Internet and I caught a video of it in Yahoo. According to the reports, Sanchez, a 16-year-old Fil-Am from San Diego got the lowest votes from home viewers and was in danger of being eliminated.
Sanchez had been a show favorite, consistently doing well week after week. For good reason: She had a wonderful voice and she showed a depth of soul beyond her years. When she finally landed in the bottom three, courtesy of American viewers, the judges couldn’t believe it. Shock registered on the faces of Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler when the vote was read. Sanchez was made to do a last-chance performance, and she chose to sing Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here.”
She never got the chance to finish. All three judges stormed onto the stage in the middle of her song to protest her plight. “Give me that mic,” shouted Lopez. “This is crazy! Yes, we’re using the ‘save.’ You’re not going home. Go sit down, go sit down.” (The “save,” apparently introduced some years ago, allows the judges to overrule the votes once per season.)
Jackson added: “We are saving Jessica without any doubt. Let me just say this for myself, Steven, and Jennifer. This girl is one of the best singers in America—ever. Are you kidding me? Please, everybody, please vote for the best. It’s about finding the best. I mean, come on.”
What can I say? It’s one of those things that make it a joy to wake up in the morning. I’d learn later, from Nestor Torre’s column, that Fil-Ams have consistently been making waves in the contest. Or at least been joining it. Among them are Jasmine Trias and Camille Velasco, both of whom have had successful musical careers afterward. But the judges’ intervention to “save” Sanchez is as high a moment as you can get, and if for that alone, studio doors will be swinging open for her before long. If she goes on to win the contest, as glowing tributes to talent like that have been known to do, she’ll be the biggest thing to happen since Charice Pempengco. Certainly, there will be universal jubilation—and karaoke singing—among Filipinos from San Diego to San Fernando.
There’s an upside and downside to this.
The upside is patent. Quite apart from the sheer joy of it, there’s the not inconsiderable matter of national pride. Or pride in roots for Filipinos in America in particular. Music and boxing have been the Filipino’s claim to fame, as they have been for African-Americans, in the latter’s case breaking down formidable barriers and allowing one of them to go all the way to the White House. If music is the way the Filipinos in the United States will get the acknowledgment or even admiration that has eluded them in their newfound home, by all means let them use it to their advantage.
Boxing and music themselves have acquired such mythic overtones in our culture that we have come to associate them with veritable survival or salvation. In the movies, Erap did the slugging and Nora Aunor the singing, delivering themselves from cruel destitution (in Aunor’s case backed up by reality) and even crueler gangland bosses. Boxing and music have remained hugely popular to this day, as the ubiquitous karaoke shows in the case of music, if indeed they have not become more so. Boxing has been boosted to rarified heights by Manny Pacquiao’s rarified feats, and music has been been sent soaring to the same place by Lea Salonga’s soaring accomplishments. And not so long ago by Arnel Pineda’s own, which has given no end of inspiration to struggling musicians.
The downside is a little more subtle. I’ve never been a fan of “American Idol,” or its local versions, because of one thing. While they encourage creativity in performance, they discourage creativity in composing. The shows do not allow originals, they allow only covers.
That is not a problem in the United States, which has an entire music industry that produces new songs by the thousands every day. That is a problem here where OPM, which has remained fledgling to this day, soaring to glorious heights one moment and lapsing to mediocre depths the next. Not unlike Filipino movies, which have had golden ages followed by leaden ones, the second lasting longer than the first. Indeed, not unlike the country itself, which has risen to moments of absolute brilliance only to wallow in interminable periods of obscurity.
A show like “American Idol” can only be good for the American music industry, increasing the reach of its popular music. The same show, or its local counterparts, cannot always be so to the local music industry, such as we still have one, increasing the reach of foreign popular music but not our own. Unless of course you limit the songs only to OPM—by which I mean not just “mainstream” OPM but “alternative” and “underground” Pinoy music as well, or indeed traditional and completely original Filipino music such as the kundiman.
So while I thrill to Jessica Sanchez’s feat in “American Idol” and will root for her all the way, I also wonder if things like this do not stall rather than unleash the full force of the Filipino genius in music in the long run. We’ve never had problems performing, we’re world-class there, as we’ve repeatedly shown. Well, we’ve never had problems composing either, we’re world-class there, too, as the kundiman shows. But that is something we’ve yet to show the world. You’ve got to wonder when our world-class talent for performing will intersect, or be brought to bear, on our world-class talent for composing. You’ve got to wonder when someone will finally say: “Are you kidding me? This is one of the best music in the world—ever. It’s all about finding the best.”
I mean, come on.
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