Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When copycats do better

This is my column today.


We are a country that takes immense pride in the innate musicality of our people. We supply singers and dancers to the rest of the world; our reservoir of talent seems bottomless. It is surprising that we don’t take efforts to hone skills in this area more seriously. Is it because we don’t see performing arts as serious business?

If rumors are true, the new seasons of the hit television shows “Philippine Idol” and “Pinoy Dream Academy” will begin in a few weeks’ time. Philippine Idol will be aired on GMA-7 while Pinoy Dream Academy will be on ABS-CBN. Both shows are singing competitions that are also supposedly, if we are to believe the press release of the networks, educational platforms designed to help instruct viewers on the finer points of performing.

The shows will be on competing networks so we expect fireworks to erupt as they assert dominance in the ratings game. Under ordinary circumstances, competition should be a good thing and should redound to the benefit of consumers. It should hypothetically result in better production values, perhaps even better staging and directing. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in our country. Very often, competition among our television networks exacerbate the tendency to highlight the lurid, the salacious, and the scandalous as these prove most effective in drawing viewers in. So what was originally intended as a singing contest eventually becomes a telenovela featuring people strutting around in their underwear.

The first seasons of the two shows left too much to be desired in terms of striking a balance between entertainment and education. The focus was more on entertainment, which was quite unfortunate since these shows could really serve as medium that can educate people on the performing arts. Like I said, this is important because we are in a country that takes immense pride in our vast reservoir of singers and dancers and we cannot always rely on innate talent.

But hopefully, the people behind the shows have learned from their previous mistakes. Better still, they can learn from the experiences of others, particularly copycats that do a better job.

I was in Tacloban over the weekend and had the opportunity to watch Leyte IDOL, the province’s version of Philippine Idol. If you are wondering why IDOL is written in uppercase, that’s really because it’s an acronym. It stands for Icot’s Dream for the youth Of Leyte. Icot is the nickname of Jericho Petilla, the provincial governor of Leyte. Many might remember him as the administration senatorial candidate in the last election, picked to represent local governments but who unfortunately backed out of the race and was promptly replaced by actor Cesar Montano.

I know. Having a singing contest named after the politician that provided the money for it and using his mug as backdrop for the extravaganza hark back to a bygone era when someone fancied herself as some imperial patroness of the arts. It is possible of course that the whole homage thing is simply the handiwork of the organizers of Leyte IDOL who probably thought they were doing everyone a huge favor with their obsequiousness. This kind of adulation happens a lot particularly in provinces where local officials are treated like royalty.

Nevertheless, I am sure that the governor has other dreams for the youth of Leyte other than to turn all of them into performing artists. I am a fierce advocate of the performing arts, but I don’t advocate that the economy be hinged on the fortunes of our singers and dancers.

Leyte IDOL is not in any way connected with Philippine Idol but pretty much follows the format of the franchise. However, certain deviations from the original format augur well for the copycat. In particular, the decision as to who advances into the succeeding rounds and who gets eliminated is left to the discretion of the judges rather than subjected to the vagaries of a fickle and often misinformed general public. It actually makes sense to do it this way since popularity is not always the better determinant or judge of talent. God knows how many extremely popular “singers” we have in this country—“singers” who actually can’t carry a tune.

Watching Leyte IDOL once again validated the observation that if we have an abundance of singing talents in this country, Leyte seems to have been particularly blessed 10 times over in this aspect. The Leyte IDOL show I watched last Sunday night was designed to trim down the number of finalists from 12 to 11. But all 12 were proverbial diamonds in the rough.
Unfortunately, and I guess this is true anywhere else in this country, the talents were very raw.

It was a bit painful watching talented kids perform below potential, or worse, perform in ways that magnified their weaknesses rather than showcase their capabilities.

I’ve watched many singing contests in many parts of this country and I have noted the same thing: contestants aping, or worse, magnifying the singing styles of established singers including awful mannerisms such as doing vocal acrobatics and passing off gasping sounds as emoting. The problem is that the supposed singers they are aping are not exactly great singers—they are simply celebrities who have successfully parlayed fame into singing careers. Thanks to the perverted star system in our country, many people are misled into thinking talent exists where there really is none.

Or worse, we come across contestants who damage their voices and come up with ludicrous and often hilarious performances because they think hitting high notes is the ultimate measure of a great singer. What happens is that one comes across singers that begin to sound like cats in heat.
This is why Philippine Idol or Pinoy Dream Academy should really make an effort to use the show to bring home the message that singing is not just about having raw talent or having voice quality. There is a science around it and it’s not just a science that helps people perform better, it is also a science that helps the singer preserve his or her talent or further develop his or her craft.

Unfortunately, Philippine Idol, and to a certain extent, even Pinoy Dream Academy didn’t always hit the mark on this aspect. The judges they picked may be celebrated musicians with sterling credentials. The problem was that being a good musician does not automatically translate into being a good judge—or for that matter, being a good teacher.

I have no doubt that Ryan Cayabyab, Pilita Corales, and Francis Magalona, the judges of the first edition of Philippine Idol, are extremely talented as musicians. The problem was that they failed as “educators” simply because of their penchant for playing to the crowd, for making cryptic and sometimes senseless commentary. Pinoy Dream Academy did try to live up to its name as an “academy” but as usual, the programs often got sidetracked by hysterics.

This is where local spin-offs and copycats have done better. Because they are freed from the pressures of commercial considerations, they have been successful in turning singing contests into not just entertainment, but a real venue for learning and teaching.

Leyte IDOL is doing well in this area. The judges of the show I caught last Sunday were music professors and performers who knew music theory, were articulate, and most importantly, who genuinely wanted to help improve the performance of the contestants rather than simply passing off judgment and making vicious comments.

2 comments:

anthony scalia said...

off-topic, pero in manolo's blog, cvj commented that

“Bong Austero volunteered his freedom in order to give Gloria Arroyo a chance to redeem herself and he ended up regretting it”

in

www.bongaustero.blogspot.com/2007/09/lets-not-bungle-this-up.html

did you regret it?

Hazel Chua said...

hi! blog hopping~ visit me at http://callworkcomics.blogspot.com