‘The Voice’ judges Lea Salonga, apl.de.ap, Sarah Geronimo and Bamboo talk about the show’s best moments, the contestants they wish they could bring back and the coach they would choose if they were contestants themselves
The four judges of ABS-CBN’s “The Voice of the Philippines”— Sarah Geronimo, apl.de.ap, Bamboo Mañalac and Lea Salonga—have one of the toughest jobs on TV Saturday.
After the exciting but nerve-wracking blind auditions (where they unwittingly rejected some people they actually know and have even performed with in the past), they soon developed relationships with the singers they selected to join their team. They mentored them, only to force them to battle against one another and send some of them home.
Luckily, the hardest part is almost over. After this weekend’s shows, the first season of “The Voice of the Philippines” will have its final four contenders. And on finals night on Sept. 29, the decision is off the judges’ hands.
“I don’t get a say, it’s the texters. We can comment, but we no longer get to vote,” said Lea.
The show’s unusual format is what makes it so riveting. “The Voice” is a talent show that is actually talent-centric—it’s not about looks, not about youth, not about drama, it’s about vocal chops.
“There’s a greater level of objectivity, which I like,” Lea added.
And it’s not just about their ability to belt out singing contest staples like Whitney Houston’s hits either.
Bamboo said, “We’re giving viewers and listeners a different sensibility … that music is a lot more colorful than what’s being heard and put out there, that it’s not all about who can sing the highest note or who has the most power vocally.”
The four judges head different teams and are coaching their own potential winners, but ultimately, they are all looking for the same thing—a true original.
“’Yun talaga ’yung hinahanap namin, ’yung sarili mong sound, you don’t copy anyone. ’Yung talagang ikaw, your own identity, your own voice,” Sarah said.
Super crashed “The Voice” rehearsals at Resorts World last week and sat down with Sarah, apl.de.ap, Lea (and e-mailed Bamboo) to talk about the show’s biggest moments, the contestants they wish they could bring back and the coach they would choose if they were contestants themselves.
Why did you say yes to “The Voice”?
Sarah: At first hesitant ako. I’ve never mentored anyone. Para sa akin, the likes of Ms Lea Salonga, Sir Gary (Valenciano), Sir Martin (Nievera), ’yan ’yung talagang mentor. But they convinced me that it was really their choice na maging part ako ng show. Naniniwala naman sila na makaka-deliver ako. It’s a singing talent search so it’s close to my heart and it will also improve my personality. It’s part of my growth na rin as an artist and as a person. So sabi ko, go.
apl.de.ap: My friend, will.i.am, since he was doing it in London, suggested it to me. “You gotta do ‘The Voice.’” And I’m like, “Really? I don’t know man, I’m not sure.” Because I have to comment on the people and I’m nearsighted, and I was scared that I’m not gonna see their expressions while they were singing. But I came up with the idea—only if they can put a screen at the bottom of my chair so I could see their facial expression, their energy, the way they’re singing. That made me comfortable. OK, now I could do it.
Bamboo: I’ve been a fan of the show. I watched the US edition and I liked the idea of not being a judge but a coach, a mentor. And the US show attracted singers and artists from different genres and that was dependent on who was sitting on that chair, so I thought, why not put my 10 cents in the pot? And it’s lived up to that. It’s been quite an experience. I have learned a lot from the artists and even a little bit about myself these past couple of months. I keep telling myself, don’t play the game, change the game and just be real.
Lea: I love the format. It’s very different from “American Idol,” “X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent.” There was just something about not knowing the back story of an artist until you heard them sing. You know nothing. You literally know zero about that human being about to open their mouth, and that’s the only thing that will convince us to take somebody on. Talent. It was just that. Because it was a talent-first show.
What do you love about the show?
Sarah: Working with these great young talents. I know na napakarami pang nagtatago diyan na magagaling na singers. I’m glad na magkakaroon ng Season 2, and sana may Season 3, Season 4. I’ve learned a lot from them. Every chance na marinig ko sila kumanta, it’s an amazing moment, an amazing experience. Iba na kasi ang music ngayon eh. Hindi na siya ’yung kinalakihan namin na dapat birit. It’s all about good music, how you give your own interpretation at ’yung uniqueness talaga.
apl.de.ap: I’ve always been into discovering new Filipino artists. I’ve wanted to give them the same opportunity that I had. I like it because there are no boundaries. Anyone can join “The Voice” as long as they could sing. You can be old, you can be any gender. It doesn’t matter. It’s all about the voice at the end of the day.
Bamboo: I love the banter, the back and forth with the other coaches. With the right chemistry it’s 100-percent fun. And finally folks are using iTunes … (Laughs) that’s great.
Lea: I think the blind auditions are so compelling because even the audience has no idea what’s gonna happen next. The audience knows what the back story is, but the coaches do not. They want the coach to turn, “kasi may cancer ’yung tatay, umikot na kayo para matulungan siya.” It’s different. We only hear a voice. So when we have a comment, it’s not knowing that your dad has cancer. I’m going to comment on your performance and only that. There’s a greater level of objectivity. But what each coach turns for can also be very different. Minsan, I’m the only one turning for somebody. And sometimes it’s another coach and I’m thinking, “What on earth do you see in that guy?” And then later on, as they all improve, I’m like, “Oh, that’s what you saw. Now I understand.”
What qualities are you looking for in the winner?
Sarah: A singer who can touch people’s hearts. Sabi nga ni Ms Patti Austin, hitting the notes from your heart is the perfect way. ’Yung being able to convey the message of the song effectively.
apl.de.ap: Originality. Uniqueness. And that charisma. You could sing technically great all day but when you’re on that stage, you’ve got to have that connection with the audience and the viewers.
Bamboo: I’m just looking for a true original.
Lea: I would love for an older person to win because they’ve been looking for that big break forever. I would love for it to be this show that provided that big break for them.
There have been blind auditions, battle rounds and now the live performances. Which part have you enjoyed the most and why?
Sarah: Memorable ’yung blind auditions. ’Yun ’yung pinakamahirap, lalo na ’pag kaming apat ’yung nag-turn. ’Yan na ’yung challenge para i-persuade o ligawan mo ’yung artist to be on your team. Hindi kasi ako magaling magsalita.
apl.de.ap: The blind auditions were fun, you interact with the other coaches, you sell yourself. Then you get to know your 13, their stories, where they’re from. It gets harder, parang napamahal na ako sa kanila, and now they have to battle each other. The live show is really the hardest. I see qualities in every artist, I see a future in every artist, but I have to let go of some of them. If it was up to me, I would keep all of them. But it’s part of the show, di ba? I try not to think about it until the show so I don’t trap myself into creating favoritism.
Bamboo: The blind auditions, because you don’t really know what to expect when that chair turns. I thought that was a really smart thing to do. It’s what makes this show different from the rest. Hats off to the creators of the show. And I loved battling for a good singer. But the live performances, I just love the pace, the energy, the performances, the crowd … simply awesome.
Lea: I enjoyed the battles the most because that’s when you really get to actively coach the two people who are going to be contenders. And that’s when you will start to see the people behind the voices. Kasi ’pag blinds, we’re not coaches yet. For live shows it’s really more one-on-one, it becomes more like a conventional singing contest. But I love how unconventionally it starts. The battles, I think I enjoy them the most because that’s when you tell the one who has to battle somebody strong, “You have to come up to that level or else it’s not gonna look like an even fight,” and it has to look like an even battle eh. And my brother (Gerard Salonga) who was my guest adviser was like, “Let’s not think about competition now because it’s already inherent. You have to perform well. I don’t want a ‘pick me, pick me’ situation.” I hate that. Sometimes in attempting that, you muscle your way through a number and the number suffers. We’re like, just do a good number, let’s do some harmonies, let’s see how it’s gonna turn out. And we were happy with how everything turned out.
How would you describe your coaching style?
Sarah: Kung ano ’yung nakikita ko na kulang or mali, sinasabi ko kaagad, straightforward. ’Yun nga ’yung problema sa akin minsan. Sabi ko nga, ’di ako magaling magsalita so diretso talaga. “Wala kang emosyon kumanta,” plain talaga. Minsan sinasabi ng iba, si Sarah paulit-ulit ’yung sinasabi. ’Pag sinasabi ko sa isang performance, “You lack sincerity or emotion sa pagkanta,” ako kasi ganun eh. Bale-wala ’yung galing mo sa pagkanta ’pag hindi kita pinaniwalaan.
apl.de.ap: Honest. I call it tough love. I like to push my artists. But I also like to hang out and jam with my team. I bring that sense of family. I take them to my house, meet my mom, I take them to all the classrooms I’ve been building and sing for the kids and let them see what they can do in the future with the talent they have. I involved them, for example for (the victims of) “Maring,” I invited them to make packages with me, make sandwiches, because I wanted to really see that with their talent, they could help other people. If they do that from the beginning, I think it will keep them grounded.
Bamboo: I’m a listener.
Lea: Direct. Makulit. I’m very makulit because I coach not only face-to-face. I will find you on Facebook. If I have a note for you, you will get it. If there’s something that I know that the artist doesn’t want on-cam, whether it’s a certain part of their private lives that they don’t want, then I will write. I’ve gotten so much practice writing, I’ve gotten really good at it, thanks to Letty Magsanoc for hiring me (in Inquirer) and to Kara Alikpala for texting me. (Laughs) There are things that I am able to communicate better when I write. And they can look at their phone and go, “Oh! OK.” It’s right there. You cannot run away from me. Even if they’re not on the show anymore, I still stay in touch with the ones who have left. Once you’re on my team, you’re on my team. Once I start coaching you, then I coach you. And if you want me to stay on as your coach even after this competition, then yes, I can stay on.
Which “The Voice” moment has been most unforgettable for you?
Sarah: ’Yung production ni Ms Lea with Patti Austin. Naiyak ako, teary-eyed. Super amazed talaga ako kay Ms Lea, samahan mo pa ng Patti Austin and her words.
apl.de.ap: The live shows, of course. But I think it’s my bonding with my artists. Now that some of them have been voted off, I’ve started to miss them. They’re a bunch of silly people. We joke around. That’s what I love the most, the way we connect. The battle rounds were also pretty exciting for me. You get to see people come out of their shells and really prove themselves up there, giving it a hundred percent. It’s amazing to see the transformation.
Lea: The battles were unforgettable—Mitoy (Yonting) and Chien (Berbana); Kim (Mainit) and Taw (Muhammad). Chien was afraid of Mitoy. She was conceding already, she was conceding early. We were like, “No. Kailangan palaban ka.” It’s not about singing loud. Don’t get too aggressive kasi papangit din ’yung performance. It’s making timpla certain performances. And it was watching how Mitoy made her alalay and alaga. Because that guy is capable of … oh my gosh, he’s a monster. And he shows it off when he’s solo. This guy would eat you alive, but I think he just wanted the number to be a good one. And Chien, to her credit, really fought, and I could see it in her face. Gerard and I were both like (gasps) … we were so happy for her. Because if you can battle this guy, ah, then real life will not be a challenge for you anymore.
Favorite performance so far?
apl.de.ap: Oh that’s gonna create favoritism. (Laughs) I would say, the one that really made me laugh and just had so much personality is Cora (dela Cruz). I’ve never seen that before. Cora, she brought that … simplicity and she has that voice and she’s quirky. Of course Janice (Javier) was fun. I heard two notes and I pressed that button. And the way she carries herself is just amazing. You don’t see many people that make fun of themselves. Jessica (Reynoso)… I’ve never heard a 16-year-old with that type of soul already. I can’t stop… And Thor (Dulay) is what I call the panty-dropper. (Laughs) I picture him as this black R&B singer who has so much soul when he sings.
Bamboo: I can’t play favorites … so of course every single performance from Team Bamboo… But I’d also throw in Darryl’s performance of “Balita.” It just felt real.
Lea: Myk Perez. First live show. It was a “California Girls”/“Isn’t She Lovely” mashup. Oh, I had so much fun! It was just like somebody opened the window and let the sunshine in! Parang biglang bumango ’yung buong theater. That’s how it felt. He’s just so enjoyable to watch. He was a four-chair turn and with good reason. He’s amazing. A really wonderful musician.
We see you struggle when you have to let contestants go. What has been your most heartbreaking moment?
Sarah: Magmula nung battle rounds. ’Yan na ’yung kailangan kong mamili. Sa akin lang talaga ’yung decision eh.
apl.de.ap: There are so many. Thor and Penelope (Matanguihan). They’re both amazing singers. That was a heartbreaking one. Who else? Tristhan (Perfecto). Last week was pretty heartbreaking. And there’s another one coming up. I’m like, can I just not show up that day?
Bamboo: During the battles, all of them. I just hate to see them go because I know if I had more time, if I just had a little more time … but that’s out of my control. That’s the game drawing the lines.
Lea: When I had to let go of Chien in favor of Mitoy. Because we invest as much as they do in that battle. And I know whoever I would have picked, somebody would have something to say. It’s just the nature of the beast, of this thing. Letting her go was a difficult one. It was the first. You don’t forget the first. And it was difficult also because we saw how much she grew, and we also know what else she is capable of. But, I had to pair people up according to their abilities. I was not going to put somebody with either of them who was so weak that the audience on TV would be like, “Ano ’to?” Because I don’t like seeing massacres, I love seeing battles. Kim and Taw’s battle was unforgettable also. No. 1, this is what nobody knew—she was having a hyperacidity attack and he had an asthma attack before the battles began. But it was a beautiful, beautiful battle. It was gorgeous and it was heartbreaking because it was so wonderful, but you have to let somebody go and it’s sad. It’s just gonna hit you.
Do you regret any of the decisions you’ve made on the show?
Sarah: Ay wala. Wala po.
apl.de.ap: No. There’s no regret.
Bamboo: No regrets… I have to believe in the moment and what my gut tells me.
Lea: No. Absolutely not.
Is there any contestant you wish you could bring back?
Sarah: Actually lahat ng pinakawalan ko, gusto ko ibalik.
apl.de.ap: I don’t want to lose connection with every artist that I give up. At some point, I’m going to make music for them. Even after the show, I make myself available to them. There’s no love lost. I would keep Tristhan and Penelope all over again. And Cora, too.
Bamboo: A couple … even from the other teams.
Lea: Oh my gosh, Chien. Taw. Now that Darryl (Shy) is out, Darryl. Marissa (Saroca). RJ (dela Fuente) because I love RJ’s tone. Ganda eh. From other teams, Penelope, I would love to bring her back because she was just so good. Michaellen Temporada. I’d love to see him come back. But I think they have to skip a season before they’re eligible to try again.
Is there any contestant you wish you could steal from the other teams?
Sarah: (Laughs) Si Angelique (Alcantara) ng Team Bamboo. Favorite ko siya eh.
apl.de.ap: (Laughs) I would like to steal Darryl, I would like to steal Morissette (Amon). And Marissa, too.
Bamboo: Yes I do.
Lea: I would have stolen Michaellen. Klarisse (de Guzman), Myk, I would have stolen Guji (Lorenzana). Angelique. Angelica (Prado). Emmanuelle because her voice was different eh. I would have stolen also Dave (Lamar). Definitely Myk, definitely Klarisse, just the tone of her voice, ang ganda, ’yung buka ng bibig niya, ang ganda-ganda. And we don’t have a lot of voices like that in the industry now na hindi bumibirit pero nakakaapekto.
Is your team going to win?
Sarah: Yes. Yes.
apl.de.ap: Oh yes. (Laughs)
Bamboo: Fingers crossed.
Lea: I don’t know, quite honestly. I’m very blunt. I’d love to say yes, my team absolutely is going to win, but the truth is there’s so many talented people on the other teams. From Bamboo I think my favorite is Myk Perez. Paolo (Onesa) sounds really good recorded but Myk, oh my god, I love him. On apl’s team I think my favorite is Janice. On Sarah’s team my favorite is Klarisse. So even if Klarisse gets booted off this week, I’m like, that girl’s voice is so special, whatever happens I hope she gets her record deal. Sometimes nga the ones who don’t win get the career, which is an interesting thing. For me, whoever gets to the final four, panalo na eh. I think these four should have a record deal and be given as much ABS-CBN exposure and force behind them because they’re absolutely deserving. There are even people who got booted off who should have a deal. And I will write as many e-mails as I can to make that happen.
If you were auditioning and they all turned for you, who would you choose to be your coach?
Sarah: Ms Lea. Coach talaga siya eh. Tutok siya sa mga artist niya. After the competition, gusto ko talaga mag-voice lessons sa kanya. Matagal na actually. Sana matuloy na kami after Season 1. Alam ko talagang marami akong matututunan kay Ms Lea.
apl.de.ap: Toni Gonzaga! Just kidding. Umm… I’ll pick Mr. M. (Laughs) Oh my god, I can’t answer this question for some reason. (Laughs) If I want to make different originals, I will go for Bamboo. If I wanna be pushed, I’d go for Lea. And if I wanna appeal to the young, I’ll pick Sarah.
Bamboo: I’d have to go for …
Lea: Bamboo. He’s not just a performer, he’s a musician. So he will be looking at it from a musicianship point of view as well as a performance point of view. I’m going to be getting different perspectives from this one coach. And I feel that there’s a lot to learn. And the guy writes, he plays, he sings, so he understands all of that as being part and parcel of being a performer. That’s that perspective that I would want to get.
Will we see you in the next season?
Sarah: (Laughs) Hopefully. Ang sarap ding experience, natututo ka.
apl.de.ap: It’s not up to me. But yeah, I’ll do it again.
Bamboo: Just stay tuned, true believers, and thanks to everyone out there supporting the show, and all the artists who bravely stepped up and joined the competition. Music first.
Lea: I would love to come back. This is a different aspect of my life. It’s not just getting up to perform. It’s helping to reshape how the industry looks because of who we choose to be up there. Sometimes, I have to say this and Simon Cowell says this often, “The public got it wrong this week.” Sometimes, the public doesn’t always choose right. And that’s why we’re there. And Radha, in a conversation with her today, she had this interesting observation, “You guys don’t realize it but these four people are helping to reshape what this industry is going to look like because of who they’re picking to stay and who they’re picking to go.” Are you gonna pick the 45-year-old guitar player from Baguio? Are you gonna pick the 40-something-year-old band singer who sings in a bar? Are you going to pick the overweight 38-year-old, 36-year-old? Is that a face you’re going to put on ASAP? Is that a face you’re going to pick to be on one of the TV shows? Really? Is that who you’re gonna choose? Who are you going to pick? Are you gonna pick the balingkinitan girl who can kinda sing? Or are you gonna pick the round girl that can sing the pants off of the balingkinitan girl and blow her away? It’s that. Because we are picking based on talent, we’re picking not just on the looks, we’re not picking based on the court of public opinion. We’re picking based on what we feel or who we feel deserves that shot.
Watch “The Voice of the Philippines” on ABS-CBN on Saturdays at 9 p.m. and Sundays at 8:15 p.m.