When singing tilt “Vietnam Idol” opened its doors to non-Vietnamese singers this year, it gave a 28-year-old Filipino housewife a venue to showcase her talent.
Janice Buco, the first foreigner to ever join the most prestigious singing competition in Vietnam, would also later emerge as the first foreigner to win it. She was awarded a cash prize of 600 million Vietnamese dong ($28,600) after accumulating 54.25% of the audience votes.
“I didn’t have an inkling that I would win. I thought I’d only end up in second place because I was a Filipino and not Vietnamese,” the contestant who adopted the stage name of Janice Phuong told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In the finale of the show on Friday in Ho Chi Minh City, Buco defeated a 22-year-old local singer.
“Up to now, it still hasn’t sunk in. I couldn’t help crying when they announced that I won,” she said.
Prior to joining the contest, Buco worked as a band singer, playing in bars in Vietnam, along with her Vietnamese husband who is a flamenco guitarist.
The singer chose a Vietnamese song, “Cam On Tinh Yeu” (“Thank You, My Love”) for her audition piece during an unplanned audition the couple chanced upon one date night.
After passing the initial audition, she trained for months to improve her singing in the Vietnamese language.
Aside from the challenge of singing in a foreign language, there were social media critics who bullied her, telling her that she should not be in the contest.
“They told me that I shouldn’t have joined the contest and that only Vietnamese singers could win this contest. They even told me to go back to the Philippines and sing there,” Buco said.
Her determination to win, however, saw her battling and training through the finals, winning the admiration and support of local music fans.
“I was even more inspired to practice singing in Vietnamese. I wanted to show them that I can sing their songs as well,” she said.
The new Vietnam Idol is also set to get a singing career under the management of the contest organizers for the next couple of years. Her first single, “Love You in Silence,” a song with Vietnamese and English lyrics, was launched last week.
For the Filipino singer who grew up in poverty in her home province of Bohol, Philippines, it seems the best is yet to come.