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At Large

Pinoy pride at ‘Asia’s Got Talent’

It really isn’t strange, or puzzling, that of the nine finalists in “Asia’s Got Talent,” the Asian franchise of the global talent search airing on AXN, four are from the Philippines.

They may not be household names—yet—even among Filipinos, but I have a strong suspicion that El Gamma Penumbra, Gerphil Flores, Gwyneth Dorado and Junior New System will soon be. This, regardless of who wins in the AGT finals next week, or even if none of the four Filipino entries gets the $100,000 cash prize for the first-place finisher.

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For now, especially after the mesmerizing finals night show a few days ago, it is enough that the two performance groups and the two individual performers did the country proud. “Representing!” as the leader of El Gamma Penumbra “shadow play” troupe exulted. All four certainly lifted our spirits and our national pride, at the time still hurting from the adverse decision against our own “Pambansang Kamao” in a still-controversy-laden aftermath filled with charges and countercharges, name-calling and threats of lawsuits.

Even if you don’t customarily follow talent competitions, the four finalists in AGT have given all of us Pinoys enough reason to exult and to lift our heads high. They showed the world, or Asia at least, that the wealth of Filipino artistic talent is neither myth nor hype, that we live up to our reputation.

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On many a trip abroad, especially in conferences or international meetings, the Filipino delegation is often called on to render a song number. It’s as if the world expects every Filipino to be nursing a Lea Salonga or a Charice or even a Martin Nievera inside. And guess what, despite our nerves or our real lack of musical talent, the Pinoys manage to muddle through. Even if the selected number is nothing more innocuous than “Bayan Ko.”

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Of the four Filipinos in the AGT finals, two had previous experience in the local franchise “Pilipinas Got Talent.”

Gerphil Flores, to whom “dreamcrusher” David Foster had given his “golden buzzer” vote, made it as far as the semifinals in PGT. She was then known as “Fame,” and I suspect the change in moniker played a huge role in her improved chances in AGT. She was certainly moving with her performance of “Impossible Dream,” which holds a deep meaning for many Filipinos, being Ninoy Aquino’s theme song.

“El Gamma Penumbra,” which started out as a hip-hop dance crew based in Tanauan, Batangas, was a finalist in the third season of PGT. I first laid eyes on them at the closing of the Asia-Pacific conference on reproductive health and rights, held last year at the PICC, and their dramatization of RH themes filled my heart with nationalistic pride.

For their AGT auditions, which also won a golden buzzer from the judges (sending them straight to the finals), their manager Dong Pilotos said the young members rehearsed their blocking “for 12 hours a day for eight days.” Certainly worth noting was judge Anggun’s comment after their environmental-protection-themed finals presentation that the time in-between performances since the auditions has been getting shorter, but every performance since then has been better than the last.

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Gwyneth Dorado, I must confess, rather underwhelmed me. Only her dimples that flanked her lips were worth noting, although, based on social media comments, those dimples seem to be a strong suit. It turns out that Gwyneth embarked on a singing career many years ago, posting her singing on YouTube since she was eight years old. I found her initial performance, accompanied only by a guitar, rather charming. And I am glad that she chose to be accompanied only by a pianist in her finals performance of “Titanium.” That way, she avoided being drowned out by a band, as she was during her semifinals gig.

Judging by the video shown before a performance, the teen boys of Junior New System all come from impoverished backgrounds, as their urban poor community showed. But there was nothing “poor” about their performances, from the bright yellow heels they donned in the semifinals to the American-football-themed mash-up dance number they spiced up with breathtaking physical stunts and outright dangerous leaps and rolls.

They also seemed genuinely moved by the enthusiastic response of the judges (which included Melanie C, formerly of the Spice Girls, and Taiwanese actor Van Ness Wu) and of the audience. And like El Gamma Penumbra, they expressed pride in their being Filipino.

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Much as I dearly wish for one of the four Filipino contenders to take the AGT crown, I sincerely would not mind if any one of the other five finalists emerges winner.

Holding a special place in my heart is Khusugtun from Mongolia, who lived up to their stated intent to preserve their native culture. Their devotion to Mongolian arts, the integrity of their performance, the unshakeable dignity they displayed were moving and admirable.

Gao Lin and Liu Xin from China, an acrobatic-ballet pair, imbued their romantic performance with grace and daring. I literally held my breath as Gao Lin hoisted Liu Xin, knowing that he had hurt his back in rehearsals. But he captured the public’s affection by proposing to his partner before exiting the stage. Talk about leaving your audience in awe!

I also found Dance Thrilogy, a troupe of preteen girls from Singapore, sweet and amazingly coordinated. Triqstar from Japan was a blend of agility and mysticism. While Talento, young schoolboys from Indonesia, displayed quite an astonishing transition.

Of course I’m rooting for the Pinoys, and I am rather confident one of them will emerge the winner. But thanks, AGT, for giving us, week after week, a great show!

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TAGS: Asia’s Got Talent, El Gamma Penumbra, Gerphil Flores, Gwyneth Dorado, Junior New System
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