I look at the Celebrity Calling booth, reading the words “Which celebrity will you talk to today?”
Surely it’s a recorded message, I thought. Surely celebrities wouldn’t actually be calling the booth randomly to video chat with people. But, humoring them, I approached the red phone and picked up the receiver.
The screen in front of me loaded. It was Toni Gonzaga. Awesome, I thought, I really like her movies. I waited for the recorded message to play. But it didn’t. Toni looked like she was fiddling with the camera.
“Ayan! Hi!” Toni said, waving. “Sino ’to?”
I stuttered. “Uh, I’m Pam.”
Holy crap. It was live. Toni was actually on video chat.
“Say hi!” voices came from behind me, urging me to talk. There were things I could have said: I’ve watched many of your movies multiple times. I heard that your son said hi to my dog at the mall. But no sound left my mouth.
Let me tell you this: I did not become speechless in front of Oprah. It turns out that it would be Toni Gonzaga who would make me forget I had a working tongue.
“Nasa taping ako ng ‘Home Sweetie Home,’ lunch break namin,” Toni said, trying to get the conversation going.
I continued to stare at the screen like an idiot, mouth agape.
“Akala ko hindi live,” I said, finally speaking. “Totoo pala siya!”
“This is a recording,” Toni joked. “Hindi, live ’to.”
“Have you gone here?” I asked.
“They’re scheduling it,” Toni said. “Kamusta? Maganda?”
“Oo,” I said.
By “here,” I meant ABS-CBN Studio Experience, ABS-CBN’s newly opened theme attraction at the fourth floor of TriNoma.
Celebrity Calling is just one of its many offerings. (And Toni Gonzaga wasn’t the only one who called for a video chat on the day of our visit. Piolo Pascual also video chatted with some lucky fans.)
Divided into three sections— Reality, Fantasy and Retail—ABS-CBN Studio Experience allows fans to feel what it’s like to be a part of their favorite shows. Seriously, it’s like stepping into your television (or into the lives of ABS-CBN stars). “The vision was really to bring ABS-CBN closer to the people,” Cookie Bartolome, ABS-CBN Themed Experiences Inc. head, said. And it’s true—ABS-CBN Studio Experience will make you forget that you’re in a mall and make you feel like you’re actually in the studios of ABS-CBN.
Your dose of spotlight begins as soon as you walk in. At the Walk of Fame, paparazzi scramble all over themselves to take photos of you.
Walk through the Heritage Hall which features memorable mementos from ABS-CBN’s rich history and be thrust into a world of fun. “It’s better experienced rather than explained,” Cookie said. And she’s right.
At Minute to Win It The Experience, my goal to become Last Man Standing was thwarted by my inability to flip a cup onto a bottle in 60 seconds. I was eliminated after just the first round. The Last Man Standing wins a shirt but what I really wanted were bragging rights.
Pinoy Big Brother Breakout
Pinoy Big Brother Breakout features two escape rooms with the Big Brother touch. Kuya gives you tasks to solve with your teammates so you can get out. We don’t want to spoil it—but one room required our knowledge of Star Cinema films, beauty queens and “Bahay Kubo” while the other required teamwork and coordination. Both were equally fun. And it took us three attempts but we finally managed to get out of one of the rooms in under eight minutes, winning bragging rights and flags that read “Pinoy Big Brother Breakout Big Winner.” “I’m going to hang this in my house,” Ruth said, proudly waving her banner.
Visitors who step into It’s Showtime’s Director’s Booth don’t just get a behind- the-scenes look at the technical aspect of putting together the popular noontime show: They get to do it themselves, working as a team, calling commands for one another to follow.
“Set Jugs Mic to High! Set Jugs Mic to High!” I hollered, wondering why my teammates were taking to long to do it.
“Spilt Screen On!” Ruthie shouted beside me.
“Click Camera 7!” Maxi said.
The commands kept coming as we flipped switches and slid buttons.
“Set Anne Mic to Medium!”
“Click Camera 2!”
There were five segments of increasing speed and difficulty, but our crew—Ang Nagtatalbugang Emoterang Unemployed Drivers (don’t worry, you’ll end up with a funny name, too)—survived only two. It was a lot of fun but it was also a moment of realization: that it takes so much work to bring the shows we enjoy to TV, there’s so much going on behind the scenes that we don’t see on our little screens.
Those who prefer to be on camera can get their shot at stardom at Starlab. Want to duet with Yeng Constantino, Daniel Padilla or Vice Ganda? Go for it.
You can also tape memorable scenes from Star Cinema movies or teleserye. Our pick? That iconic “One More Chance” scene starring John Lloyd and Bea Alonzo. (“She loved me at my worst. You had me at my best at binalewala mo lang lahat ’yun.” Damn, Popoy.)
You can also star in scenes with or as Vilma Santos, Claudine Barretto (“Anak”); Enrique Gil, Liza Soberano (“Forevermore”); Piolo Pascual, Toni Gonzaga (“Starting Over Again”); Daniel Padilla, Kathryn Bernardo (“She’s Dating the Gangster”) and others. You can also star in a skit with the “Going Bulilit” kids.
Our favorite Starlab feature is Fast Talk with Boy Abunda. But here’s a tip: if you want to take part in Starlab, do not go to ABS-CBN Studio Experience wearing a green shirt.
There I was, ready to answer Boy Abunda’s rapid-fire SPG questions, when the director asked, “Do you have an extra shirt?”
Yes, I was wearing a green shirt which the green screen would cancel out, making me look like a floating head onscreen. I didn’t think Boy Abunda would like to interview a floating head (unless it was for a Halloween special, I guess) so I said goodbye to my “Fast Talk” moment.
Ruthie got the chance to do it while I watched from outside. I couldn’t hear the audio but I know for sure that she answered “boobs” to one question.
Most people who go for Fast Talk try to pick SPG, we were told, but they’re only allowed to field the naughtier questions if they’re 18 or older. Don’t worry, there are G and PG questions, too.
Please turn, Coach Lea
If you’ve ever watched “The Voice of the Philippines” and wondered which of the judges will turn for you if you joined the blind auditions, you can get the answer at The Voice Open Mic. Belt out a song (there are plenty of options) and see who wants to become your coach.
I chose “Through The Fire” (where I got the confidence to do that, I don’t know) and went backstage for rehearsals. When I was ready, I hit the stage and started singing while starting at the back of the judges’ chairs. I knew I wasn’t really on “The Voice,” but my hands started sweating anyway.
Bamboo was the first to turn. Then Sarah.
Please turn, Coach Lea, please turn, I started chanting in my head. But my song ended and she and Sharon Cuneta still had their backs to me.
“Ouch,” I thought.
Lea said she almost turned. “Siguro may hinahanap lang ako na hindi ko nakita.”
We spotted Lyca Gairanod, champion of the first “The Voice of the Philippines Kids,” at ABS-CBN Studio Experience. She enjoyed Minute to Win It The Experience, she said, and we convinced her to sing. She picked John Legend’s “All of Me” and sang with ease. The four judges turned. (Of course they did.) We cheered.
Reality Studio is also home to the Kapamilya Theater, an 80-seater 4D theater that will also be a venue for live events, meet and greets, and concerts, according to Cookie. Right now fans can enjoy ASAP 4D (it’s a next level musical extravaganza) and play the theater game “Misyon: FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.”
“Even with strangers, you will have fun,” Cookie said.
You can load your XPass so you can also play Star Catcher and get a chance to win prizes signed by your favorite stars (it’s P25 a pop) or get own #Starsnaps: your picture on your favorite Kapamilya movie or teleserye poster, book or magazine cover (P50 per print).
In the Fantasy Studio, people can enter virtual reality at ARX and slay enemies in Hado Monster Battle.
Those who want to give their physical strength a test can go through the difficult obstacles and pretend to be stuntmen or action stars at Action Academy while those 12 or younger can have a blast at the Superheroes Playground (we’re totally jealous).
One of our favorite things to do at theme parks is to eat and ABS-CBN Studio Experience didn’t disappoint. Heroes Burger serves fantastic flame-grilled burgers. They’re super affordable, too. Meals (a burger with fries and your choice of a drink) are named after your favorite Pinoy komiks superheroes: Darna (hamburger meal, P89); Lastikman (cheeseburger meal, P99); and Captain Barbell (double cheeseburger meal, P129). I love the packaging, too.
I raved about the burgers (they’re so good I had two double cheeseburgers in one day) and was told that the beef comes from their farm in Masbate. “It’s real farm to table,” Cookie said.
Heroes Burgers has a takeout counter that’s accessible to the public so you can satisfy those burger cravings even on days you’re not visiting the theme attraction. They’d make a great movie snack, too.
The Retail Studio is merchandise paradise for Kapamilya fans. There are shirts, plush toys, tumblers, magnets, mugs and bags for different ABS-CBN fandoms. We resisted the urge to buy a James Reid pillow. We’d totally wear the Sticky Balls Minute to Win It shirt, too.
The Voice judge’s chair is there too for you to sit on. You can even push that red button, the one I wish Lea did.
But maybe she will next time, because yeah, I’m planning to return. I’ve even rounded up friends who are excited to go with me.
“Now I know where to bring my balikbayan relatives,” Ruth said. Her TFC-obsessed tita will adore her for sure.
ABS-CBN Studio Experience is a dream come true for every Kapamilya and it’s a lot of fun. It’s where the lines between star and fan and TV and reality blur, where you can enjoy doing things you never thought you could do.
XPass Prime tickets are P375 for first-timers and P350 for returning guests. These tickets give you access to all attractions except for #Starsnaps and Star Catcher which cost extra. Those who want to skip the Kapamilya Theater experience can avail themselves of the XPass Lite ticket for P300 for first-timers and P275 for returning visitors. Starsnaps and Star Catcher also cost extra for XPass Lite ticket holders. Each booking lasts for two and a half hours. You can also get tickets online by visiting studioexperience.abs-cbn.com.