Not many people have to worry about their careers being over at 21. But then again, not everybody has a voice like Charice.
Since she got her big break as a 15-year-old on The Ellen Degeneres Show four years ago, the pint-sized Filipina has been belting out mega-ballads to standing ovations around the world.
And the kind of songs that are her bread and butter on stage is the stuff that would have even the biggest divas doing extra warm-ups backstage. We’re talking about I Have Nothing, And I Am Telling You, Listen, and the ol’ reputation maker (or breaker), All By Myself – and she almost always does them at full throttle.
“It’s actually pretty bad,” said Charice, on the phone from Los Angeles, US. “Belting high notes all the time is not good for the voice.
“So for me, I just try to limit it, but still try to sing the same songs that people love watching me sing. I’m 19 now and I don’t wanna turn 21 and lose my voice!”
But with so many shows to do, especially being part of the David Foster and Friends tour – which will see her singing at the Putra Stadium, Kuala Lumpur tomorrow – the only thing she can do at the moment to avoid any damage is to know her limits.
“Every artiste will feel sometimes that their voice isn’t in condition, but there are techniques to get around that. It depends on the arrangement of the song.
“Sometimes I tell my music director that my voice is not in condition, so maybe we won’t do this song, or we’ll change it to this song so that I won’t damage my voice. There’s always a plan B,” she said, quickly adding: “But it hasn’t happened a lot of times.”
It’s hard to imagine her having to worry about losing her voice, because on the phone, she talks with this tiny little chipmunk voice, and she adds this cute, girly chuckle after every other sentence.
In many ways, Charice is still a kid, one who says her favourite pastime when she’s not singing is playing video games. But because of the trajectory of her career, she’s having to grow old and mature a little faster, just like her voice.
Speaking about touring with legendary producer David Foster, whose concert series has included stars like Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Brian McKnight and Michael Buble, she said: “I feel like I’m getting old too fast because I’m the only teenager in the group! It makes me feel happy actually, cos that’s what I’ve always wanted.
“It might sound weird, but I actually love hanging out with these people more than hanging out with people my age because I’m not into clubs and everything.”
But there are some downsides to growing up so fast, like having to miss out on “regular school”. Charice currently does online schooling alone at home, still working towards her childhood ambition of being a lawyer.
“I miss my classmates from back in the Philippines. I don’t even know where they are now, and I don’t know how to reach them. I see them sometimes when I go back to do shows. Some of them actually go to watch the shows, and it makes me happy,” she said.
As an artiste, however, Charice is wary of being typecast as the young girl who sings the “old songs”.
“It’s like the Bodyguard medley, I Have Nothing and I Will Always Love You – people want to see me sing those songs, so I just made them into a medley. But I think a medley or edit version is enough, because my genre is totally different now. It’s more pop/R&B now, and I have to go that way.
“And sometimes I think people should understand that, cos people are like ‘oh, why isn’t she singing ballads anymore’. I’m not saying I’m gonna abandon the ballads. I still sing them every time I do concerts, but we’re trying to create Charice, a pop/R&B singer,” she said, in one of the few times during the interview where she doesn’t laugh or chuckle.
Charice grew up in the province of Laguna, the Philippines, and started singing when she was four, encouraged by her single mother. She would perform and take part in singing contests throughout her childhood, doing everything from town fairs to reality TV competitions in singing-mad Philippines.
She got her big break when Ellen DeGeneres was so amazed by a YouTube video of her singing that she flew her over to the United States to feature on her show.
Then Oprah came into the picture, also bringing her on her show, christening her the “Most Talented Girl in the World”, and introducing her to people like Bocelli, Dion and Foster, who immediately took her under his wing.
She credits both Ellen and Oprah equally for having helped with her career, and says she “feels special” to have both of them continue to take an interest in her life.
But funnily enough, having met so many of her music heroes, she says the person that has left her the most starstruck so far, is Paris Hilton.
“It was kind of funny because I was just sitting at a table and drawing or something, and Michael Bublé was at the same table talking to somebody else. Then all of a sudden this tall lady just taps me on the shoulder and she’s like ‘hi, I know you! You’re the girl on Oprah, right?’
“I couldn’t say anything! And she was like ‘can I take a picture with you?’ and I was like ‘are you kidding me? Of course I’ll take a picture with you!’ I couldn’t believe it. She was really nice,” she said.
It might seem like quite the celebrity child lifestyle when you’re doing your drawing on the same table as Michael Bublé, but Charice says that whole life isn’t really for her.
She currently lives alone in the United States while her mother takes care of their business back in the Philippines, and her idea of a good time is cooking Filipino food at home with friends.
“This is the time I have to be independent. But I’m actually love it because I’m learning a lot. My mom is still helping me, telling me what to do, teaching me some recipes… It makes me feel more normal, as a 19-year-old, instead of going out clubbing or whatever. I feel independent, but in a right way,” she said.
Her sophomore album Infinity features a track called Before It Explodes, written by someone with whom she shares a bit of a Filipino connection – Bruno Mars, who is of Filipino-Puerto Rican descent.
So we just had to ask – what is it that makes Filipinos such good singers?
“It’s part of us! We love music, we love singing. Even people who aren’t as good as Bruno Mars – they still love singing!” she said, with that girly chuckle again.
“We love karaoke, we love singing other people’s songs, and I think it’s just part of our culture, and that’s what I love about it.”
While she admits that there are probably thousands of little Charices out there in the Philippines waiting to be discovered, she’s quick to add that talent alone isn’t enough.
“A lot of people think: ‘why was it so easy for her?’ But it’s not easy at all! I went through a lot. Sometimes it just makes me think like, ‘wow, this is just so hard!’
“Especially for me cos I’m alone out here in the States, but I want to be involved in everything, I want to know what’s happening. It makes me feel so much better, because it makes me feel like… I’m old!” And then she chuckled again.