Working in the corporate catering industry I’m meeting celebrities, the rich, the famous, and the infamous constantly. Whether it’s movie premieres, UN conferences, or because a someone noteworthy has a charitable cause, like cleaning up the New York City streets or they recently planted a tree and they want the world to know… somebody has to be there to feed the crew, give booze to the stars, and bring magic to the experience. That’s what I do. After a certain amount of time, it all becomes passé.
The frustrating part is when you meet THAT famous someone who really did affect you in so many countless ways, you don’t know how to sum it up in 30 seconds or less. I’ve learned, when dealing with the famous, you only get 30 seconds at most, to impress them or impress upon them that, “hey, I really, really dig you… I am humbled by your very presence.” Even if those 30 seconds are granted, don’t expect any eye contact or a mere gesture indicating information was received.
When I got a formal introduction to Miss Regine Velasquez (and I say formal because I wasn’t working an event or getting anybody a cocktail), I realized my 30 seconds were already up because nothing could express all the emotions imploding inside. If you could see me now, I know the first thing to cross your mind, “why does this white boy like our Asia Songbird so much?” Where do I begin to tell you how a white boy from Montana ends up worshiping a Filipina idol? How quickly can I do this before my 30 seconds are up?
I moved to New York City in the summer of ’99. My first three New York friends I made just happen to be Filipinos. Dennis, one of my first Filipino friends, took me to this novel little Asian club catering to the “alternative” lifestyles. He paid for everything. I was broke and still new to the city. Any New Yorker will tell you, coming here on your own you can be broke for quite sometime. Dennis had a few more years on me in age and his duration in this metropolis.
It was time for the nightly “drag queen showdown” and I watched in skeptical awe the pageantry as lady bois competed for the night’s crown. Each lip-synced to the grandest dancehall divas, mesmerizing the audience with their sequined voodoo. The grand-prize winner could earn a few hundred, or the runner up – free booze. I wavered in my interest as the night grew long, but one performer caught my attention… not for the “stylings” but rather the song choice.
“I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” was a song originally recorded by a group called Aerosmith, but this was a different take all together… it was a female’s voice, full and sublime. I figured it was a Jessica Simpson, or some other up and coming white girl with pipes of glory ready to blaze the charts. I didn’t hear that song again for quite sometime.
It wasn’t until I was invited to have dinner with one of my other Filipino friends I made in New York, that I heard the song again. He played R2K on his stereo as he prepared some Filipino cuisine doing his best to make his lower east side apartment authentically “pinoy”. “Who is singing that song?” His grin gleamed with delight, “Oh, you know her? She’s our Asia Songbird. How do you know of her?” Long story, I wanted to say… but I finally got to learn of her name… REGINE VELASQUEZ.
With that, I embraced Regine as a sort of novelty. I accumulated some of her cd’s and movies through these Filipino friends. The more I spoke of her I realized there were more and more Filipinos in my life than I thought. She began to become this sort of iconic topic of conversation and bridge between Filipinos and I. Novelty didn’t turn into worship until I saw her in concert at the Beacon Theater.
It was the first summer after 9/11. Dennis was now BROKE himself. He had quit his semi-lucrative job and now I was the one on my feet, or at least for the time being.
I needed to pick up his pride. I bought our tickets to her concert. As the promoter put it, we were to sit in the “high roller” section. The first four rows are usually reserved for friends and family and those special guests who pay the top dollar. I was going all out for my friend and I. I got us in the fourth row, center stage.
It was THIS night that changed everything. Well… not everything, but what REGINE meant to me.
Anyone can sound great on studio recordings. They can “fix it in post” as they say in the film industry. The night was a showcase of Regine’s and Mister Ogie Alcasid’s favorite songs from film and greatest hits. The woman could sing. I mean, you could take away the microphone and still hear her belting out any given note from the sub-basement bathroom, behind walls of lead, or even in Jersey. The woman was pitch perfect.
Throughout the show, Ogie and Regine would dish some clever banter going in and out of Tagalog and English. Their rapport was a throw back to the variety shows like that of Sonny and Cher. They told jokes, belted out their tunes, and gave their all to the audience. They are true all around entertainers.
After the concert, Dennis and I went to a nearby café to reflect on the evening. I kept repeating over and over to Dennis, “my god, why isn’t she big here?” “Why aren’t their more Asian artists on the music scene in America?” “Is it racism?” “Wait, what about Mr. Sony?!? Can’t he do something???” “Oh my gosh, that woman was spectacular… “
I grappled with my lack of knowledge of the worldwide music industry and other conjured woes.
The vibrant Filipino culture and all of its worship and admiration for American Western Culture can best be summed up in its greatest, awe-inspiring artist Regine. Why can’t we Americans worship back or at least have the opportunity too?
When I finally got to travel to the Philippines, for the second time in less than a year, I knew a lot of it had to do with my friends and artists like Regine, who inspired me and made me more curious about these hidden talents from American Industry.
Luck would have it, the Filipino friend who played me R2K album had a best friend from high school who was now a t.v. and film producer making Regine’s next movie. Luck would also have it the two old friends still keep in touch. Circumstance would permit his friend to invite me to a limited engagement in which Regine was not only going to perform a concert with Piolo Pascual, Erik Santos, and Mark Topaz from the band Shamrock, but I was to meet the damsel as well.
I received a text message from the film producer. I could meet Regine and go to a small venue concert at Zirkoh in Timog. “What was a Zirkoh?” I thought. “Sounds pharmaceutical.”
Zirkoh can best be described as a club/cabaret hall. The club’s name “Zirkoh”, from what I’ve gathered, is derived from some Tagalog words encompassing the circus, drama, and romance. Mainly a comedy bar venue with nightly performances from eclectic artists, drag queens and female impersonators, Zirkoh is a modern day Moulin Rouge.
I was a bit nervous that he wouldn’t arrive because show time was in less than 15 minutes. Did I mention we hadn’t met yet? I had no clue what he even looked liked. I began to think I’d have better chance of seeing Regine by staring at my cd collection. Alas, the film producer arrived… my red hair and six foot stature must have given me away. Did I mention this was our first time meeting?
Zirkoh was practically spilling over with twenty something pinoys and pinays. Entertainment was already in progress. About seven to eight performers were onstage performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to an instrumental track. The music was booming and the performers vocals were top notch. The performers ranged from actor and actress types to what appeared to be transvestites or drag queens (I guess one could argue the later were still actor and actress types). Nonetheless, they were all a unified troupe onstage, belting their hearts out. As the film producer lead me toward the front row, all the spectators took turns ogling over the random white guy who just arrived. This drove me into a sweat. Thank god I wore dark colors, sweat stains won’t be so apparent.
Our tables were left of stage, and I wasn’t the only one in the producer’s close circle. Some of his other actors from Regine’s next film were also seated. I felt awful I didn’t know who they were, but maybe it was for the best… they tried to make me feel comfortable and I’m sure I was a bit of a curiosity to them. If I foamed at the mouth for them as well, I might have lost my charm.
Within moments, drinks were served and food arrived, but the producer motioned for me to head up the precarious winding staircase to the loft dressing rooms. “Be sure to get your camera ready, ok?” Ok, sir!
I passed Erik Santos, who was busy in make up. His highlighted hair immediately reminded me of California. The dressing area was tight and I could hear Regine’s voice being asked questions in a manner that suggested a formal interviewed. The producer went inside her dressing room then soon popped back out. “Okay, got your camera ready?”
“Oh sure,” wait a second… I ain’t gonna take her picture… I want to be IN the picture.
“You know how to operate one of these things? It’s digital.”
I had him take a test photo. It’s all good.
Regine appeared in casual, black blouse, trendy, torn jeans with a make-up artist attached at the hip executing final touches. How my heart raced. My thoughts were scattered and multiple. Every topic epitomizing this moment rang bombastically in my cranium… Regine, you know how much you’ve affected me? am I sweating too much? Wow, she’s the height I thought she’d be! Are we making eye contact? Does she find this all annoying? OH, how pretty she is! Did I trim my nose hairs?
“This is Dan, he came here from New York City and he is one of your biggest fans.”
“Oh no… really? He can’t be.” Her observation skated between coy and being baffled.
“I am one of your biggest fans!” I spoke… dear lord, make me stop…
“Oh, you couldn’t know me – how could you know me?” Ah-ha… she’s playing coy.
“Well, where do I start? You’re my all time favorite female singer! I’ve seen you at the Beacon Theater in New York! I’ve seen you perform with Ogie Alcasid in Atlantic City! I’ve seen your movies! I know who you are!” Help! I’m sounding stupid now.
Photos of us are taken, I blabber some more fragmented ramblings then Regine was whisked away.
Not much to write home about, I know. I met a woman I valued and revered. I was able to ever so briefly solidify my connection to Filipino culture and one of its most talented representatives. A moment that will give me goose bumps for times to come.
The producer and I made our way back to our tables. The cast prodded me on my meeting. I gushed gaily and drinks were poured, refilled, and poured again. Soon Regine took to the stage and the concert ensued. All I could do was glow.
I couldn’t help but think how this all came 360; the bar, the drag queens, the song, the friends, the trip, the bar, the drag queens and finally, the woman herself.
I would have loved to tell her of my voyage to her and her influence on Asian artists, Filipinos and people like myself. But when I watched her perform, watching various audience members work up the nerves to join her onstage for photo ops, and watching her accommodate them all, I figured… she probably already knows my story. She probably knows many of our stories. I think this is why she could be so generous with her performance… pose for photos while singing. But perhaps she was just being Filipino… persevering, resilient, and heartfelt. I would have loved to tell her my story but my 30 seconds were up. But those 30 seconds will stay with me for a lifetime.