Sunday, October 01, 2006

Philippine Idol Finals: The OPM Dedication Round of 12

Today, Philippine Idol Updates is proud to be blogging straight from the lion's den itself! Thanks to generous souls from ABC-5, Philippine Idol Updates sent a correspondent, Ganns Deen, to the Philippine Idol stage at SM Megamall Cinema 3, to get an insider's peek at the first finals' round. Here's what he had to say:

Hi, Philippine Idol fans! I'm blogging - not live unfortunately, because I know I'm not allowed to bring either laptop or digital camera into the Philippine Idol soundstage - for you straight from here in Philippine Idol land at the SM Megamall Cinema 3, and I tell you, the atmosphere here is electric! There were actually two lines here as early as 7PM, one for Philippine Idol and one for Trumpets' Joseph the Dreamer, setting up shop at SM Megamall Cinema 4, and from the looks of it, things are bound to be exciting at both places.

By 730PM, the line at Joseph the Dreamer starts to shorten as people are let into the theater, and the line at Philippine Idol starts to lengthen. I see a dreadlocked Mau Marcelo chatting with a friend; I also see a calm and smiling Gian Magdangal talking to another buddy. I get in line with the rest of the hangers-on who are hoping for tickets, and although I know that I have a ticket with me, it's kinda nice to chill outside with the people who matter - the fans, and are they coming in droves. A bunch of Drae Ybanez fans touting banners for the Rizal/Cebu native; a rowdy group of Arms Cruz supporters, apparently shipped in all the way from Zamboanga; excited Miguel Mendoza fans all dressed in green supporting the 17-year-old Lasallian. Unfortunately, these guys, the ones sending the text votes and coming to the Megamall to support their idols, won't be let in until 830, after the rest of us get our tickets. I hope they get seats.

We're let in at around 730PM (thank you, ABC-5!) and I'm stunned by the look of the new Philippine Idol stage. Gosh, guys, I can't even begin to explain how awesome the stage looked in person. The TV simply doesn't capture it, nuh-uh. A revamped stage touted the new Philippine Idol look, with audience left getting a delightful shot of Mel Villena and his band on the first level, and the three back-up singers on a new second level. To the right, a newly furbished hangout for the contestants. New lighting, including a stunning LCD for the audience, a rehashed center stage, at least six Philippine Idol logos everywhere. Wow, good job, ABC-5. This stage looks spectacular.

At around 830PM, a lady named Joseph takes the stage and begins prepping the crowd for the broadcast to come. The usual - no cellphones on, no food and drink, keep your butt in your seat during broadcast, but stand all you want during commercials. After Joseph's stirring of the crowd- which included ensuring all the contestants' families were in their respective sections of the ground floor, which we couldn't see from our spot on the second - we are introduced to a group called Boys (Voice?) Avenue, an F4-looking, Blue-sounding group of four pubescent boys who treat the audience to a very good mimicking of Blue's All Rise. The harmonies are good, the dancing is so 1997, but it serves its purpose in whiling away a few minutes while waiting for the broadcast to start.

At around 855PM, we see Ryan Agoncillo, dapper in a black suit with a light green polo underneath it. People get into places, and we go live! The Top 12 start the show with a frenzied and energetic performance of Sugod, and the night starts with a bang. The sound system, like the new stage, is stunning, and we wonder if the TV broadcast is able to deliver the same punch that we're getting live. We hope so, because this is concert quality, definitely broadcast quality. Excellent start to the show! Woohoo!

Tonight's theme is OPM Night, Songs to Dedicate to Someone Special. We're given the arrangement in order of how they'll appear: Arms Cruz, Jeli Mateo, Rey Sajor, Apple Chiu, Stef Lazaro, Ken Dingle, Jan Nieto, Mau Marcelo, Gian Magdangal, Drae Ybanez, Pow Chavez, and Miguel Mendoza, then we go to break. During breaks, Ryan Agoncillo chitchats with the crowd, making small talk and having to deal with the occasional "I love you, Ryan... C!" He certainly is a lot more kenkoy off-air than he is on, and perhaps that's part of the charm, we suppose.

Now, we launch into the Idol performances. [Philippine Idol Updates note: The following thoughts are those of Ganns, and not necessarily of Philippine Idol Updates.]

ARMS CRUZ. Singing Araw-Araw,Gabi-Gabi by Didith Reyes for her dad
The first performer on the first finals night, Arms has elected to sing an older track. Considering she got the final slot during the girls' first night, and now getting the opening performance, Arms seems to be going the route of AI5's Mandisa Hundley: powerful pipes that seem great for closing or opening the show. Arms does not fail to disappoint, delivering a solid, strong rendition of Reyes' torch ballad, although it doesn't do well for her pre-performance image as a stodgy singer who chooses old, stodgy songs. She looks great in a shimmering blue gown, her notes are strong and not pitchy, it's a great performance.

Pros: Strong voice, excellent pitch, great outfit, fantastic stage confidence.
Cons: Ancient song choice that may alienate voters unfamiliar with the song.

Francis Magalona: Very professional.Clean. You look beautiful, but I think your choice of song was too old-school.
Pilita Corrales: I think it has wonderful meaning. I disagree with FM. Arms can sing anything, old or new, whatever, with her heart and soul. But your song choice could've been better.
Ryan Cayabyab: Arms, we know you're a good singer. We're looking for a Philippine Idol 2006. Your style's a bit old. Freshen it up.

JELI MATEO. Singing Iisa Pa Lamang by Joey Albert for her Lola
You gotta hate being in Jeli Mateo's shoes. The woman is undoubtedly beautiful, but her strong point - a sweet, almost crystal voice - is ignored in all the hooplah. Can Jeli prove she deserves to be in the Top 12 with her version of the Joey Albert classic? In an emphatic word, YES. Jeli pulls out the stops, starting with a soft, yearning delivery, then taking it a notch in the buildup, back to a classic, although slightly flat - finish. Miles ahead of her previous performance.

Pros: Decent song choice, okay outfit (anything looks good on her anyway), good stage presence.
Cons: Relatively unmemorable performance.

FM: I love this performance. Much better. With your performance, there's a voice that can match your pretty face.
P: Really, I know you are going to prove you can match your pretty face.
It's embarrassing that you have to apologize for being prety. I'm glad you proved that pwede ka sa Top 12. Your strength is that your voice quality is nice. I'm sure some producer will ask you to do a CD.

REY SAJOR. Singing Hindi Magbabago by Randy Santiago for his Mom
If people gauge Rey from this performance as his first legitimate one - cancelling out the previous performance where his microphone conked out - we can see that he has the goods. Possessing Clay Aiken-like qualities in voice and mannerism, Rey rips through Hindi Magbabago like it was cotton candy, effortlessly hitting the high notes and sounding confident and brash.

Pros: Great song choice, powerful delivery.
Cons: So-so outfit, didn't necessarily use the whole stage.

FM: Ang maganda sa iyo, fast then slow, kaya mo. You're not to be pitied (in reference to mike incident -PIU). It was a delivery that was sure and confident, parang recording.
P: You lost your mike, but congrats, professional ka. I hope you can make it to the last.
You're part of the top guys. Fast you sounded great. Slow, you sound even better. It's an excellent technique that sounds natural.

APPLE CHIU. Singing Ngayon for her lola.
Apple selects a virtually unknown track, and didn't even identify the singer. Nevertheless, it's a good showcase for her smoky pipes, and her low registry is put to excellent use. It's a powerful delivery, but rather whitewash compared to the previous songs.

Pros: Excellent voice.
Cons: Unknown song choice could backfire on her.

FM: Your voice can sell. Buong-buo. Low qulaity good. No flaws.
P: I thought you wouldn't make it, but people become pretier better. I'm very happy you're part of the Top 12.
I have nothing to say.Apple has the fullest,deepest voice. Always remember though that it's about performance and song choice. You didn't do the song well enough, but I'm glad you're here.

STEF LAZARO. Singing Pangako Sa Yo by Rey Valera for her husband.
In a shimmery red/green gown and her hair all pouffed up, Stef looks like something out of Dreamgirls. In an effort to connect with the audience, she sings her first Tagalog song - a Rey Valera track - and speaks to Ryan afterward in Tagalog, although it's rather pilit. The song itself is rather meh: it doesn't showcase Stef's strong raspiness, and her being hoarse guarantees she won't pull off the high notes with the same aplomb. Being based in Australia, it remains to be seen if Stef's gambles will pay off. Will she get points for trying, or will she be seen as trying hard?

Pros: Good stage presence.
Cons: Song doesn't show off her raspy quality. Pitchy. Words have twang.

FM: Stef, you deserve to be part of the Top 12. You came back, but I'd love to hear the raspy voice again.
P: Congrats on your outfit.I'm happy to see you singing and talking in Tagalog. Flaws? A flat here and there.
This comment isn't about you. The contest has been good, but really, no one has exerted much effor.t It's very boring. Some stray notes.

KEN DINGLE. Singing Di Na Natuto by Danny Tan/Gary V for his mom
Ken's voice is back, and he uses it to full effect on a jazzed-up version of Gary Valenciano's Di Na Natuto, curling his voice here and there to match a head-bobbing action that is more distraction than funky. Nevertheless, he's obviously more confident today than previously. Ooh, Mel Villena on sax. Ken's voice is not a natural tenor, and you can tell because he strains his throat in reaching the higher notes, not coming from diaphragm. The effect: unsupported high notes that make him sound like he's shouting. Oi, his voice cracks on that last power note. Ouch.

Pros: Good song choice.
Cons: Lost the melody in all the kulots. Bum last note.

FM: He'll always find work. You did it in your own style. I don't like the kulots.
P: His kulot was just fine. I think you are a sexy singer.It's everything, and he's got it.
Ken, it was bereft of feeling. [People clap. What?! Bereft of feeling is NOT a good thing, people. C'mon, Ryan C., keep it simple!] Thank you for risking it, but embellishments mean more chances for stray notes. Wala for me, wala. Good luck.

JAN NIETO. SingingTuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka by Basil Valdez for his dad
Strange song choice to dedicate to a male, but whatever. Jan redeems himself from the Bridge Over Troubled Water fiasco, and delivers a confident, surefire performance of the subsequent Regine Velasquez chestnut. It suits his voice. His outfit doesn't match the song, but whatever. Few stray notes and a strange outfit don't a bad performance make, and Jan should be a shoo-in for the next round.

Pros: Great song choice. Great delivery.
Cons: Couple of flats. Weird outfit.

FM: Bagay dahil bumagyo. From no connection to potential Philippine Idol. Panalo.
P: Surprised ako sa iyo, Jan. First I liked you, but you have improved.
Normally, I'm critical of people who sing my song, but I'm happy. Meron ka pala, ba't di mo pinakita? The secret is enjoying your performance and giving it to the people.

MAU MARCELO. Singing Minsan Lang Kita Iibigin for her boyfriend.
FLAWLESS. When Mau sings, you hold your breath because you don't want to miss a note. I tell you, the entire Philippine Idol stage was hers, and the audience didn't move a muscle the entire time, save to give her a thunderous round of applause at the end of her performance.

Pros: Perfect song choice. Perfect delivery.
Cons: All things considered, Mau played safe.

FM: Why are your birits effortless? Vocally, equipped ka. Perfect CD quality.
P: Magandang-maganda ka, hindi ka pangit! Ikaw, perfect ang singing mo.
Mau has the gift of claiming a song as her own. Marami ang nagbabantay sa kanta mo.

GIAN MAGDANGAL. Singing Himala by Rivermaya for his sister, Maggie
Gian's a smart singer, almost calculating in his song choices. His latest, the rock standard Himala by Rivermaya, is the perfect showcase for his tenor, and he rips into this track with gusto, using the entire stage for his performance like a man possessed. Vocally, this man can do no wrong, and with his rock choice setting him apart from the others (it was the only uptempo track, if you think about it), Gian's a sure bet into the next round.

Pros: Excellent song choice, excellent delivery.
Cons: Can't think of any.

FM: He makes his stage his playground.
P: He's been singing for a loong time. I can see Gian taking the place of Gary Valenciano.
Thank you for saving the night. For me, tonight, you are the Philippine Idol.

DRAE YBANEZ. Singing Hang On by Gary Valenciano for the head of his foundation
Drae is obviously having an off-night, despite looking sharp. He's chosen a boring song, and his notes are pitchy allthe way. I am genuinely afraid for him.

Pros: Good outfit. *sigh*
Cons: Poor song choice, pitchy.

FM: Smile pa lang, Philippine Idol ang dating. Maganda ang pag-awit. May pag-asa si Drae.
P: Toby! Drae has always been good.May konteng kulang, though. Song choice.
Drae, your performance before was much better than tonight. This song needs emotion and wala, e. Sorry.

POW CHAVEZ. Singing Nakapagtataka by Rachel Alejandro for her mom
Pow raised the ante with her heartfelt delivery of Ikaw Lamang last week. Can she deliver the emotional goods? Absolutely. Pow's take on Alejandro's massive hit is pleasing, powerful and dripping with emotion. Pow delivers yet another stellar performance.

Pros: Excellent song choice.
Cons: Stray note here and there.

FM: Pow, where do you getyour voice? Your shoulder pads? Your hair? Night after night she puts the best performance on. I tie you with Gian.
P: Gumaganda si Pow. Ok ka sa akin.
That's part of the magic of Pow. Very feminine ang haplos niya sa kanta't damdamin. You are a modern kundiman singer. Tumatagos sa emotion.

MIGUEL MENDOZA. Singing Next in Line by After Image for his friends
I hate this song, but I'll try not to let that influence my critique of Miguel's performance. The bunso gets the pimp spot - yay for him! Miguel's vocal range obviously isn't quite fully developed, and his nasal delivery doesn't bring me any closer to liking the song - or him. On the bright side, he seems a lot more confident, and, as the so-called voice of the youth, he should garner enough teenage girl support to cruise into Round 2.

Pros: Decent song choice, good stage control.
Cons: Pitchy, nasal delivery.

FM: Swak ang kanta, good choice. Miguel has a big heart. That alone, he should make it to the next round.
P: Can you imagine he's only 17? I'm sure people will vote for you. You seem to be a kind person, because it comes out in your singing.
I'm sure you'll be there next week. Good choice of song, perfect ending to tonight.

With that, the 12 idols launch into a reprise of the show's starting song.

Because voting patterns are so darn unpredictable, I'm basing my personal predictions on song choice and delivery, ignoring previous voting patterns:

Contenders for Bottom 3: Drae, Apple, Stef, Ken, Jeli
Most Likely Bottom 3: Drae, Stef, Ken
Most Likely Ejection: Stef

Stage, sound, performances, I hope we get tickets again next week, so we can give you an insider's look at Philippine Idol. For Philippine Idol Updates, this is Ganns Deen. Be superblessed!


Ganns Deen is a writer, musician, and family man. He operates his own blog out of He is one of several people corresponding for Philippine Idol Updates.