Charice: The Songbird of the Philippines

Ezekielhous / WikiCommons

Lauren Lola

Charice sings at the US Philippine Expo in Pomona, Calif.

Not a day goes by when we don’t hear something regarding celebrities, such as Justin Bieber, Robert Pattinson, Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan, and many more.

Despite their different occupations in the entertainment industry, these familiar names all have something in common; they are all marketed. Why else do girls have a recurring case of “Bieber Fever”?

How else would people make an effort to learn the dance to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”? How else would Team Edward and Team Jacob exist amongst the “Twi-hard” community? It all leads back to marketing.

Although these celebrities clearly are successful at selling albums or movies, along with giving gossip columnists something to write about, that does not necessarily mean they are most talented performers.

Amidst the long line of entertainers in the industry, there is one person who is not nearly as marketed, but, as commented once by “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, “When that girl opens her mouth, angels fly out.” She is a singer whose vocals have been compared to those of Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, and has been called “the most talented girl in the world” by Oprah Winfrey.

Her name is Charice Pempengco.

She has had great success within the past few years, but the 18-year-old’s life has not always been like that. Born and raised in the Philippines, Pempengco, her mother, and younger brother struggled through poverty following their escape from Pempengco’s abusive father. At the age of seven, she began entering in local singing contests, singing for prize money for her family.

In her early teens, videos of some of her appearances in singing competitions started being posted by an avid fan on YouTube, and as a result, she was invited to sing on talk shows like “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Following her first appearance on “Oprah” in 2008, Winfrey arranged for award-winning producer David Foster to serve as Pempengco’s mentor, and from there she went on to record her first international album.

Within the past year, Pempengco has managed to place herself in a brighter spotlight. In between traveling to and from Asia and the United States, she released her self-titled international album and landed a recurring role on “Glee” as foreign exchange student Sunshine Corazon.

Pempengco has fans all over the world, and some of them belong to CSU East Bay’s Pilipino American Student Association (PASA). The club’s cultural director, sophomore FeMarie Bustos, was originally exposed to the singer through her dad, who was already an avid fan.

“When he heard she was on ‘Oprah,’ he showed my whole family on YouTube,” Bustos explained. “She’s really talented and she’s really young, and seeing how she came from a background of poverty, a lot of Filipino-Americans can connect to that. It’s nice to see her get big and get what she deserves.”

When asked to emphasize on why it is so impressive for a Filipino to make it to this level of stardom, senior Mary Ann Manipon, another PASA cultural director, explained how, despite the media’s push for diverse entertainers, there are hardly that many entertainers of Asian heritage.

In addition, she also pointed out how miraculous Pempengco’s rise to fame is due to her background struggle with poverty.

Bustos definitely sees a difference when it comes to comparing Pempengco with today’s mainstream artists.

“She has a lot of raw talent,” she said. “It’s not like Justin Bieber and all those artists who only get popular from the hype and not the talent. Oprah saw something amazing in this girl from the Philippines.”

“I think she’s different because she doesn’t meet the normal image of a superstar, but that’s how you know she’s based purely on talent,” explained PASA intern Katrina Mayol, a freshman. “She has such a strong voice for such a small person.”

Moving forward into 2011, Pempengco has much more in store. She plans to release her sophomore album sometime this year, recently released her own perfume line overseas, and is scheduled to appear in five more episodes of “Glee.”

Despite her low scale of marketing compared to today’s celebrities, it is clear that Pempengco is on her way to being fully recognized as a world-class performer.