What statement would you leave to the world?
Faced with this question, one is bound to pause and reflect, but for renowned performer, mom and mentor Lea Salonga, the answer was already there when she was very young.
It all started when she was 3 years old. Her cousin Betsy would play the guitar and ask Lea to sing along. As she grew up, her voice became a staple in family gatherings.
One day, one of her relatives who was active in Repertory Philippines noticed her talent and encouraged her to use it.
Did you really know what you wanted to do in life early on?
I’m very lucky to have a job that I love to do. Through some divine intervention, it seems that my profession was designed for me. I don’t know what it feels like not knowing what you’re going to do the next day because I’ve known it since I was a young girl. My husband says, “Honey, you’re so lucky. You wake up and you can sing.”
What was it like performing in “Miss Saigon”?
Twenty-five years ago, we were all “virgins.” There was no peg. I was going to be the peg. None of us had ever done a yearlong run before. None of us knew what eight shows a week felt like, or rehearsals for eight hours a day, three weeks of previews and an open-ended run. We didn’t know how to deal with the vocal fatigue from wanting to please everyone that we sang full out with a cold or a sore throat.
New kind of confidence
Something in me changed after the run. You’ll find a will of steel, a straighter spine and a new kind of confidence possessed only by the brave. Your Motherland will consider you a source of great pride. And for the rest of your life, when you look back on your experiences, you will feel a lump in your throat at having been a part of something incredibly special. It’s a feeling that, no matter what, will remain with you, forever.
Was being a Disney princess part of what you already knew you were going to do someday? Was there a huge change from theater to being a singing voice for two well-loved Disney films, “Mulan” and “Aladdin”?
I never thought that I would someday become a Disney princess. I mean, think about it. I was a kid from the Philippines, many miles away from America where these films are produced. But it happened!
It was not a difficult transition at all. Disney films use a lot of theater people, and that is because there is very little “auto tuning” for theater people when it comes to having the physical stamina to sustain a tune. Like, for “A Whole New World,” we did the song straight through and there was not a lot of retouching done.
How does it feel to have opened the door for Filipino artists?
It’s a nice feeling to be considered that I have. But it doesn’t end with opening the door; we have to keep it open.
What made you decide to accept the role of a coach on “The Voice of the Philippines”?
I was brought up in an industry that is merit-based. You actually had to be good to get work; it’s not just about having a pretty face.
You’ve accomplished so much in 25 years and you are only 43 now. What is your formula for success?
You have to infuse everything you do with passion. I’ve infused passion even in caring for my family, in finding new talent as a coach.
As important as passion is in what I do, I can’t do a job well without a sense of balance. It’s nice to retreat into a quiet place where you can recenter your mind and soul, and then you can rev yourself up for another round.
What lessons have you learned that you would like to impart to would-be talents out there?
First, you shouldn’t take everything too seriously. Keep a sense of humor. You will need it! If you take everything too seriously, you take the fun out of it. Work should be fun. I learned it when I was much older, so I’d like young talents to realize this early on.
I also believe it is imperative to maintain balance. It cannot just be all about your work, your job, and have a little left for yourself.
How do you balance your time as a mother, a wife, a performer and a coach?
When you’re younger, you tend to focus on your work a lot. But once you start getting into a relationship, you realize the priority is not so much about work but how it has to be incorporated in your personal life.
I am very fortunate I found somebody who’s incredibly supportive of what I do, who understands why I do what I do.
I’m also lucky that I have the luxury now to choose what I really love to do. The project that I end up doing is the stuff that I really want to be a part of, as opposed to the job where I have to do because I have to pay the bills.
You are the newest brand ambassador for Philip Stein. What made you decide to endorse the brand?
I like watches. I have been using Philip Stein for many years now, so it was an easy decision to be the brand’s endorser. I am drawn to the elegant and unique aesthetic of the dial plus the dual time zone feature of the Signature Collection.
I travel from one time zone to the other year-round for work and play, so the two time zones allow me to check on Manila time and the local time in the country I am in.
Nicole and I also have bonding moments choosing the watch strap color that will suit the outfit I wear for the day.
Further, the role of the Natural Frequency Technology disk is supposed to help improve focus, cope with stress and assist in achieving balance. In my kind of hectic life, I surely can use that kind of support.
If you were to leave a statement to the world, what would that be?
If I were to leave this world today, my statement would be that I did the best I could at everything I did, and hopefully the world would think that’s enough.