To re-introduce the second season of reality show Pinoy Dream Academy, ABS-CBN showed reruns of the first season on Studio 23. So everyday last week, we were reminded of how great the talent actually was last year. Too, it was a reminder of how many of them turned out: those who haven’t become near-extinct have been forced into becoming “actors” instead of just singers; those who are seen more regularly on television have been forced to fit into the mold of the “acceptable” TV star.
Anyone who watches the shows on ABS-CBN would know exactly what acceptability means for the network, at least as far as star creation is concerned. Case in point: is there one morena girl in that stable of stars? Save for Nikki Gil, who has remained her old morena self, everyone has become practically the same fair – and acceptable – color. Even more true for PDA’s Star Dreamer Yeng Constantino who, in the reruns, looks more her age and seems to be more comfortable in her own skin.
Seeing her on the variety show ASAP every Sunday, Constantino always looks uncomfortable alongside actresses and singers (and of course singer-actresses as contemporary showbiz requires everyone to be) with their “flawless” white skin, rebonded hair and made-up faces. And while Constantino has conformed as seamlessly as possible to the way these other girls look – sometimes disappearing in those buffet (i.e., everyone possible is included) song numbers – this doesn’t keep the conformity from being discomforting.
Because as the reruns remind me, Constantino was quite the unique girl, over and above the distinct clothing style (Chuck Taylors were a staple), and humble beginnings. Beyond skin, she was also the edgy girl, reconfiguring the classic “I Will Survive”- preempting David Cook. Constantino was also writing her own songs then, proving creativity beyond just the mimicry that many others – contestants and professional singers – are wont to do.
Now though, there’s a lack of celebration for what Constantino actually can do, and what makes her distinctly different from the singers that surround her. Too often, they force her to do vocal calisthenics, in showdowns with divas and belters, never mind that it’s just not her style. Or that it doesn’t do justice to her voice and her rock ‘n’ roll roots.
New season, new dreams
And so it is with hope that I’ve been watching the new – and I daresay improved – version of PDA, with a new set of mentors that so far include Ryan Cayabyab, Jose Javier Reyes and Kitchie Molina. While we have yet to hear Molina say something more than “relax your jaw, you need to relax your jaw” to every contestant, the combo of Mr. C and Reyes is a joy to watch. Unlike the first season, both seem more open to difference, encouraging confidence in the dark skinned girl who’s insecure about her color, and the overweight girl who sings better than most.
Reyes of course is quick to assert in the round table discussions with the other mentors: we have to admit, it will be hard to sell this person. The unsaid being the weight and the color, the less than perfect face.
Thankfully though, among the new mentors, and more importantly between Mr.C and Reyes, the right questions are asked, not just of the contestants, but of the judges as well: should her looks keep her from getting into the next round? should the sob story be as important as the voice? should the voice be the most important thing?
Image versus talent
Often though, it is this question that reverberates: can we fix her image? This is also the most disconcerting. Because it is a reminder that to a certain extent, these contestants are seen as broken – that the overweight, the dark, the curly-haired, the not-so-pretty skin must be mended in order for these singers to be acceptable. It’s no different from what has happened to Constantino, even when her albums and concerts allow for her rock ‘n’ roll roots, and real self, to show.
And even then, I look at Mr. C and imagine that there is hope. Because he knew enough to take on regular looking girls like Jolina Magdangal and Tenten Munoz for 14k, and unknowns like Jeffrey Hidalgo, Geneva Cruz and Tony Lambino for Smokey Mountain. Because even with the Ryan Cayabyab Singers, voice and talent seems to be the most important thing. Let’s hope he can go up against the star creation – standardization – of ABS-CBN.
Then it will be said, that Mr. C is not only Pinoy Idol’s loss and Pinoy Dream Academy’s gain. If he can affect the notions of beauty that TV culture sells, he will be all of ours.